I'm running, I'm biking, I'm swimming... breaststroke.

The problem is, when I try to swim anything else than breaststoke (backstroke, crawl) I'm getting calf cramp very quickly... which is double stressful because I'm generally swimming open-water.

I have a bit of endurance, I can run 20km or swim 2km breastroke (probably more, I haven't forced myself because body cooling from water is a limiting factor for me), but somehow this crawl/breastroke leg workout makes my calf dead. And I have no idea what and why.

What I can certainly say that my legs move much quicker than by running/biking so maybe my muscles have an issue with quick movements and get mad (cramp is a result of too stark contraction of muscle caused by too strong steering impulse from nerves AFAIK). Is it something genetical or that can be worked out with targeted exercises?

2 Answers 2


Work on the flexibility in your ankles.

You should easily be able to make a straight line from your shin down the top of your foot to your toes. This is the ideal position to get the most propulsion from your feet in the flutter (backstroke/crawl) or dolphin kick (butterfly). If there is any arc/bend in that line, then you lose some effectiveness.

Also, if you are not flexible enough to achieve this, then your calves have to work to hold the foot in that position, which makes a cascade effect. Your calves have to work harder to keep the pointed toe position (causing early cramping), and it also reduces the efficiency of your stroke as your lower leg is stiffer than it should be.

Any stretch that points the toes (sitting on top of your feet for example) or laying on your back and having someone push the ends of your feet down towards the floor will help in achieving a toe point with less effort.

  • I will definitely try this one. Last time I've go a cramp, I have an impression, I wasn't kicking especially hard or fast... Might be so, the sole holding of the stretch position is causing stress to my calves that caused the cramp... Do standing on my toes is a good training? Easy to make while watching TV... Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 20:16

You’re using too much kick in your swim, and may be kicking off the wall incorrectly. Distance swimmers don’t need a tremendous amount of kick - especially triathletes. You’re just going to tire your legs out for the bike and run. Even 1500m specialists like Katie Ledecky use a 1 or 2 beat kick for most of their races. Generally, they don’t use a 6 or 8 beat kick but probably could given their elite status.

You want to use your legs for balance - not for sprinting.

Also, kicking off the wall poorly can put extra stress on your calves. The correct way is to push off the wall like you’re coming up from a squat (think feet flat on the wall).

Finally, although your toes should be pointed as far back as you can get them to reduce drag, you do need to keep a little flexibility in them to allow them to work like flippers.

At about 1 minute in the video you’ll see this swimmer (who has beautiful technique) utilizing a 2-beat kick. Notice how little kicking is actually going on. Two Beat Kick

  • So I should try to move my legs as slow as possible? Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 8:14
  • 3
    No. Not necessarily as slow as possible, but kicking for dear life is not necessary in distance swimming. You actually get very little propulsion from your legs
    – Frank
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 8:17
  • @DanubianSailor frank is absolutely correct. 2 to 6 beat kicks mainly for body alignment is fairly standard for distance freestyle.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 20:11

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