The 5th Stroke

This is a guest post courtesy of Pat Windschitl of Ellis Aquatics. Pat is one of the founding coaches of the program and has had much success coaching swimmers of all ages. He has coached athletes to top finishes at Junior Olympics and to nation top-10 time performances.


So it’s fairly well accepted at this point that dolphin kicking is seen as the 5th stroke in swimming….


But are we as coaches putting as much emphasis on teaching it as we would backstroke or breaststroke, or are we seeing it as just something that’s expected to be worked during sets?

In 2013 Professor Luc Collard, Emmanuel Gourmelin, and Valérie Schwob of the Laboratoire Techniques et Enjeux du Corps at the Université Paris Descartes conducted one study on dolphin kicking that says we should be doing more.

Their study took two groups of 9-10 year old novice swimmers (with similar times in an initial time trial) and trained them for 23 standard swimming lessons. The first group trained with the focus on the normal 4 stroke development, while the second group spent 33-50% of the time training dolphin kicks (and the other portion on the 4 stroke development).

Over the 23 lessons the group that trained dolphin kicks did less yardage (44,150m total vs 61,800m) or around 2000m in a one hour session vs 2700m for the stroke development group. The reduced distance was because the dolphin kicking group required longer intervals due to the required more time to breath after time spent underwater. After the 23 lessons they had the swimmers participate in some races and discovered that the underwater dolphin group not just showed greater improvement overall, but this group also traveled further underwater without being asked.

We’ve worked to apply this mindset to my team, and we’ve seen some fantastic results. With some of our more talented 10 and under kickers able to make it out to 15m with their dolphin kicks in 10-12 seconds from a push start. It’s worked well for us too because we are not a team gifted with giants, and my swimmers like being able to watch races of “shorter” swimmers like David Berkoff dominating in the underwater portion of his race.

One of our favorite drills with the age groupers is the U-Turn drill. With this, swimmers push off and glide as far as they can without kicking, then take a stroke or two and a breath before flip turning and racing back to the wall on their back with dolphin kicks. We usually go in groups of two, making sure that the swimmer gets as much rest as their work time with this drill.

But what does everyone else think? How much of the time should we spend kicking with swimmers, and should much to any of it be done with a kick-board?


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