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How to Flutter Kick - Tips for an Effective Swimming Technique

Updated on August 21, 2012

The flutter kick is the most simple yet also the most versatile swimming kick. This article teaches you how to learn and improve this basic swimming technique.


The flutter kick is the kick used while swimming front crawl / freestyle and backstroke. It is also used with more basic swimming techniques, for example while treading water or while swimming dog paddle.

The flutter kick is a simple kick, for example children often use it instinctively when they play with a kick board. Despite its simplicity, it can be very effective and add a lot of propulsion, as you can see with the speed Olympic level swimmers can attain when they do kick board sets.

How to Flutter Kick

Flutter kicking is not unlike the movement you do when kicking into a ball:

  1. The thigh moves forward, the knee bends slightly and the foot flexes so that the toes are pointed.
  2. The thigh stops its movement while the knee extends until the leg is completely straight.
  3. The thigh starts to move backwards and the lower leg follows suit. During the backward movement the flexion of the foot decreases slightly.
  4. The thigh stops its movement again while the lower leg still moves backward for a short amount of time.
  5. Finally the kick cycle starts anew.

Both legs move simultaneously but in opposite directions: while one leg moves forward the other moves backward, and vice versa.

Swimming Technique Tips

Here are some finer points to observe for obtaining an effective flutter kick:

  • Your feet should be a few inches apart and be slighlty rotated inward. This improves propulsion as the upper part of your foot is better positioned to push against the water. One way to practice this is to let your big toes slightly brush against each other.
  • Ideally, while kicking forward, your foot should be pointed so that it is aligned with your shin, like when a ballet dancer is dancing en pointe. However, the ankles of beginners are often inflexible. In that case using swim fins regularly will help to loosen them up.
  • Your feet should be allowed to flip-flop a little bit: they are completely flexed while kicking forward, then lose a little bit of flexion while kicking backward, then flex again, and so on.
  • Ideally your feet shouldn't break the water surface or splash, as this wastes energy and reduces propulsion. In practice this can be difficult to attain, however try to aim for the least amount of splashing possible.
  • Your knees should bend slightly during the forward movement. They should neither be kept straight nor bend too much. If you bend your knees like when riding a bicycle this is too much bend.

How to Learn The Flutter Kick

To learn the kick, I suggest the following sequence of exercises:

  1. Sit at the edge of the pool and let your lower legs dangle in the water.
  2. Extend your left leg forward. Feel how the pressure of the water pushes against the top of your foot and makes it flex. Bend your knee and kick backward. Feel how the pressure of the water against the bottom of your foot reduces its flexion.
  3. Repeat this a few times with your left leg.
  4. Do the same exercise with your right leg.
  5. Do the same exercises, and now kick with both legs simultaneously but in opposite directions. When your left leg kicks forward, your right leg kicks backward, and vice versa. Try to have both feet a few inches apart and your big toes brushing against each other.
  6. Grab a pair of swim fins and additional swimming aids if you need to. Hold onto the pool edge (or a lane marker), get into a horizontal position and start to flutter kick like you did previously. The kick should push you against the wall and ideally keep you horizontal without too much effort.
  7. Grab a pair of swim fins, a kick board and additional swimming aids if you need to. Hold the kick board in front of you, get into a horizontal position and start to kick. Do a few lengths while wearing the fins, and vary the strength of the kick: hard, moderately and lazy. Notice how this has an influence on how much you must contract your calves.
  8. Remove the swim fins, and do a few lengths of flutter kick. Notice how much faster you must kick to move forward without fins. If you have very stiff ankles, you might notice that you don't move much at all or even move backward. If that's the case, simply be patient and regularly practice with fins as this will loosen up your ankles (but don't use fins all the time as this could strain your ankles).

Tips for Swim Fins

There are different kinds of swim fins: diving fins, regular swimming fins and short blade fins. When practicing the flutter kick with fins, I recommend to use short blade ones. They give less propulsion, so using them is more like the experience you have without fins. And they also put less pressure on the Achilles tendon, which can be important if you are prone to problems in that area.


That's it, I hope that these few tips will allow you to learn the flutter kick if you are a beginner or to improve your kick if you already know how to swim.


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    • andrebreynolds profile image

      andrebreynolds 6 years ago

      Great post of tips here. Thanks for sharing.