“You know what your problem is?” He says to me with a really cool and rolling Slovakian accent. “Come here, I’ll show it to you.” I swim under the ropes and meet him in his lane. He proceeds to show me how I kick, which is rather embarrassing. I knew I was bad, but I had no idea!!! He showed me something that resembled me drunk and having turrets. “You’re all over the place!”

“OK, I show you an ok kick. I’m not very good, but it’s better than what you’re doing. Now watch me underwater.” I take a deep breath and dunk my head underwater to observe him kick. This big beer bellied guy is moving his legs, but they’re whipping under the water like weeping willow branches. It almost looks like his legs are made of rubber by the way they bend through the water.

“Did you see? I didn’t use my legs at all. It starts at the hips, then the legs follow. It takes practice to relax the legs and let the hips do all the work.”

Yeah, his hips were moving so quickly I had a difficult time seeing what exactly… I don’t know.

“Now you try,” as he hands me a kick board.

I. AM. NOT. MOVING! I’m kicking and I’m going nowhere. He’s trying not to laugh at me. “Your legs are sinking.” Yeah, my whole body is sinking!

“Take a look at Susan. She is a powerful kicker.” She sure is. I slink underwater to observe. She makes it look so simple. Hips are moving but the legs are just going with the flow.

“Learning how to kick? Once you figure it out it never leaves you,” she says.

“Do you have a lesson you can teach him?”

“Oh! It’s a pretty hard one but it will teach you how hard to kick. This is great to learn because a lot of people think they’re kicking but they really aren’t. Let’s teach him the vertical.”

The Vertical:

While upright in the deep end of a pool, arms either at your sides or up in the air. Kick! Don’t tread water. Just kick! Only use the hips. Try and keep the upper body still. Play around with speed (cadence) and kick stroke (length).

If you sink or your head goes below the surface, kick harder!

That’s it. Basically you try not to drown.

This simple exercise demonstrated to me that what I considered kicking was in fact an illusion that only resembled kicking. I kicked like a pansy. No, not like a girl! Because it was a girl who taught me how to kick! A soggy newspaper had more power than my sorry excuse for a kick!

Of course when we kick upright, we are fighting gravity and all the weight of the water and our bodies. When we translate this kick to swimming, we won’t need to kick as hard when our bodies are horizontal. But this exercise will tell us the gap in power we need to bridge, and it’s a big bridge in my case.

This eye opening technique improved my position relative to the water’s surface and I noticed an improvement in my speed. Of course, making this change in form permanent will take a while, but it works!