How to Train With Kickboards

By: Kristen Hall-Geisler
A swimmer swims with a float during a training session in the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, on Aug. 7, 2008.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

If you've been to a community pool or aquatic center, you've probably seen them stacked against a wall by the dozens, maybe near a pile of swim fins. They're kickboards, and they can be a great help for swimmers (both new and experienced) if used properly.

Kickboards are made of foam and float effortlessly. They're usually pretty inexpensive -- that's how the community pool can afford to have so many of them laying around -- and they're more durable than you might think, even in chlorinated water. The boards at the local pool are often available to borrow -- that is, if you don't want to buy your own.


Kickboards have one curved end (that's the front) and a squared-off end (that's the rear). The basic position for using a kickboard is to rest your elbows near the square end and grip the rounded end of the board with your hands, or as close to this position as you can get, depending on how long your forearms are. You can also grip the very back of the board and extend your entire body in the water, including your arms. If you find yourself fighting the kickboard in the water, which is common for beginners, turn the board sideways to make it easier, or find a smaller board to use.

There are a few pointers to remember when you're using a kickboard to train, no matter what your swimming skill level happens to be. Ellen Wallin, a summer swim league coach with Portland Parks and Recreation in Portland, Ore., says:

  • Stretch your body out to more closely approximate the position of the body while swimming without the board.
  • Don't lean the weight of your body on the kickboard. "When you're comfortable in the water, there's no excuse for leaning."
  • Don't lift your body out of the water, which makes the spine curve in an uncomfortable position.

Now that you know how to properly use a kickboard, what can you actually do with it in the water? We'll tell you on the next page as we look at a few basic kickboard workouts.


Kickboard Workouts

Eryn Greeney of Baltimore practices her swim technique with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Baltimore.
AP Photo/Steve Ruark

Kickboards are obviously used to improve a swimmer's kick. Beginners may like the security of a flotation device while they work on their kicking form, while more advanced swimmers can use the board to strengthen specific muscle groups and perfect their kicks.

Here are a few simple workouts to try with a kickboard:


Flutter (or Freestyle) Kick: This is the basic kick used with the freestyle stroke. The legs are extended all the way behind you, straight but not stiff, with the toes pointed. "If you bend your knees," Wallin says, "you're not using strong thigh muscles; you're using calf muscles instead."

Backstroke Kick: You can work out with a kickboard while floating on your back, either with the kickboard at your chest for confidence or at your knees for form. If you hold it at your chest, make sure to maintain the natural curve in your spine instead of letting it round into the water. Holding the board with extended arms so that it touches your legs helps you become aware of how much you're bending your knees. As with the flutter kick, straight but not stiff legs will propel you the farthest.

Arm Circles: It's even possible to work on arm strokes and breathing techniques with a kickboard. Hold the edge of the board with both hands, then bring one arm around to your side and back to the board. Do the same with the other arm. In this same position, with your face in the water, practice lifting your face (but not your whole body) out of the water to breathe.

If you're wondering what good all of this kickboard training might do, keep reading to find out.


Benefits of Training with Kickboards

Michael Phelps of the United States during a practice session as he prepares for the 2004 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatic Center in Athens, on Aug. 11, 2004.
AP Photo/Mark Baker

Everyone can benefit from training with a kickboard, even young swimmers. Wallin says she uses kickboards in swimming lessons with kids. "They will use kickboards the rest of their swimming careers," she notes. Kickboards can provide beginners of any age with confidence in the water and can help you practice getting your face in the water. While it is a flotation device, a kickboard is not a lifesaver. But while you get the hang of swimming, it can be a very handy thing to have with you in the water.

As swimmers advance, kickboards can help develop strength. "Swimming is a multitasking sport," says Wallin. "It uses breathing, arms, body position and kick." A kickboard takes the arms and sometimes the breathing out of the equation, allowing a swimmer to focus on isolating the large muscle groups in the legs that do the majority of the work of kicking. It also takes away the assistance of the upper body and adds the resistance of the floating board, which makes the legs work even harder. But remember not to rest your weight on the kickboard or lift your body out of the water -- that can start a bad body position habit that's hard to break.


Swimmers of any level, and even non-swimmers, can use a kickboard as part of a rehabilitation workout. It's a low-impact exercise that's easier on your joints than other sports, such as running, basketball or tennis. Among swimmers, shoulder injuries are fairly common. Kickboards allow the joints to rest while keeping up a water workout. If you do have a shoulder injury, especially from swimming, Wallin advises that you be careful not to overextend the arms during rehab workouts with a kickboard.

Kickboards aren't just for beginners or athletes in training -- they're for anyone in the water at any level. If you keep your body position in mind, kickboards can be a valuable part of your workout.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Sloan, Erin, M.Ed. "Pool Workouts." (Aug. 24, 2010)
  • Volckening, Bill. "Starting a swimming routine" U.S. Masters Swimming. (Aug. 24, 2010)
  • Wallin, Ellen. Summer Swim League Coach, Portland Parks and Recreation. Personal Interview. Conducted on Aug. 25, 2010.