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It is really usual to find in beginners that try to swim faster moving faster the legs, but they can’t, one of the reasons is that their legs don’t push in the water, if you add to this problem the lack of flotation , you will finish with a low legs position, and it is very difficult to learn swimming in those conditions.

As we said, we can have two cases:

First case-  You have a very good horizontal position but when you move the legs faster  you don’t move forward, it can be with or without arms.

Second case-  You have bad position, what we call “the up-hill position” due to your legs are not supporting your body and the lack of flotation.

Figure 1: The up-hill position


The best way to check the first case is moving only the legs adopting a facing down, lateral or facing up position, because you can realize if you move forward when you move the legs faster . Regarding the second case, somebody can have bad flotation, but he makes up for this bad flotation with good legs, I mean good “legs sensitivity”, on the contrary (with bad legs) his legs will sink and he was part of the second case.

Why don’t your legs work?

This is a problem of sensitivity, your legs “don’t feel the water”, I mean you can’t support in the water to apply force, your foot goes back without any resistance, and you continue at the same place , why do I have this problem?

There is something of genetic here, I don’t know how much but it is, I could say you “you didn’t swim when you  were a kid”, this is an important factor to develop your sensitivity for sure, but there are quite a lot legs performance differences between swimmers with the same training background, and the same legs strength, and this is saying us that the difference between swimmers is due to better or worse feet sensitivity.

For testing your leg sensitivity , try to swim only with the legs at easy effort, then increase the frequency of your kick and see how much faster to swim, in faulty leg sensitivity swimmers they swim almost at the same speed. To do this test, swim 50 meters only kick in back position at easy pace, then rest a little,and swim 50 meters only kick again but now all out, take the time in both sets, if you see that there is only a small difference between the sets, you have the problem of poor sensitivity, for example you could perform 1:20 in 50 meters at easy pace and 1:18 all out, this is not normal, the difference of time should be 20 seconds approximately, the effort to swim all out, don’t make up for speed increase.

You could also think :” but my legs work when I run or biking”. Yes but that is other situation, you are not in the water, you body doesn’t interact with the water, the problem of sensitivity is not here, you push against a solid mass (the ground), that is the reason for which you are good in biking or running but your legs in the water don’t push you forward, it is very common.

How can I improve my legs sensitivity?

It is very difficult to improve your sensitivity, but it is possible to improve. You must perform many legs exercises of freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, all these exercises in different positions as lateral position, back position, facing down and standing up position, with variable speed and acceleration  and with variable coordination with the trunk doing rotation while you kick or with the arms while you help the legs pushing.

I said many exercises but also much time, the more you move the feet into the water the more possibilities you will have to improve your sensitivity, yes,  you will need time, there is not any magic exercise or any correction of you leg movement that can be changed to improve your kick, the only secret is dedicate time to moving the body into the water, in fact, the correct leg technique for swimming freestyle is not the best technique for pushing with the legs in order to increase your speed forward, for swimming freestyle the knees must be extended almost every moment and for kicking without using the arms the knee is flexed while the legs are kicking.

During the practice we must put focus in the activity, in each exercise, to reach the body-mind union. To improve sensitivity we are working the nervous system that is connected to the brain. If we think about how I am doing the exercise and what I feel from my touch sense, we will have more possibilities to improve. Try to feel the difference of pressure, speed of the feet… Don’t lose your focus if you want to improve.


Carlos Martín Caro

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