We present our tips and drills to improve your flutter kick and boost the efficiency of your stroke in the process!

Improve your flutter kick

The flutter kick… The great swimming classic! And yet, kicking your legs up and down does not come naturally... have you ever felt like your legs are sinking or like you are splashing all your pool companions and not really getting anywhere? It's no secret that an effective flutter kick takes practice!

Propulsion or balance, what is its primary purpose? How can you make it more efficient? How can you get less tired? What drills can you do to improve it?
Read on, I'll explain everything.

What is the purpose of the flutter kick in swimming?

When you swim, there are two distinct phases that move you forward: traction and propulsion. Your arm movements are engaged in both of these phases, your leg movements are engaged in the propulsion phase.

Mastering your flutter kick gives you better body balance, prevents you from wasting unnecessary energy and propels you forward more quickly (even if this is not the main function of your kick). We tend to think that our legs are for driving us forward… Yes and no, in reality their primary role is balance. Kicking helps you to keep your body aligned and in the correct position. If you don't kick them, the legs tend to sink. Kicking your legs keeps them at the surface, and therefore keeps you aligned in a horizontal position. The overall efficiency of your kick is low, i.e., even though kicking when swimming requires a lot of energy, its effect on your propulsion is not proportional to the effort required; it plays second fiddle. You are therefore at risk of tiring yourself out and burning energy that will ultimately do very little to drive you forward. If you want to improve your propulsion and significantly increase your swimming speed, there is no point focusing on your legs, instead you should look at what your arms are doing. If, however, you want to improve your swimming technique as a whole: keep reading!

Improve your flutter kick

Why am I not getting anywhere when I swim?

Despite all the effort put into kicking your legs, do you get the feeling you are swimming on the spot or moving more slowly than your pool mates? I can explain how to fix that!

For an effective flutter kick, the movement needs to start from the hips and not from the knees (and definitely not from the ankles). In response to the movement of your hip, your knees will naturally bend and follow the movement. So you don't have to make a conscious effort or pay particular attention to your knees: they will follow the movement on their own.

Straight legs or relaxed legs? The answer is somewhere in the middle! For an effective kick, your legs must be relatively straight, but not too tense or too relaxed and move with a moderate amplitude. A movement that is too loose will not be effective and a movement that is too stiff will lack amplitude. So it's a question of finding the perfect middle ground! It's all about balance. ;)

Don't focus too much on trying to synchronise the frequency of your leg kick with that of your arm movements. It is quite normal for them not to follow the same rhythm. Trying to synchronise them would stop them from flowing and would go against your natural movements.

When swimming: also forget your bipedal habits! There are two common mistakes in swimming when you want to do a flutter kick: pedalling in the water with bent knees and ankles instead of alternately kicking your legs; pushing with your heels instead of your instep, as if you were running. These are habits that spill over from our day-to-day lives and from other sports such as cycling or running. They need to be left at the door when you enter the pool!

Lastly, you can also forget the idea that the more you splash, the faster you will go! The only thing you're going to achieve is spraying the swimmers in the neighbouring lanes.

Work on the upbeat and the downbeat

For a good flutter kick, the upbeat is just as important as the downbeat. It is therefore important to put as much force into your movement on the way down as on the way up! You probably tend to put all your energy into using your muscles to push your legs down hard and then releasing. I strongly recommend getting out of this habit! If you kick your feet like that, you're only doing half a job. So don't leave your leg to go back up on its own without making any effort. On the contrary, what you want to do is learn to use the upbeat as well as the downbeat of your leg kick for better propulsion and perfect alignment. This will not only increase your efficiency but also help you to build muscle.

Improve your flutter kick

Use the flexibility of your joints

If the movement is correctly initiated from the hips, the mobility and flexibility of your joints (knees, ankles and toes) are what will determine the efficiency of your movement. When working on your kick, you need to flick your feet for best results! So what does an efficient foot movement look like? Let me explain. The perfect foot flick is short and fast, and your ankles should be flexible and relaxed. This makes your feet whip the water vigorously and efficiently.

Your joints must be relaxed, their flexibility and mobility play a key role in your kick. To increase their flexibility, there are a few simple stretches and warm-up exercises that you can do.

Another important point: your feet should stay close to the surface but without being out of the water. It makes perfect sense really, if you're kicking in the air, you're not going to go anywhere! ;) Also, when you practise kicking with fins, your movement needs to be not too deep nor too shallow, to get the most out of the exercise.

What drills can I do to improve my flutter kick?

For all of your flutter kick drills, stay in a horizontal position, with your head in the water. If you always keep your head above the water, apart from the risk of over-arching your back and neck, you are further removed from the full-stroke freestyle position, and this is not what you are looking to achieve. Your body could get into bad positioning habits which are not those of the full stroke, and which can create tension.

Flutter kicks with a kickboard and fins

To help you improve your flutter kick for front crawl and/or backstroke, here is a drill that is hands-down effective: kicking with a kickboard and fins.

Grab your kickboard and put on your swim fins (preferably short fins). Then do a flutter kick in slow motion (concentrate on slowing down your movements). The idea here is to become aware of the sequence of the movement. The kick needs to start from the hip and spread to the ankle, which must remain flexible throughout. Your knees should follow the movement without you having to do anything. It is then a question of concentrating on the upbeat and the downbeat of your kick, feeling the blade of the fin bend in turn during these two phases. This way, you will easily be able to feel how your kick improves the efficiency of your stroke, from start to finish!

At the end of this drill, you can take off your swim fins and transfer what you have just experienced, but this time, without any equipment! You will quickly feel the difference.

Improve your flutter kick
Improve your flutter kick

Flutter kicks on your side

This drill will give you a better understanding of how propulsion works and the importance of the movement in both directions because your legs will not come out of the water at any point.

There are two ways to perform it: either in a superman pose, with one arm out in front and the other alongside your body or resting on a kickboard for buoyancy with the other arm alongside your body (for example: if you are lying on your left side, hold your kickboard out in front of you with your right hand). It's up to you to choose the version that suits you best and which is perhaps easiest at first. You can then progress to the more difficult version after a few sessions. You could also wear your favourite pair of swim fins when performing this exercise to work your muscles even harder. When performing this exercise, swap sides every length.

Flutter kicks underwater

The aim of this drill? To make you understand that splashing is not priority number one!

Lying on your stomach, holding a kickboard, kick normally but focus on keeping your legs underwater. This drill forces you to work mainly on the downbeat of your kick and to become aware of the importance of body positioning and catch, by reaching for water that is deeper and therefore more difficult to move.

Stationary flutter kicks in a vertical position

This stationary kicking exercise is extremely effective for building muscle, but also for feeling the phases of each movement and improving your propulsion.

When swimming, we are used to kicking in a horizontal position. Changing to a vertical position makes you rethink what you are doing and, in doing so, discover new sensations. You will perceive the movement differently and become aware of how each muscle and joint is involved.

To perform this drill, get yourself into a vertical position with your head out of the water, arms crossed and hands resting on your shoulders. Your aim? Managing to stay in this position, keeping your head above the water using only the force of your flutter kick! You will also feel the movement of your hips.

I'd like to point out that this drill is very energy intensive; there is no point burning yourself out, so do short and repetitive sets rather than long sets. If the drill is too difficult, you can, of course, use two kickboards, placing one under each arm on either side of the body, to help with buoyancy. On the other hand, if this drill feels too easy, increase the difficulty! Try lifting your hands out of the water and stretching out your arms. This gets you working on your flutter kick and… your cardio!

Flutter kicks with toe touches

This drill gets you to focus on what your toes are doing and how you push against the water.

Lying on your stomach, with or without a kickboard, perform your flutter kick and touch your big toes together with each kick. To do this, you will need to point your feet slightly inward and keep your toes flexible.

Flutter kicks on your back

This kicking exercise is a great way to improve the flick of your foot.

It can be performed in two ways: either with your arms stretched above your head to create a horizontal line, or you can position a kickboard at your hips, with your arms alongside your body. The aim of this type of kick? Splashing water with your feet! This will improve the flick of your foot and make you focus on the flexibility of your ankles and joints. Your knees should not come out of the water too much or you could find yourself doing a pedalo movement rather than a flutter kick.

Improve your flutter kick

The polo crawl

The final drill we can suggest to improve your freestyle flutter kick is none other than the polo crawl! This stroke is used by water polo players. Your body is unbalanced because your head is above water, which is unusual. This drill is therefore very effective for perfecting your flutter kick by working on balance and propulsion. Swimming the polo crawl requires you to contract your abs and perform an effective leg kick to keep your balance with your head above water. The aim is to keep your head as still and straight as possible while looking straight ahead. Also make sure your elbow stays higher than your hand during your arm movements.

This drill is quite energy intensive for those who are not used to the polo crawl. Feel free to take 20 to 30 seconds to recover and to relax your back and neck before starting again.


To help you improve this famous swimming kick, for crawl and /or backstroke, Charlotte Bonnet's coach recommends a simple but extremely effective exercise:

-          Get your kickboard

-          Put on your swimming fins (preferably short fins)

-          Kick in slow motion (slow down your movements)

The idea here is to become fully aware of the different stages of the movement. The kick should leave the hip and spread to the ankle, which must remain relaxed throughout.

You should then focus on the upward and downward phases of the kick, feeling the blades of the fin bend in the same way during these two phases.

Follow these tips and you will have no trouble noticing the improved efficiency of your flutter kick on all aspects of your swim!

For an effective kick, the movement must start from the hip, your legs must be relatively straight, your joints flexible and with a good foot motion. The perfect kick takes practice! Doing regular training drills to improve your flutter kick will make you more efficient and you will feel better in the water.

Improve your flutter kick


Nabaiji Editor & National Swimmer