2-Beat Kick Steps

Are you one of those swimmers who has been trying to integrate the 2-Beat Kick (2BK) into your stroke lately?

Don’t feel bad if you have been struggling. I would say at least half my students find this really complicated in the first few months of practicing TI – and of those, the swimmers with a long history of 6-Beat or other funky rhythm have the hardest time of all. It is really hard to get those feet to stop such a deeply ingrained habit.

But don’t give up! I have some encouragement for you…

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Here is a progression that is more respectful of your brain’s way of learning:

Step 1 – The first step in learning the 2BK is to turn off your legs, or, in other words, learn how to stop your legs from doing the old pattern (or lack of one). In order to stop them, you have to learn to tune into what they are doing so you can control them. One good way to do this is get a swim partner to stand behind you in shallow water and place their hands around your ankles very lightly. You will start swimming normally for a few strokes, and they will keep contact with your ankles but not restrict your kick in any way. By this touch on your ankles you will get direct bio-feedback to your brain through the nerve endings of your skin to help you become hyper-aware of where your legs are going on each kick. Once you get over the shock of what your legs are actually doing (in comparison to what your imagination thought your legs were doing) you can then make attempts to turn them off, or at least begin to minimize the extremes.

Step 2 – Then learn to let the legs slide behind the body – or we might describe this as having the legs hide in the shadow or envelope of your body line. When swimming forward there is a high pressure zone in front of the body, and a low pressure zone behind the body, and both want to slow your body down – boat and airplane designers will recognize this fluid mechanics situation right away.  Legs spreading out wider than this body envelope will act like a parachute slowing you down, despite the extra thrust you try to generate from that wide kick. We all comprehend that planes and submarines have a distinct shape in the front cutting edge and in the back trailing edges – and these are there for a good reason. Swimmers will do well to imitate this even with our water-awkward bodies.

Step 3 – The third step is to make the cross-body connection: right-foot to left-shoulder and left-foot to right-shoulder. If you get totally messed up each time you try to 2BK back and forth with both connections I would recommend you spend more time working on just one connection at a time, rather than both of them.  In Spear Switch or Swing Switch drill Just do 10x right-foot to left-shoulder for a while, then switch to the other side. I would label the single connection practice as Step 3A, and the back-and-forth both connection practice as Step 3B.

Step 4 – The fourth step is to fine-tune the timing of each kick.

2 beat kick

Consider this (if you are familiar with TI stroke terminology): When the recovery arm is poised at Mailslot position, ready to spear into the water and down to the target, gravity is ready to assist the beginning of the rotation. Let gravity do the work here.  I do not want to initiate the kick at this point. I want to wait just a moment longer until the upper shoulder has fallen into the water. After this moment gravity is mostly taken out of the equation. It has done its job. My spearing hand is half-way extended (see yellow arrows above) and my body nearly half way rotated. It needs help extending the rest of the way – this is the moment the kick comes into play. It gives me the leverage to assist the rotation all the way to my ideal Skate position and extend the arm to its target ahead.

I am not going to claim that this timing is ‘the best’ timing… yet. I’ve just started examining the timing for this in my own stroke on distance tempos and want to compare notes with other swimmers who have sweet 2BK strokes. I would also like to experiment further into sprint speeds to examine how I’ve been timing it there (that’s winter work). But I can say that this timing is working very well for me and provides me with an extra-ordinary reach forward.

Step 5 – The fifth step is to fine-tune the pressure of each kick. An abrupt kick gives the illusion of power, but that extra pressure felt under the foot from a sudden thrust also means that the abrupt force transferred through the body to the front is going to create an abrupt dramatic increase in water pressure in front of the swimmer. (Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal opposite reaction!) You got a ‘bigger’ kick but you also got a massive increase in drag because of it, which negates a good portion of that extra thrust.  The illusion of power may not be worth the cost. Swimming is a difficult economy to measure, but I am going to argue that the better trade off (for distance swimmers, at least) is to avoid the abrupt slamming of the foot. Rather, apply an even and steady pressure with foot and lower leg – and aim to apply this pressure all the way until the spearing arm reaches full extension. (Correspondingly, this is the same idea behind The Catch – make it steady, and distribute the power across the catch phase, not merely concentrate it at one mechanically convenient point in that phase).

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The 2BK is actually more of a fine motor skill, although all the power traditionally associated with it keeps it treated (= trained) like a gross motor one (please, chuck that kick board!). It will be quite difficult to master until you have really solid balance in place. It’s hard to control the feet for other purposes when the body is still wobbling all around! And the 2BK won’t take you very far until you’ve got  stable streamline in place to take advantage of it.  Why push against a wall of water from poor body shaping? So be patient and persistent to work on those first before you get too ambitious with the 2BK. It will all come together nicely when you build the pieces in order.

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In this series:

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13 responses to “2-Beat Kick Steps

  1. Coach:

    A great blog on a very difficult subject. I’ve been struggling with 2BK for several years, and the most I am able to do is one leg at a time. Can’t wait to get in the water and practice each of your steps.

    Thanks for breaking this down in an easily understood process.

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  5. Thanks Matt, truly informative blog.
    Two key points you make that are not fully understood by everybody…
    1. 2BK timing is after gravity has initiated the body rotation
    2. Lack of good balance/Streamlined position creates unnecessary kicking motion.

  6. Dear Mat,

    my problem is not cross-body connection, but how to take straight the leg that is not kicking. Any suggestions?

    • In the progression that I described you can follow the same progression, but change your focal point to ‘hold the leg straight’, or ‘let the leg rest’. You can alternate between focusing on the kicking legs and the non-kicking leg. For example, pick a drill to isolate one connection, do 10x with your Focal Point on the kick, then 10x with your Focal Point on the straight leg.

      Teaching a part of the body to ‘not move’ requires the same focus and training as those parts that do move. It is a matter of coordinating and controlling the muscles to hold/fire in a different pattern.

      If you have the cross-body connection solidly in place, then you have the first part done, even if it feels ‘messy’ yet. The next step is to clean it up, refining the path of movement, the range of movement, the timing, and the amount of pressure. Each one of these in turn, or create separate Focal Points for each one and alternative between them.

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  9. if someone is new to swimming and main goal is swimming for triathlon – is it possible to start with 2 beat kick and train that from start OR as some have told me – if you do not start with a strong kick it will be hard to have effective two beat kick and rotation – the two beat feels far more natural to me than 6 beat but not sure my kick is cutting on the two beat fully either?

    • I would like to hear the reasoning or explanation for those who propose that you learn a ‘strong’ kick before learning 2-Beat to understand what they may perceive as the weakness in learning 2BK first. Likely they see 2BK simply a normal kick and just a different rhythm. I argue that it is not. A 2-Beat Kick has a different purpose than a 6 or 4 beat kick. If one tries to use a 2-Beat Kick for linear thrust they should be disappointed. It’s value is in assisting rotation. Whereas the 6-Beat is intended for linear thrust, NOT for rotation, since the counter kicking actions actually work against smooth rotation (requires the hips to dislocate from torso to counter kick against rotation direction). Personally, I am confident that you would be best served by a 2-Beat Kick integrated into a synchronized whole body propulsion. If Sun Yang can swim 1400 at 58sec/100m with a 2BK I think that is a pretty good sales pitch for its speed utility.

      If the 2BK already feels natural to you then that means your nervous system has a head start on the instinct. I would highly encourage you to go with it. Remember the trade-off is that you use the 2BK to assist rotation and drive energy through that rotation to the cutting edges of your body, rather than pushing back on the water to supplement arms pulling forward. The 2BK is pressing DOWN on the water (vertical force is converted to rotational force in the body), not backward.

      • Thanks very much for a well thought and reasoned response. I think I will focus on 2BK as in truth I find 6 beat or other very noisy and confusing to be doing at same time as swim strokes. Feels like wasted energy and a headache. Again, this is just for me and I’m not experienced enough to know or feel other.

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