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Learn to Swim Front Crawl / Freestyle: Flutter Kick Drills

The flutter kick is a swimming technique in which you perform small and quick up and down movements with pointed feet.

Being able to do the flutter kick is an important prerequisite for learning the front crawl / freestyle stroke.

The following article explains the movements of the flutter kick, and also proposes a few exercises to learn this technique (video included).

Swimmers using a powerful flutter kick in a freestyle swimming race
A strong flutter kick helps winning freestyle races

How to Flutter Kick

1) Let’s imagine that you are floating in the water in a prone position, with your legs extended and feet pointed.

2) To flutter kick, alternate kicking downward with one leg, a bit like kicking into a ball, while moving the other leg upward, and vice versa.

3) Start the downward movement from your hip. Slightly flex your knee while moving downward. The water pressure pushes your foot in an extended position. Straighten your knee at the end of the downward movement.

4) Now during the upward movement, the water pressure will straighten your leg and push your foot in a half-flexed position.

5) The propulsive phase of the kick occurs during the first half of the downbeat.

Flutter Kick Drills – Video

The video below demonstrates a few drills to learn the flutter kick as it is used in the front crawl stroke:

Flutter Kick Exercises – Instructions

Below we provide a more detailed description of the swimming drills for the flutter kick shown above:

1) Hold onto the pool’s wall (or a pool lane marker). Push off the ground, and start to kick up and down alternately. Make sure your toes are pointed. Keep your head above water.

Feel how the kick pushes your legs and hips upward. Straighten your arms while holding onto the pool wall until your body is horizontal and fully extended.

2) Repeat the previous exercise but now put your head in the water, so it is in line with your body.

Try to get as horizontal as possible and feel how you can use a lighter kick to float. Stop kicking when you need to breathe.

3) Repeat the previous exercise but now try this: as your body gets horizontal, feel how you need to hold onto the pool wall less and less to support your body.

Try to become balanced up to the point where you only need to hold onto the wall with your fingertips. Then let go of the wall.

Keep kicking and feel how you are floating in perfect horizontal balance.

4) Push off the wall in a streamlined position: Your arms are extended forward, and your hands are on top of each other. Your head is aligned with your torso.

Try to be balanced, as you practiced in the previous exercises, and try to glide as far as possible, until the momentum stops.

5) Repeat the previous exercise, pushing off the wall and gliding in a streamlined, balanced position.

Start to flutter kick while gliding to maintain momentum.

Continue to kick and maintain balance until you need to breathe, then stop.

6) Grab a kickboard and hold it forward at arms’ length.

Assume the same horizontal position as before and use the kick for propulsion. Keep your head above water. Do short repeats.

7) Repeat the previous exercise, but now keep your head in the water, in line with your body.

To breathe, raise your head, then drop it back in the water. Exhale slowly in the water while kicking.

This exercise is easier for your legs because you are balanced, but harder on your lungs because breathing is restrained.

Additional Tips

1) You can use a swim snorkel, such as the Finis Swimmer’s Snorkel, to make breathing easier while practicing.

2) The power in the kick comes from your hips, not from your knees. Your knees should only bend slightly during the downbeat. Think flutter kick, not bicycle kick!

3) If you have stiff ankles, it could be difficult for you to point your feet. If so, using swimming fins regularly can improve the flexibility of your ankles.

My preference goes to short fins like the Speedo Biofuse fins, because the kicking movements are more natural with these than when using longer fins.

4) If your hips and legs still drop while flutter kicking, it could be your upper body is positioned too high in the water.

Push your chest and head a bit down. Your body will act like a seesaw, causing your legs to rise.

5) If you still have trouble finding your balance in the water, a friend giving feedback and correcting your position can be helpful.

Learning Path for the Front Crawl

Below is an overview of our series of articles on learning the front crawl. Each article in this series contains one or more drills that have to be mastered. The current article is highlighted:

Once you have gone through all the steps of this learning path, you should be able to swim front crawl without any problems.

Good luck!


Monday 30th of October 2017


I can kick alternately but when I try to lift my arms up to stroke my legs stop kicking. Can’t seem to coordinate my arms and legs.

Any suggestions, please?


Monday 30th of October 2017

Hi Ann,

This is most likely because you are a beginner and have to exert conscious effort to both kick and stroke at the same time and when you focus on one movement the other one stops.

A short-term crutch might be swim fins, as with those you need to kick less to keep your legs up.

But the best approach would be to practice the sequence of swimming drills in the "learn to swim" section, as then you'll seamlessly and progressively integrate kicking, balance, and the arm stroke.


Wednesday 30th of November 2016

No, no, no!!! Do NOT use a pool lane marker to hang on! I can't believe you guys recommended this. You're setting up your students to get yelled at by the lifeguards.


Saturday 3rd of December 2016

Hi Jerry,

I understand what you mean. If there are people swimming in the lane and the lane marker line is pulled down, it can be annoying for those swimming.

So this should only be done when the pool is not too busy and you don't get into the way/annoy of other swimmers.


Sunday 20th of November 2016

I have been learning for quite some time but just can't do the flutter kick with the legs on the surface of the water.

Every time I try it no sound is heard. I don't know what's wrong.


Sunday 20th of November 2016

Normally your feet should barely break the water surface, especially when swimming at a moderate pace.

If your feet cause a lot of splashing or make a lot of sounds, you are in fact wasting energy.

The exception to this might be while sprinting, where you can waste energy and kick hard because you only do short distances.


Wednesday 3rd of August 2016

I have aquaphobia and have just enrolled in swim lessons. I am simply unable to let go of my feet touching the bottom of the pool.

What would help me get over this?


Friday 5th of August 2016

Hi Geetha,

Could you provide us with more details? What is the depth of the water? Is it clear water? Are you using flotation devices?


Sunday 26th of June 2016

I am currently working on the flutter kick drills outlined in the video.

I'm able to float when I fill my lungs up with air and hold my breath but sink when I exhale. How does this help with swimming?

Based on what I have read it is bad to hold the breath while swimming and a swimmer needs to exhale most of the time and inhale for a short amount of time.

The problem is my body sinks when I exhale.

I have been practicing the flutter kick drills (holding side of pool and using a kick board) and can do the flutter kick for a short amount of time when my face is in the water but when I lift my head to take a breath, my legs sink and touch the bottom of the pool.

What am I doing wrong and what corrections do I need to make to learn to float while exhaling and float when I lift my head to breath?

Thanks for the advice.


Monday 27th of June 2016

Hi Larry,

You are correct, it is recommended to not hold your breath while swimming, for different reasons (relaxation, elimination of CO2, timing, etc.) but this is more a rule for lap swimming than for drilling, where in certain cases you'll have to hold your breath a bit.

Now when you lift your head in the flutter kick drill with a kickboard as described above, it is normal that the legs drop.

In fact, I kick a bit harder when I lift my head, and I also push my chest and head back in the water as soon as I have taken a breath so that the legs rise quickly.

So the last drill is a bit tricky and requires some practice. On the other hand, you don't absolutely need to master this last drill, as normally in front crawl you breathe on your side and not to the front.