Which Kick is Best for YOU? 2-Beat or 6-Beat
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on March 16th, 2014

This is a guest post by TI Coach Gary Fahey.








blog post discussing kick strategies landed in my inbox a couple of weeks ago, much of it advocating a six-beat kick (6BK) for all but the most skilled of swimmers.

While I disagree with this premise and the example presented through the .gif seen below, I agree with the writer that long distance and open water swimmers should use their legs primarily for stability rather than propulsion. The energy cost of propulsive kicking is simply unsustainable.

Total Immersion advocates for increasing speed through smarter choices rather than greater effort. Among the most fundamental of those choices is to improve core stabilization—which is a critical foundation for a mastering 2-Beat Kick (2BK) skill.

One adjustment, I suggest to my swimmers is to experiment with the depth of the extended arm.  When they do, they learn that a very shallow extension causes the legs to sink.  But so does reaching too deep.

Reaching too deep breaks the body line where arm and torso connect. Picture a see-saw plank with a collapsible hinge: applying pressure at one end would not exert any influence at the other end.  But when you open that hinge to establish a single, structurally sound plank, then adjustments at one end affect what happens at the other.

Sinking legs can be counter balanced by finding the optimal angle or depth at which to ‘spear’ your arm forward. Spearing 12 to 15 inches below the surface tends to shape the body into a balanced, stable and sleek line. Adding a moderate forward stretch (eliminating laxity) will bring tone to the core, strengthening the connection between front and rear.

In the blog post the coach suggested the swimmer had improperly matched a 2-beat kick to his overall mechanics, which explains the dropped legs. His suggested fix was a 6BK.

This misdiagnoses the problem and offers an energy-wasting solution.

My view: By extending too deep, the swimmer breaks the connection from extended hand in front through legs at the rear. Like the plank with a broken-hinge, balancing forces in front cannot act upon the rear.

If he ‘speared’ a few inches shallower (which would also direct more energy forward) he would increase structural integrity in his aquatic posture and bring his legs into balance.

Once he corrects his balance problem, the 2BK would not only be an appropriate match for his swimming style, he could likely scale back on his current degree of knee bend and further reduce drag. More stability = lower energy cost.

 Smooth vs Shinji1 Smooth vs Shinji2


Compare the red lines in the still frame image at top (taken from the other writer’s post) to the  image from TI Coach Shinji Takeuchi’s top-ranked YouTube video.  Shinji extends to a shallower end point, which draws his body into a sleek line. His legs draft cleanly behind him and the energy cost of his 2BK approaches zero.

This illustrates a simple solution to sinking legs—one which results in kicking less, not more.

Besides this misdiagnosis, this blog post also drew a distinction between two styles of 2BK.  TI advocates the Shinji 2-beat kick  which connects the kick downbeat to the spearing arm.

The other writer advocates a style used by very high tempo swimmers like Brooke Bennett in this clip  in which the downbeat of the kick connects to the catch phase of the stroke.

The high tempo 2BK style is an extremely challenging configuration that can be done successfully by high-mileage, experienced swimmers, but is too exhausting and difficult for the vast majority.

The blog writer rejects the efficacy of the TI 2BK, which he calls a “kick-start” that compensates for what he calls “over-gliding.” I think the “kick-start” 2-beat kick is just fine for most purposes, certainly at tempos of 1 stroke per second and up.

There are legitimate pros and cons to selecting any kicking pattern, and not room here to discuss them all.  My primary goal is to show improvement-minded swimmers that they can opt for efficiency rather than effort.

If you want a more effective kick, you can achieve it through balance and stability—a choice that conserves energy rather than wastes it. Most swimmers already do far too much of the latter.

Gary Fahey has been a Total Immersion Certified Coach since 1998.  He teaches swimming full time through his Fort Lauderdale-based company, Stroke Doctor Swimming. In 25 years coaching competitive swimmers he has qualified athletes up to the US Olympic Trials level. Contact Gary at gary@strokedocswim.com.

19 Responses to “Which Kick is Best for YOU? 2-Beat or 6-Beat”

  1. Deasal says:

    I got into real swimming rather late in life, 2 years ago at age 50, so I could begin training for triathlons. I was fortunate to stumble upon TI Swimming early on, and it has been instrumental in allowing me to become a strong endurance swimmer. No, I am not fast, but I can find that I-can-do-this-all-day pace, and get out of the water feeling great, and with my legs still strong. I admit, I have a weak kick so I let my legs more or less draft behind me, but have a strong stroke so the 2BK technique works great. Last year I did a half-Ironman, this year I am training for The Leadman Epic 250K, which has a 5K swim to start, and I am so excited! Thank you for great information, and advice that makes such perfect sense to me.

  2. Deasai
    Good for you taking that on. What’s the other 245k?

  3. John Woodward says:

    I have spent considerable money with TI and Ian Smith took me from a poor to ok swimmer but sadly my Ti journey stopped when Ian passed away.
    Before my first visit to Ian I had been working with the book and dvd and was using a 2bk but on the very first session Ian stopped me and taught me a six beat which we used in all future sessions. He must have thought it was right for me at that time maybe he would have reintroduced it.
    As a result I looked roud for an alternative and found Swimsmooth who have improved my swimming further .I hold both Ti and Swimsmooth in High Regard and it gets my blood going when I see negativity by either one to the other as in this thread.
    This is doing you no good just let it go
    Rant over Woody

  4. Woody
    Thanks for reading the blog post and taking the time to leave a comment. However I can’t agree that Gary’s writing was an example of ‘negativity.’
    Here’s why.

    Would you agree that it’s possible for there to be an objectively true set of facts with regard to how a 2-Beat Kick works — and that it’s in the best interest of swimmers to know what those facts are?

    The author of the Swim Smooth post to which Gary linked made several assertions in the article which considerable experience (i.e. with 1000s of students) has shown to be incorrect. These include:

    1) “You need a reasonable level of natural buoyancy” to adopt the 2-Beat Kick.
    2) If you aren’t “already a pretty decent swimmer and . . . swim in the faster lanes on a squad . . . then a two beat kick won’t work well for you at all.”
    3) “If you are still working on the basics of your stroke technique such as breathing, alignment, body position and catch setup then you are going to be much better served using a 6-beat kick.”

    Since your instruction with Ian, we’ve developed a learning sequence that has proven quite effective in teaching swimmers who do not have ‘natural buoyancy’ and are very much swimming ‘in the slow lane’ (and almost always self-coached, which is far more common than being on a coached squad), how to kick quite effectively with the more economical 2-Beat.

    Gary’s post gave them good direction for doing so. That seems quite positive to me, whereas discouraging them from learning such a valuable skill seems more an example of ‘negativity.’

    When Ian took his TI Coach Training, over 10 years ago, we had not refined that learning sequence. If you consult any TI coach in the UK today, they can teach it to you, and then you’ll be able to make an informed choice about which style you prefer.

    Choice is good, wouldn’t you say?

    Happy laps,

  5. Hi John,

    Correcting a misdiagnosis is not negative, only correcting. I have to agree with Coach Gary the writer missed the source of the problem. But in the writer’s defense, most coaches have difficulty recognizing and explaining the two, four, six beat kick – not to mention teaching kick timing altogether. What may look obvious, is quite often not the source of the problem. Interesting, the writers diagnosis of the “over glider” in a later post, the swimmer has an interrupted flutter/scissor kick, not two beat kick, no kick timing at all. I believe I read the “six beat kick is technically a flutter kick” – although this is a common perception, six beat kick involves timing with stroking arms, one kick is to finish rotation. This should not be taken as negative – only correction.

    Giving a prescription to kick more to make up for lack of balance is a solution, but it comes at a great cost to energy. I’ve taught many novice through advanced swimmers the two beat kick and it often comes with extra kicks in between until core stability and body control is achieved. But the main thing is they understand the timing, balance is critical – correct kick timing creates stability and ties core muscle groups together.


  6. Stuart (Note: Stuart is a TI Coach in the LA area.)
    Thank you for your valuable contribution to this discussion.
    I agree with everything you say . . . except this sentence
    “Giving a prescription to kick more to make up for lack of balance is a solution, but it comes at a great cost to energy.”

    Yes, kicking more does take more energy.
    But in how many students have you actually observed it to solve the problem of poor balance?

    The first thing I ever learned from Bill Booomer–who one might call the ‘godfather’ of the TI Method–was this:
    The shape of the ‘vessel’ matters more than the size of the ‘engine’ in swimming.

    The second is that poor balance is an almost universal problem (because the human body is heavier than water) . . . and a problem that cannot be cured by kicking. The solution must come from physics:
    1) Use weight and mass in the upper body as a counterweight to the lower body–the part that always sinks.
    2) To use it as a counterweight, you must focus on alignment and core stability–as Gary suggested.

    I swam for 25 years before I did a balance drill for the first time. While I didn’t have a balance problem as pronounced and obvious as does the swimmer in the .gif in Gary’s post, nevertheless I always thought I had ‘heavy’ legs.
    I faithfully did kicking sets for many years thinking that a ‘stronger’ kick would raise my legs closer to the surface.
    It never happened.

    Quite a few times I tried to shift my natural 2-Beat Kick to a 6-Beat. I estimate I devoted at least a year cumulatively, over the course of decades to trying to learn an ‘easy’ 6BK. All of those efforts were dead ends as well. I could swim a little faster for 25 or 50 yards but at far too much energy cost. And my legs still felt heavy.

    When Bill Boomer taught me a balance drill for the first time, it took less than 5 minutes to achieve the feeling of light legs. It seemed miraculous to me–but it wasn’t a miracle. Only simple physics.

    In the years since, I’ve seen 1000s of swimmers with poor body position. All achieved much better position–while reducing drag and saving enormous energy–with stunning speed by learning balance.

    And none had the ‘natural’ buoyancy or inborn speed the SwimSmooth blogger suggests one must have to consider the 2BK.

  7. Hey Terry,

    Haa! Yes, I agree with you. Allow me to modify that statement just a bit. “Giving a prescription to kick more to make up for lack of balance is a *traditional* solution, but it comes at a great cost to energy.

    In my case, it was not a solution at all, more kicking caused more problems, driving my hips even lower and increasing drag. Why wasn’t this obvious to coaches and me at that time? Before TI I had a coach tell me (to fix my sinking hips & legs), that I had kick more. I noted if I kick more I have difficulty swimming any distance, out of breath too soon. He gave me a kick board and instructed me to kick for the rest of the session to strengthen my legs. After about 250 meters of endless kicking, put the board on deck and walked away. Not blaming the coach, but only blaming myself that I wasn’t genetically built for swimming.

    That was until I bumped into your book in a used bookstore (of all places), after reading forward and a few pages I understood the word *BALANCE* for the first time in the context of swimming. It seemed so obvious, but wasn’t so or ever mentioned to me before that moment. It was shortly after that find, practicing and acquiring *balance* through drills and focus that I was able to swim a long distance without the aid of a pull buoy or wetsuit. I still look back at amazement, struggling with the swim and not being more curious, especially being an engineer (we love physics) and from playing ice hockey most of my life where balance and precision is everything to the sport.

    What I see frequently are both novice and advanced swimmers, kicking too much – which I’ve discovered is primarily the body’s response to being out of balance, busy legs holding the body in place. Whether or not they were taught to kick more, the perception from many coaches is “that’s what legs are supposed to do”. I once accepted that norm wholeheartedly, but have since learned the skill of balance and it balance gets better and more refined in every pool session. “Greater effort or smarter choices”, both offer their own prescriptions to solutions – I will always choose and teach the later.


  8. Pat says:

    Hi guys I must say I found this discussion very informative as I am struggling to get balance/2BK right and it passed through my mind during practice the other day that should I try a small little kick in between my main kick 2BK . I can do the kick with my left leg ok and can feel strong propulsion with it, but get it hard to get the correct timing/propulsion with the right leg ,not sure is my balance off or am I stroking too fast and ???? This article has certainly made me think a bit more about where I am going wrong. Last thing, are there any TI qualified coaches in Ireland? And if not where would I find a list of the ones in Scotland or the UK
    Struggling Pat

  9. Donal says:

    I try to kick as hard as I stroke. If I’m doing a 50 or 100, or towards the end of a middle distance, I’ll kick six beats to provide more balance. If I’m doing a 1600, two beats are plenty.

  10. Marwan says:

    This is true. A swimmer is always looking for ways to decrease the amount of resistance he or she can make so they can glide in the water faster without wasting energy. Fortunately the way stated above is one of the most efficient ways to decrease the amount of resistance a swimmer is subjected to. This way can improve personal bests and decrease the chance of injury and I fully support it

  11. Rod says:

    This is a really interesting discussion. I am an adult novice swimmer (56 yrs) and have been struggling with sinking legs. I was originally taught ( 3 yrs ago)swimming by a coach who embraced TI and encouraged 2 beat kick and keeping streamlined. Also I bought the ti dvd approx 2 years ago and practised approx 4 times per week. After some initial progress my improvement has plateaued and I am now going backwards. My coach could not recommend anything further ( I am struggling to get past 100 meter sets before getting out of breath). I keep my head down etc. but I am always fighting the legs sinking. I do the ti drills but nothing seems to change. Unsurprisingly the breathing technique also suffers.
    I am now seeing another coach who is recommending the 6 beat kick and this is even more exhausting ( struggling to go 50 metres non stop). I am now doing kicking sets but I fear this is going to be a waste of effort. By the way my general fitness is good. My natural buoyancy is poor I sink very easily in the pool. Can anyone recommend a ti coach in Sydney Australia .

  12. Rod
    It’s a good thing you found your way here. And you seem to have found just the right article too. I’m glad your coach initially introduced you to TI, but if he or she was unable to help you off the plateau, it’s because they haven’t been trained by us. And the coach recommending more kicking seems not to understand the skill of Balance. We have two great coaches in Sydney–Paul Stormon and Claire Owen.
    Visit our Find A Coach page and scroll down to Australia.

  13. Mark Revita says:


    I’m an adult onset swimmer. I only began learning how to swim about a year ago. TI has been very helpful in helping in my swimming progress. I follow the Self Coach Workshop (SCW) approach so I basically learn on my own. I’m based here in SG and there are TI coaches here (Coach Fish Tang and his interns) so I try to attend workshops/seminars on offer.

    Last month, I attended the Graceful Freestyle Technique workshop facilitated by Shinji Takeuchi. I was surprised, though, that Shinji is promoting 6BK as according to him this style helps him more in OWS specially when there are chops and strong current.

    Any thoughts on this?



  14. Hi Mark. It seems that Shinji are of different minds on this.
    6BK comes naturally to very few swimmers.
    And the vast majority of swimmers only waste more energy and increase drag when they kick more.
    I’ve coached for 40+ years, including many elite swimmers–some of whom were sprinters. Even they needed a lot of coaching–in many cases–to make their 6BK effective.
    I explain the advantages of 2BK and disadvantages of 6BK in very deep detail in my latest book, Ultra-Efficient Freestyle.
    It’s included in our downloadable Self-Coaching Toolkit.
    Or can be ordered as a standalone product kindle book on amazon.

  15. Rod says:

    Terry thanks for your suggestion above re ti coaches. I will follow this up and look forward to better balance plus a good 2 beat kick for 2016. By the way my ultimate aim is the Cronulla 1 km ocean fun swim (the serious swimmers do the full 3 km event). To complete the 1 km with some friends will be a big deal for me. I have drawn on your personal experiences and observations as motivation. Many thanks

  16. Ellie Roy says:

    I have found the new Mastery course to be excellent for making the transition to a 2BK. Having tried to do it many times before and failed miserably I followed the exercises in the new guidance (the videos were particularly useful )and it suddenly clicked. I am now swimming comfortably with a 2BK after just 3 sessions and hoping to refine it over the next few weeks. If you’re struggling with it try the new material, it is really helpful.

  17. Deb says:

    I’m a novice swimmer. The Ultra-Efficient Freestyle coaching was recommended to me as a starting point and I’ve been working on it for a few weeks. But there’s nothing in it on kicking. Where do I go to learn how to kick? If this is the right starting point for a beginner, why isn’t kicking included?

  18. Deb
    I appreciate your interest in Total Immersion and thank you for ordering the Ultra Efficient Freestyle Self-Coaching Course.
    When you describe yourself as a beginner, do you mean a TI beginner or that you are a novice at swimming? Can you give me a little bit more swimming history and describe what you are able to do, at this moment, when practicing in a pool?

    Can you swim more than 25 meters of front crawl, even if you feel yourself struggling?
    If so, what are the main problems or needs you perceive?
    What happens with your kick when you swim front crawl?
    Do you feel your legs are sinking–no matter how hard your kick?
    Does your kick make you tired easily?

    My main question is whether you have read the Ultra Efficient Freestyle ebook, which is part of the package you received?
    Chapter 10 is How to Kick Ultra-Efficiently. It has nine pages and six photo illustrations which explain the role of the kick in freestyle in great detail and provide focal points for developing an easier, more effective kick, including the 3-step process for achieving the kick we advocate strongly for — the 2-Beat Kick.
    1. Calm your legs.
    2. Streamline your legs.
    3. ‘Tune’ your legs — to work with your core body and integrate seamlessly with all parts of the stroke.

    The first two steps are part of the 1.0 UEF Self-Coaching Course.
    The third step we hold in reserve for our 2.0 Freestyle Mastery Self-Coaching Course, because it requires–typically–three to six months of practicing the learning and skill tasks included in Level 1.0.

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