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I try not to live by too many rules as they tend to constrict one's ability to think creatively, however I do have a rule when it comes to kickboards (also referred to as swimming boards).
Do not use them when you are learning to swim!
Kickboards are a huge impediment to your swimming progress.
Ok, it is not entirely true that kickboards do not have a place around swimming pools (just watched the video below:), but let me explain why I suggest not using swimming boards at the start of one's swimming journey.
If you remember from one of my previous articles, body and head position is one of the key elements to a successful swimming stroke. The problem with using a kickboard for kicking is that your body defies the proper positioning.
With your head above the water, your legs sink deeper into the water and instead of swimming in a horizontal position, you suddenly find yourself swimming up a hill with your feet angling down towards the pool floor.
This is totally not the position you want to be imprinting into your brain:).
If you learn to rely on a kickboard while you are learning to swim or learning a proper body position, it will take you that much longer to actually achieve your goal. If you resist the temptation to use a kickboard and practice your kicking without it, it might be a bit more difficult at the beginning, however, you will not only gain great body position, but also better balance and strength in your core body.
Not convinced to leave your kickboard at home yet?
Well, just think about the reason why you started using your swimming board in the first place. Chances are that you just do as others do and kick with a kickboard, because everybody else kicks with it (we are after all a society with monkey ancestry).
Or you find it easier to kick that way, because you can breathe as much as you'd like or you utilize your kickboard as a flotation device.
Whatever your reason for using a kickboard is, trust me when I say you don't need it and here are more reasons why:
I already mentioned the improper positioning of your body with your hips down and your legs sinking, but this is so important I mention it again. This is definitely a no no. Instead you should work on keeping your head under the water and your butt at the surface while you kick, so your body is in a nice streamline.
Yes, it is easier to breathe while kicking with a kickboard. You can take in as many breaths you want and as often as you'd like. However, if you practice kicking on your sides with your face down, or in a streamline with your face down, you can at the same time practice your side breathing and a proper breathing rhythm. Therefore, making you a better swimmer in the long run.
After you drop the kickboard, you can concentrate better on the kick itself and not on what your swimming board is doing or how you hold it. It is important that you focus only on one thing at a time, so keep it simple. Using Swimmer's Snorkel is a great way to isolate focus.
You can eliminate the neck ache from kicking with your head above the water and any shoulder tightness due to extended periods of kickboard holding. Remember, keeping a flat, wrinkle free neck during the time your head is underwater is important to keep a nice streamline.
Now is probably the time you might be wondering.
What do I use a kickboard for then?
Did I throw my money away?
The good news is that you did not throw your money away completely.
Firstly, you supported your local swim shop :) but, more importantly, you could use your kickboard in more advanced swimming situations. For example if you want to kick fast for a time. Getting a lot of oxygen is very important during a timed swim.
You could also use your kickboard as a resistance tool by holding it in front of you in the water in a vertical position as if you'd kick against a wall.
Or if you kick on a side with your bottom arm forward, you could press on the kickboard to get it under the water (if the kickboard is small enough) and thus raise your hips and legs to the surface to improve your core body strength for better body position or to stretch your lat muscle.
Enough about kickboards though. I think I made my point.
Now it is time to improve your kicking skills.
Also kicking without a kickboard in a streamlined position would actually increases your shoulder pain because you are stressing your muscles to keep your hands in the right position. Kicking with your hands closed to your body would make it harder to keep your front part afloat .
The kickboard actually helped me to control my hip position durring my learning curve.
I would rather go about it the other way arround, and drop the kickboard after you have some confidence in the water.
- learning to swim with a kickboard: sure, this is possible and that is one of the reasons why kickboards were invented (to help with swimming instruction), however, it is not the ideal way to learn to swim as for the issues mentioned in this post.
- increase shoulder pain without kickboard: I have to fully disagree with your statement here. When you are in a streamlined position, you should not put strain on your shoulders unless you are not able to fully relax in the water (which is a skill you must master to learn to swim). Furthermore, kicking in a streamlined position is not really the point for majority of swimmers. Kicking on a side with the bottom arm extended forward is much more useful. Resting your arms on a kickboard puts much higher stress on your shoulders as your body is leaning on them while your hands rest on the kickboard.
- kicking with hands down makes it hard to keep your front part afloat: if this is how you feel than you probably need much more practice of the basic swimming techniques, for example, keeping your head below the surface of the water or pressing your chest into the water. Your front part (chest), if inflated with air, should not have an issue with floating in any position.
- controlling your hip position with kickboard: I assume you mean having your hips at the surface of the water. If so, kickboard will actually not help you with this. Your head position below the surface of the water is the thing to focus on here. Head down will bring your hips up.
Hope this made sense. If you have any more questions or disagreements, please do not hesitate to comment as this is a very healthy and important dialog :).
What do I like about coaching using kickboards?
I like that I can teach them to track. I like that I can ask them their split 50 when they are going 3 x 100@3 as a test set, for example. It is harder so I like that too.
Should they do this all the time? I'm a biomechanist and stroke specialist so, no. I like my swimmers to use snorkels and the Snorkel Mirror my company released a couple months ago so they look down to see forward. I am also releasing one handed boards so they will rotate with one hand forward sometimes. Either way though I want to know how fast they can kick without pulling or cheating. Boards, even what you describe as 'evil' ones can help with that.
If, as you rightly say, having a great kick is priceless, I recommend you video on the side daily to make sure when your swimmers are kicking the do't bend their knees on the recovery phase of kick. You can kick until your legs fall of an wonder why my swimmers are killing your underwater. Measure and improve their ankle flexibility. Either use my Fankle invention or have them stretch in partners, etc. but measure and track it or they will not reach their potential with or without a board. I work on this every day and it's my pleasure to help you in any way you wish. See my most up to date site at Competitiveswimmer.com, call, etc. Again, thanks for this post!
I was on my side, with one hand floating in front of me, my head was on my shoulder, and my other hand was on the other boards next to my knee. So cool. I had tried it with too little foam density and it was no different than the drills we do. But having more foam -- though lean enough to force me to my side, was far more comfortable yet forced both legs to work on force and recovery parts of my kick. I'll have fit swimmers try it tomorrow and post some video. And yes, I too use kick boards in lessons and will probably always do so. I think I've got a better way for racing swimmer who want to reach their potential with these armboards(?) Help with a name. Thanks again for this useful blog and your support of my inventions. It's hard work but it leaves a legacy and it's fun! Steve (competitiveswimmer.com)