Tool Review #4 Kickboards: Not Dangerous. Still Insidious
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on December 29th, 2010

Here’s the 4th in my series of counter-reviews of  ‘swim tools’ featured in the Active Swimming newsletter article 5 Tools to Spice Up Your Swimming. Here’s an excerpt from the piece on kickboards: “Kickboards are another staple of the competitive swimming world.  When you use fins, kick hard so it becomes aerobically challenging instead of just a gentle cruise up and down the lanes.”

My rating: 1 out of 5 – Use kickboards if you think of the pool mainly as a good place to ‘get exercise’. Avoid if you hope to improve your swimming.

Unlike paddles, kickboard training poses little risk of injury (unless you do excessive breaststroke kicking.)  And it’s adequate as a form of general fitness training.

That’s the extent of anything positive I can say on their behalf.

As the article says, they’re a ‘staple’ of the competitive swimming world. I think mania would be a more accurate term. I’d estimate that swimmers worldwide devote a collective 1,000,000 (one million) man-hours a week to kickboard training, believing it’s good – even essential – for their swimming.

Contrarian that I am, I consider it an appalling waste of human potential.

How did this mass delusion take hold? Blame the Body Parts Theory of Swimming Mechanics which goes like this: “You have an Arms Department responsible for pulling you along and a Legs Department responsible for pushing you ahead. Since we train body parts separately in the weight room, do it in the water too.”

Lately it seems many coaches are competing over who can devote more of the workout to plowing up and down on kickboards. With so many leading coaches taking part in an arms, err legs, race, it’s a rare coach or swimmer willing to take the risk of Just Saying No to Kickboards and actually discover whether the apocalypse – or better swimming – results.

In an admittedly anecdotal experiment, I’ve done just that. From 1996 to 1999, while coaching the sprinters – considered the most ‘kicking reliant’ of all events — at West Point, we never did a single lap with kickboards.

Surprisingly, no one ever complained that their legs ‘died’ during a race. Not only that, but the group as a whole had off-the-charts improvement and dominated all competition — who were not risking untrained legs.

I swore off kickboards personally nearly 20 years ago. Previously I’d trained as hard and faithfully on kickboards as any teammate. This helped me kick fast repeat times on fast intervals while pushing a kickboard in front of me.

Attempting to use my whole body in races? That was another matter. There my legs always betrayed me. My kick was ineffective and my legs still fatigued badly.

Since I kicked the kicking sets, on the rare occasions when I attempt a 50 kick, my time is pathetic and the effort exhausts me.

But when I race, my legs now contribute significantly to my speed – and never fatigue. (A result of assiduous work on learning to coordinate a 2-Beat Kick as a part of integrated whole-body movement. But that’s a topic for another blog.)

Which proves that what kicking sets train you to do is push a kickboard across the pool. The best way to train your legs for the role they’ll perform while swimming – is use them while swimming. We call that Whole Stroke.

6 Responses to “Tool Review #4 Kickboards: Not Dangerous. Still Insidious”

  1. Mark says:

    Terry, as always, great info. I believe you were offering 1-2 day clinics coming up in January. I can’t find them on the TI website. Are they all sold out?

  2. Mark
    It will probably be March before we introduce a series of three new 1-day workshops, based on those we did Dec 13-17 in Coral Springs FL. They’ll be listed on our web site.

  3. Richard says:


    On the rare occasions you swim a shorter race such as a 100 or 200, do you use a six-beat kick or stick to the tried and true two-beat?

  4. Richard
    I haven’t swum a race as short as 200 in five years. However this year, as a 60 y.o., I intend to swim all distances and strokes. And I will most likely train to integrate a 6BK in the 50 and 100 Free. If I use it at all in the 200, mostly likely just the last 25 or 50.

  5. Mike T says:

    Its interesting how my use of training tools has evolved. I still do regular kick sets but I now incorporate drills where I used to use a kick board. For example, I use kick on my side drills to focus on position, balance and water feel (ie an 8 kick 3 pull type drill) or I kick on my back (typically 25 kick / 25 backstroke to work on keeping a balanced position). Another kicking drill I do is an overkick drill – ie do a 6 or 8 beat kick for a 25 or 50 with a focus on ankle flex and streamline (fast feet with long relaxed arms). More often than not, when I swim my free style after this, I find I can maintain balance and hip position without hard kicking. I get the benefit of working on my balance while working on my kicking in the same drills… Even with breast stroke I sometimes use a hands at my hips position to work on kicking without a board (ie try to touch my heels to my hands when loading up the kick – for another two for one skill drill) or I will do 2-3 kicks per pull.

  6. Lance R. says:

    Great info, Terry

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