Distance swimmers and triathletes often turn to the energy-saving crossover kick to keep from being winded during a long swim. This technique is a modification of the flutter kick that counters the strokes you take with your arms, helping you maintain a steady rhythm and good body position in the water.
Crossover kicking uses two- or sometimes, four-beat kicks. In two-beat kicking, each leg kicks once every stroke cycle, far less than the traditional six-beat kicking in freestyle – and far less exhausting. For many, letting the legs “hang” in the water between kicks isn’t as effective as using the crossover technique, which has the top leg kicking down and over as the bottom leg kicks up and in as the ankles cross briefly before separating for another kick. The leg crossing over is always on the same side as the arm that is taking the stroke.
Flutter Vs. Crossover
Freestyle, or front crawl, is the stroke most swimmers use when swimming distances. Freestyle uses the flutter kick, a rhythmic up-and-down movement of the legs that starts from the hips, where it’s powered by the muscles of the core and upper legs. A strong flutter kick may help a swimmer speed past the competition for short distances, but it can leave her exhausted and gasping for air. Crossover kicking is far less exerting, allowing distance swimmers and triathletes to conserve energy, better pace themselves and save their legs for the bike and run legs of a triathlon.
The right kicking rhythm for each swimmer depends on her build, flexibility, comfort in the water and how well she floats. Long legs might sink faster, for example, than shorter legs. A swimmer with low body fat might might also find that her legs sink faster than those of more buoyant swimmers. Sinking legs might force a swimmer to turn to four, or even six-beat kicking, which can leave her far more exhausted than her counterparts who aren't kicking as much. This is where the crossover kicking technique comes into play. The ankle-crossing movement adds just enough propulsion to keep the legs up long enough to allow for the reduced two- or four-beat kicking patterns.
Pacing and Bodyline
It can take time and practice to master the crossover kick, but once you've honed the technique and refined your kicking patterns, you'll be better able to pace yourself during long-distance swims. A big plus to crossover kicking, many distance swimmers find, is that it works well with body rotation and breathing during freestyle. Swimmers also find that crossover kicking helps maintain a good bodyline in the water, which helps conserve energy because the swimmer isn't fighting drag from sinking legs.
- USA Triathlon: Swim Drills for Triathletes
- Florida Local LMSC: Coaches Corner - Rotation Again and Again
- Go Swim: What Kind of Kick Should I Use?
- Swimming Fastest: The Essential Reference on Technique, Training and Program Design; Ernest W. Maglischo
- Brendon Thorne/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images