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The leg power of a flutter kick depends on ankle extension.
While the power of a flutter kick begins at your hips and is generated by the large muscles in your legs, the secret to a fast kick resides in the position of your feet. The flutter kick involves alternating your legs up and down in a whip-like motion with your knees slightly bent and your toes pointed. The more your ankle extends down -- plantar flexion -- the less you bend your knees and the faster your kick.
Propel or Drag
If only swimmers were built like mermaids with one long tail. The second your legs split open in the flutter kick, your legs will battle the drag from the water. As soon as you draw your legs back together, you generate propulsive force. As long as you're creating more force than drag, you'll move forward. The amount of propulsion in your kick is determined by your foot's range of motion. If the motion of your feet is small, rapid and supple, your feet will contribute to about 10 to 15 percent of your speed in water, according to Masters swimmer Marty Hull, who consults for the Stanford University swim team on Swimming World. Beginner swimmers often kick too big and splash the water, which produces drag and slows them down. Aim for kicking just enough to keep your body balanced in a horizontal position.
Less or More Than 90 Degrees
How far you're able to extend your ankles and point your toes in the flutter kick determines how much leg power is transferred to the water. The more power you generate, the more distance covered on each stroke. If your foot flexes forward a lot more than 90 degrees, you'll barely need to bend your knees and you'll achieve the greatest propulsion, according to Hull. Because the pressure of the water helps to keep your foot in this optimal position, your calf muscles don't have to work and require little blood flow. Your body routes your blood flow to your chest and arms, which are contributing to the lion's share of propulsion. Foot flexion at 90 degrees or slightly more requires you to slightly bend your knees. However, your calves will have to work to keep your feet in the correct position. If your foot flexion is less than 90 degrees, you'll have to bend your knees even more to maintain the correct angle of your feet. It's the greater bend of your knees that causes drag and negates forward propulsion.
Focus on Ankle Flexibility
For every incremental increase in the range of motion of your foot, you'll not only produce more propulsive force in the flutter kick but also you'll require less effort to do it. In short, stretch your ankles as well as the tarsal-metatarsal joints in your feet. While some swimmers use stretch boards or bend their feet under sofas, this type of stretching can be stressful on the ankle joints. Begin a safe stretch for your ankles by sitting on a chair or the floor and crossing your right leg over your left thigh. Hold the tip of your right foot and slowly bend your foot downward, applying gentle pressure and feeling the stretch along the top of your foot. Hold the peak position for 30 seconds. Reverse the position of your legs and repeat the stretch for your left foot. Another simple stretch is to sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Try and point your toes down as far as possible and then hold the position for a second or two. Reverse the movement by flexing your feet as far back as possible. Repeat the point-and-flex pattern 10 times.
Strong and Pliable Hip Flexors
As your ankle flexibility improves, your flutter kick will become faster. However, a rapid kick increases the demand on your hip flexors. Stretch and strengthen your hip flexors to meet the change in your kick. For example, begin a hip flexor stretch by assuming a lunge position with your right leg in front of you and your knee bent at 90 degrees. Your left knee should be planted on the ground and also bent at 90 degrees. Place your hands on your hips and slowly press your hips forward, feeling the stretch in your left hip flexors. Hold the peak position for 30 seconds. Switch leg positions and repeat the exercise to stretch your right hip flexors. To strengthen your hip flexors, perform a vertical kicking exercise with fins at the deep end of the pool. With your body in an upright position, kick with straight legs for 30 seconds. Try not to bend your knees, which will take the pressure off your hip flexors. Begin with one or two 30-second kicking intervals. Build up to eight to 10 intervals, resting for 20 seconds between each interval.