Six-Beat Kicking a Distance Race


Katie Ledecky swims the 1500 at the 2012 Olympics in London (Small).BY RUSSELL MARK // HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT

It’s pretty clear that the trend in distance races is to six-beat kick the whole race. The evidence is strong: 

  • All six medalists in the distance races at the 2012 Olympics – 800 free (Ledecky, Belmonte, Adlington) and 1500 free (Sun, Cochrane, Mellouli)
  • Five of eight finalists in both the 800 and 1500 at the 2012 Olympic Trials
  • Grant Hackett’s 10-year World Record 14:34 at 2001 World Championships

The old two-beat kicking trend might have been related to high tempo freestyles and enduring the large training volume of the 70’s and 80’s. The current trend of six-beat kicking can translate down to a good 400 and 200. In other words, SPEED, which is absolutely essential to a competitive 800 and 1500 now.

Use Your Legs

A six-beat kick means you use your legs from start to finish. There are six kicks for every two arm strokes (1 cycle). The legs do not drag behind.

Note: The intensity of a six-beat kick depends on tempo. Sun Yang, for example. For example, for the first 1400m of Sun Yang’s 1500, his tempo is a slow 1.9 seconds per cycle, and six kicks in that time is pretty chill. On the last 50, his tempo is 1.4 seconds per cycle, so the six kicks are quicker and stronger.

Don’t “Save The Legs” 

Kicking a distance race can definitely be trained, and shouldn’t be feared to conserve energy. A ferocious kick for an 800 or 1500 isn’t necessary. The kick just needs to be steady. There are certainly differences, but so many people train to run four-hour marathons, so training to kick for 10-15 minutes of swimming is very reasonable.

It’s Not Always Black & White 

There have been – and still are – successful distance swimmers that use a two-beat or four-beat kick. Kieren Perkins, the great Australian distance swimmer, switched between two-beat and six-beat kicks within each 50. Also, many swimmers do not maintain a consistent kick when they breathe and this technique flaw should be worked on.

If It’s Not in The Toolbox, It’s Not a Tool You Can Use 

A swimmer needs to have this ability, whether they use it for the duration or just at the end. Learn proper kick technique and how to six-beat kick while swimming. At older ages, it’s a difficult skill to acquire and also harder to correct flaws like a cross-over kick.

Thanks to the many that shared thoughts to help make this accurate and thorough:

Kristy Brager, Univ of Iowa
Alex Dawson, Texas A&M
Bryce Elser, USA Swimming
George Heidinger, USA Swimming
Dan McCarthy, USA Swimming
Anna Miller, Univ of Virginia
Catherine Vogt, Univ of Southern Cal
Chris Webb, Fort Collins Area Swim Team
Caroline Wells, USA Swimming

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