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This is a continuation of our underwater kicking series, here are the previous articles in the series if you missed it:

Double-Leg Kick (Dolphin Kick) Basics Part I
Double-Leg Kick (Dolphin Kick) Basics Part II

Underwater kicking orientation is frequently discussed on pool decks, unfortunately little

research has assessed the best position for propulsion. However, three options exist:

  1. Front/back (depending if you are doing free/fly or back)
  2. Side
  3. In-between
Not an exact comparison…

Once again, no research (as far as this writer knows) is available on the ideal body orientation of underwater kicking exist in humans. This results in many coaches looking at other animals for their answers. Specifically, many coaches compare humans to dolphins or fish, suggesting underwater kicking on their side. However, the evolutionary comparison to a fish or dolphin is far from accurate, as we are far removed from these animals (for more on this comparison, read: OF MEN, FISHES, AND ASIAN ELEPHANTS)

Moreover, using a comparison to another animal with a much different body type, strengths, and weaknesses is nonsensical. Unfortunately, when no better research exists on the subject, coaches are left to use comparisons. This comparison has lead many to believe kicking on the side is superior to kicking on the front/back or in-between, when in fact the principle of individuality is likely the answer, depending on personal preference, past experience, and beliefs.

Water Disturbance

If only pools were this deep, then water disturbance wouldn’t be an issue!

Some other coaches suggest kicking on the side to prevent wave disturbance, as kicking on the front may impair a complete down kick (as the waves crash into the floor of the pool). However, it is likely one could argue the lane lines and other swimmers provide similar disturbances (once again, I haven’t seen any specific data on this, but is simply a thought, intelligent readers, correct me if I’m wrong). 

Equal Kicking
Other coaches suggest kicking on the side hoping to cause an equal up and downkick. This is quite specific to each individual, as some will kicking on their stomach will have a stronger downkick, causing them to surface earlier. However, the strength of the hamstrings (the main upkick muscle group) is typically 60 – 75% the strength of the quadriceps (the main downkick muscle group) (Jenkins 2012). This strength discrepancy suggests a difference in kicks always exist and it is unreasonable to expect an equal kick. 

Ryan Lochte one of the most prominent front kickers.

This article seems like a short bashing on side underwater kicking, but it was meant to emphasize the principle of individuality. Remember, no size fits all, especially when you are comparing other animals. Hopefully, the research will look at underwater kicking orientation and speed, but this research won’t provide all the answers, as racing conditions are much different than laboratory models. Instead, trying different orientations is necessary and following trends in the elite swimmers, and from my analyses, the majority elite underwater kickers are not on their side.

  1. Jenkins ND, Hawkey MJ, Costa PB, Fiddler RE, Thompson BJ, Ryan ED, Smith D, Sobolewski EJ, Conchola EC, Akehi K, Cramer JT. Functional hamstrings: quadriceps ratios in elite women’s soccer players. J Sports Sci. 2013 Mar;31(6):612-7. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2012.742958. Epub 2012 Nov 15.
By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University. He is the founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer’s Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.


Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS world-renowned physical therapist and strength coach.
  1. April 17, 2013

    I am not sure but I think the reference here is not correct

  2. April 18, 2013

    FIxed, thanks!

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