Have you ever heard the word “loose” as a description for any part of your body being taken as a good thing? Or, better yet, even something you should be working towards? When it comes to your ankles, this is exactly what you want to be striving towards. Loose. And flexible. Those two things are exactly what you want in order to generate the best flutter kick for your freestyle.
I can hear you now, “Lissa, that’s pretty…weird, (and probably not cute).” Well, you’re right, it definitely sounds a little strange, but trust me, the mechanics make a lot of sense (and should help ease those worried thoughts about what in the world I’m talking about right now).
The next time you hope in the pool, I want you to try kicking with your feet flexed. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the result, because it’s the exact opposite of what you want to be doing while you swim. Fast forward to what will happen? You’ll move backwards. Just from having your ankles flexed...not good. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the video below to watch me in action.
See what I mean? NOT GOOD. This should be reason enough to listen to me and not swim with your feet flexed. Okay, end of blog, thanks for stopping by!
Don’t worry, I’ll actually explain. When you allow your ankles to be loose and flexible is when you’ll actually see propulsion from your kick. The up and down snap of your ankle generates a quick burst of momentum that ultimately allows your kick to move you forward in the water. People don’t usually think about what their ankles and feet are doing when they kick, but they’re actually the key factors that go into having a propulsive kick. Swimming with your ankles flexed (like in the video above) creates a force that you have to pull against as you’re trying to move forward. Stiffness of your ankles almost creates a parachute that you have to pull behind you, as this gives your arms that much more to fight against.
Think of a chinese finger trap. When you try to pull both fingers out, it tightens and you get nowhere. Now imagine that same force - okay, not that much force - being applied to your body as you’re trying to move forward. No thanks, not something I want to inflict on myself. All this does is make you work against yourself and burn through your energy stores that much more quickly.
Another way to put it is that the looseness of your ankles is like the paddle for your kick, as your hand and forearm are the paddle for your strokes. If you don’t utilize your hand and forearm as a paddle to push backwards with, your arms simply slip through the water without actually working to propel your body forward. Same as if you kick with your ankles flexed/stiff, you won’t get the up and down snap of momentum needed to actually kick against the water, as opposed to just uselessly moving through it.
The easiest way to better understand what it is I’m talking about is going to make you the cool kid of your office. While sitting in a chair, keep one foot on the ground, lift your opposite foot and extend your leg. Once your leg is extended you want to shake your foot around like you’re trying to get gum off of your big toe (or so I’ve heard, not sure this actually what I’d do if that happened to me…). You want to bounce your leg up and down, with your ankle relaxed, letting your ankle flick up and down. This movement helps you to understand how loose you want your ankles to be while swimming, as well as shows how they flick up and down when you prevent them from being in a fixed position.
A great way to work on ankle flexibility is some good old stretching. The Ankle Mobility/Flexibility Stretch below shows you two options: one with a partner and one by yourself. Both are easy enough to do anywhere and don’t require any equipment. Try adding them in before and after your swim workouts to help you stretch out your ankles and work on improving your kick.