Swimming Kick Board Bobbers

Dr. GJohn Mullen Dr. John Mullen, Latest&Greatest, Training 5 Comments

Bobbing up and down on a kickboard while pushing through a 1,000-yard kick set is common on most swim teams. Unfortunately, the kickboard provides a base of stability for the arms and core which is not present during swimming. Moreover, a board allows an athlete to use a pivot to propel themselves forward via the spiral line described by Thomas Myers in Anatomy Trains.

Don’t get me wrong, kick boards and kicking are essential for swimmers. Every coach knows elite swimmers have a strong powerful kick, unfortunately, I feel many coaches teach this incorrectly, especially for swimmers with low back instability.

For injury prevention and swimming success, core endurance is essential. Unfortunately, a board promotes cheating, as many unstable swimmers are able to use their arms (likely their lats) to stabilize their body and push-off. If you take this bobber off the board, many of them are poor kickers. Therefore, does using a board with kickboard bobbers improve their swimming? I know it does because they still improve their leg endurance and strength, but I think it can be better, especially if you are a sprinter where less hip rotation and more core stability is required.

In a recent interview with Dr. Prins of the University of Hawaii, he discussed the importance of core and hip stability in swimming. By the way, do yourself a service and buy The Swim Coaching Bible Volume II, great read! In the book and echoed throughout Friday Interview: Dr. Prins, he discusses his intriguing methods for measuring the role of stability in and out of the water. A common misconception surrounds swimming about the amount of hip rotation in freestyle, especially sprint.

In athletes with poor core stability or those who use a heavy hip driven stroke, they rely on their rotational strength to drive their legs. However, in sprinting (swimming or kicking with a board) the athlete must use less hip rotation to keep the body in a straight line or streamline position. Too often those with poor sprint kicking and swimming ability go hand in hand and I (yes I, no research here) think it is due to poor streamline and core stability.

For athletes with low back pain and those needing to improve their sprinting (I’m not talking only 50 freestylers, this includes those who can’t change speeds in and out of walls). To improve your sprinting make sure your hips are stable, derived from a strong core. Therefore, if you use a board, make sure you are not bobbing! Keep the core locked, the spine long and finish your kick!

If you are not using a board, the athlete must stabilize their core to move forward and speed will directly correlate with an improvement in core stability, especially in long course where the swimmer is unable to use the aid of walls and dolphin kicking.

To conclude, kicking with a board isn’t bad. It improves leg endurance and strength, both essential for swimming success. However, in those swimmers with difficulties sprinting and changing speeds or those bobbing side to side with the board, it is likely they are using the board for stability. Make sure they are not bobbing on the board or force them to stabilize without a board for improvement!

Written By:

Dr. GJohn Mullen


Dr. GJohn Mullen, DPT, CSCS is a World renowned expert and speaker in sports training and rehabilitation. He received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy at USC, as well as the Josette Antonelli Division Service Scholarship, Order of the Golden Cane, and the Order of Areté. At USC, he also performed research on swimming biomechanics and lung adaptations in swimming training. Dr. GJohn has worked with multiple professional and Olympic athletes, helping them earn Olympic medals.

His dedication to research and individualization spurred him to open COR in 2011. Since 2011, Dr. GJohn has been featured in Gizmodo, Motherboard, Stack Magazine, Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, USA Swimming, USA Triathlon, Swimming Science, and much more.

He has worked with the numerous colleges and teams regarding rehab and performance. Before his Doctoral program, Dr. GJohn swam on an athletic scholarship at Purdue University.

At Purdue, Dr. GJohn was an Academic Honorable Mention All-American and was awarded the Red Mackey Award and R. O. Papenguh Award. He also won the Purdue Undergraduate business plan and elevator pitch competition, as well as 1st prize with the Indiana Soy Bean Alliance.

Dr. GJohn was born in Centerville, Ohio and was a 24-time high school All-American Swimmer. Dr. GJohn is still a swimmer and holds a Masters Swimming World and Pacific Swimming Record.

Comments 5

  1. Do you have some good cues for “locking the core.”
    For ex: with older swimmers you could say “pull your belly button toward your spine like someone is pulling it on a string from behind you”…or “feel your obliques wrap around you and hug toward your belly”…but simpler…fewer words…something that can be used with age group swimmers while they are developing habits. It may be hard for them to visualize locking the core.

  2. Hi Dr. Mullen!

    I am fascinated by the power of the kick. I am sorry to say that I do believe the kick is essential and I have taught a lot of kickers to improve.

    I am sorry to say that I do not know what Kick Board Bobbing is.

    Could you please explain so that I may understand your message?

    1. Kickboard bobbing is moving with the head or body excessively when kicking. It is often due to poor core strength and stability.

      Helpful cues are to brace the core or to pull the board down to use the lats as a stability point.

      However, should you even use a kickboard? Maybe not using a board will transfer more….

  3. Could using a kick board cause vertebra fracture in L5? I know a 1500m swimmer who has a fracture of the pars L5 and wondered if this could contribute to the shearing force required to cause this injury .

    1. Hard to say with confidence, but it can add stress on L5 segment, increased stress on board combined with other stressors can cause pain and potential injury.

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