# In freestyle swimming does flutter kick recovery causes sinking?

As per my understanding in flutter kick, we kick downwards and the water pushes the swimmer up. However, in flutter kick the swimmer is also actually kicking the water upwards when recovering from the kick. We can contrast this with a dolphin kick where swimmer essentially glides back in recovery and there is little upward kicking. Another example is an oar on boat pushing water where in recovery one goes through air.

So swimmer is pushing the water down and up both. And it looks like the velocity of down and upwards kick is the same. So why does the fast flutter kick still help the swimmer to stay afloat ?

• If you were only pushing water up and down there would be no propulsive force (which there is). And real dolphin kicks (underwater or butterfly) involve a lot of effort going both ways - there is no 'glide' in the recovery. Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 19:57

This is an interesting question. I tried to look online and did not find much information. People are much more interested in the propulsion aspect of the kick.

In any case, this is probably not a comprehensive answer, but I see a few factors. Note that the hydrodynamics of swimming is highly non-linear and turbulent, so any "explanation" will necessarily take out a lot of details of how this works. Also, I don't know exactly what proportion of lift is due to each factor I mention below.

1 - Speed effect.

Flutter kick is known to make you swim faster. If your feet are lower than your head and you move forward in water without kicking (either using only arms or being pulled by a rope for example), your feet will be lifted, just due to the direction of drag force. The faster you go, the higher the feet in water. This would likely be true even if the flutter kick performed but was not producing any lift.

2 - Variable geometry of the kick.

The up and down parts of the flutter kick are not symmetrical. Notably, in a good flutter kick, the ankle is loose, so that the foot presents a large area perpendicular to its movement in the downward direction compared to the upward direction. Therefore, we can expect a larger force on the down phase of the kick than on the up phase of the kick. [EDIT] The movement of the ankle can be seen for example in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=makJKOu-8ds. One clearly sees that the top of the foot is in line with the tibia when going down, but angled to about 90 degrees when going up. This effectively changes the length of the foot/lower leg combo.[/EDIT]

3 - Boundary condition between water and air.

Vertical force can be seen as created to conserve the vertical component of momentum imparted to water while kicking. In flutter kick, in the phase where the foot is close to the surface, there is very little water to push up, while there is a lot of water to push down. Since air is much less dense than water, the momentum imparted to the air above the swimmer is negligible, and the small quantity of water above the feet at the top of the kick will result in less momentum imparted to the water, and correspondingly to a smaller downward force.

[EDIT] The feet should not go up too much as any part of the swimmer above water does not contribute to propulsion and can only sink the legs of the swimmer. While this third effect is only there for a small portion of the kick (probably between a few centimeters down from the surface to the surface on the upkick), it still contributes to the asymmetry. Of note, the force that needs to be exerted on the legs to keep them horizontal is quite small as the density of the legs is already close to that of water. This can be seen by the small size of floats used by swimmers held between the legs when practicing arm only drills Volumes of only a few liters are common, which suggests that forces of only a few tens of Newtons are required.[/EDIT]

The importance of factors 2 and 3 could be determined experimentally by swimming with the ankle braced in a fixed position (for factor 2) and by doing a flutter kick deeper underwater to see how it works (for factor 3).

• Good answer. 1 probably really helps, I could think of it like aeroplane wings get pushed up while moving forward. This can be easily seen this with beginner swimmers who don't kick and say a coach is pulling them About 2 and 3 I really thought of them a lot! If you see youtube.com/watch?v=OEzOWZYSjPI&t=65s at 0.25 speed, the swimmer legs are rarely touching the air. Only the tip touches the surface and then you can see the bubble wave going down with the kick. About 2 I can't understand the thing about ankle. The downward motion on the whole seems a reverse of the upward one Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 10:39
• I edited the answer to hopefully make it clearer. Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 17:45
• Excellent update. In fact I found another video where if the ankles are stiff while kicking, the swimmer is actually going backwards :) youtu.be/5CPuOgPMvMc?t=177. I see lots of beginner swimmer (including me) not flexing the ankles, now I know the importance ! Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 16:23

The propulsion required to move forward is created by rhythmic upward and downward movement of the legs.To answer your question ,when one leg moves up the other leg goes down hence being unable to cancel the forces.In detail there are two phases of one flutter and its recovery.

Downbeat:-

In the first half of the downbeat, the downward movement is initiated by a slight flexion of the leg at the hip.

Shortly after that, the knee also bends a little. The foot goes into plantar flexion (meaning the toes are pointed, both by muscle contraction and by the pressure of the water against the foot as it moves downwards.

During this phase, the upper side of the foot is facing downwards and a little backward. For this reason, while the foot is moving downwards, some water is pushed back. This is how propulsion is created in the flutter kick.

In the second half of the downbeat, the hip is locked in place while the knee stretches. The toes are still pointed. This phase isn’t propulsive but prepares the leg for its upward movement.

Upbeat:-

The upward movement of the leg begins while the knee is still stretching. As the thigh moves upwards, the pressure of the water against the lower leg causes the leg to straighten.

The pressure of the water on the ball of the foot and on the toes brings the foot to a neutral intermediate position. This phase of the flutter kick is not propulsive either.

• The question is not about how kicking is creating forward propulsion. That has been discussed in other questions. It is specifically why upward and downward motion of kick don't cancel each other and help swimmer to float Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 14:30
• I have stated it in the first part of the answer ,please check. Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 15:45