I have participated in a number of Tri's over the years, however, I seem unable to improve my swimming. Recently, a friend suggested doing some drills to isolate the problem. While using a kickboard and trying to get across the pool just kicking, I came to a dead stop in the water, no amount of kicking would propel me forward. However, when I used a pullbouy to isolate my legs I was able to cut down on the number of strokes to do a pool length, and picked up some speed to boot. Clearly my legs seem to be a hinderance in the water!
What is going on?
I am NOT going to pretend to be an expert. I've only been swimming about 6 mos, but have no trouble finishing a mile in 30 min. On long distances, I barely kick at all, instead focusing on a long, sleak, straight line from head to toe and adequately rotating with each stroke.
Having said that, I do a drill that is in fact the first drill in the Total Immersion book, that isolates my kick. I was very surprised to find myself going backwards the first few times I tried it. It would be very similar to your kickboard experience.
Anyhow, you are probably kicking with your knees, the way a runner/bicylist would. Try really hard to keep the legs nearly straight. Keep the ankle very flexible, but the toes generally pointed in the direction of your very streamlined body. Kick as much as you can from the hip/core rather than the knee. I practice this about once a week on drill day just to make sure my legs aren't interfering with my forward progress. At some point, I'll try to go faster by adding a substantial kick, but for now, I just want them to not hinder my forward progress.
Also key here is to not let them "dangle" in the water. Again, keeping your core tight you should be able to keep the legs at or just under the surface of the water.
At best, I would do 3 km in the pool over a 75 min. period, inclusive of three, 2 min. breaks.
I had a friend watch my action under water as I tried to propel forward with the kickboard and legs only, she was able to confirm that I do kick from the hips, but to her great amusement, there was no forward movement. I did try to swim without aids and not kick at all, I was struggling before I had reached 10 m. The key to this seems to be to find a way to keep my legs at the surface as much as possible.
I take your point that I probably need to flex my feet at the ankles and point my toes as much as possible, this I will look out for on my next swim.
Thanks for your comments, been very helpful!
Also not any sort of accomplished swimmer, however here are some thoughts:
Try kicking with you legs together like a dolphin. The idea is to learn to kick from your hips using your core rather than from your knees. You might want to try it without a kickboard and even underwater at first, only going a few meters rather than the whole length of the pool.
Try the kickboard thing on your back, with your legs together at first and then individually. This is tough so don't get discouraged.
After you feel comfortable that you are kicking from your hips the focus should be on body control Float in the "deep end" kicking your feet (ideally with your hands out of the water), turn left 90 degrees four times then right 90 degrees four times (repeat as boredome allows). Remember, this is about agility and body control in the water. After that, try drills that include swimming on your back, your front and each side with one arm stroke for every three you'd normally do. When you swim on your side, keep your head in the water looking forward. The target is again, better body control in the water.
After that check your normal swim for two related things: arms going too deep and your knee "breaking" (bending pointed out) during your stroke. If these are going on you need to fix them before fixing your body position. You'll likely need a video or a friend to spot these.
After that the focus should be on sqaurely on body position. Swim with your head down i.e. looking straight down and as far under water as realistic. The lower your head, the higher your feet, causing less drag. You might also feel your butt out of the water but you should not go so far as to bend at the waste. Over-emphasize it for drills but also make it a theme when you swim.
For training, assuming you swim twice a week, focus one workout on these skills and drills and the other on muscle endurance and/or power. The benefit will far outweigh swimming long and/or hard twice.
Your kicking and body position should improve significantly after all of that.
You are supposed to kick from the hips, but it's important to note that does NOT mean that your leg is completely rigid and straight. Most coaches when dealing with novice swimmers focus on telling them to keep their knees straight... because most will tend to naturally do a wide kick with a bent knee... almost pushing the water backward. But being too rigid isn't good either. With a good flutter kick, there is some flex in the knee and ankle which creates a bit of a "whip" with your foot as it kicks down. That motion, combined with the proper foot angle for both the up and down motion of the kick, produces the maximum thrust from your legs.
Now that being said... a solid kick is nice for distance swimming, but perhaps not really necessary. Some triathletes prefer to "save" their legs during the swim and do most of the work with their arms, so their legs aren't gassed at the start of the bike leg. With that type of approach, you still need the right kick form... but you are kicking more with the idea of keeping your legs up and your body horozontal in the water then to get a huge amount of forward push. You're looking at a 2-beat kick as opposed to a more standard 6-beat kick. Doing that might be a better approach.
It sounds like you need to use your hips more. I also don't have very powerful legs but found if I thrust with my hips then the kick usually follows. I also tend to drink vita coco while I swim and that gives me all the energy I need.
You should try vertical kicking..... Keep your body vertical and cross your hands over your chest in the deep end of the pool. kick from your hips and try to keep your head above water. Try to go for 10 secs and then try sets of 10 secs. Also look for a USMS program in your area with an on deck coach. It might be worth it to join for a year to help improve your technique. Go to www.usms.org.
From how I understand swimming, you don't need much leg movement in the water to be a good swimmer. Most of your propulsion is from your position in the water, your upper body, and core strength. I'd focus on gaining endurance and doing specific drills to increase your form.