Freestyle swimming is powered by rhythmic rotations of the body around its long axis. The vertical kick with rotation drill teaches you how to initiate full-body rotations and how to alternate them in a rhythmic fashion.
The vertical kick with rotation drill starts like the standard vertical kicking drill -- in deep water with your hands on your chest, elbows tucked in at your sides, and a tight-line posture. After you have established a comfortable vertical-flutter-kick rhythm, use one of your kicks to rotate your body roughly a quarter turn to the right and then continue flutter kicking in this new position. After a handful of flutter kicks, use one of your kicks to make a quarter turn back toward the left where you started. The kicks you use to rotate yourself -- one kick to turn you to the right and, later, one kick to turn you to the left -- are called rotation kicks.
With a rotation kick, kicking your right leg forward drives your right hip backward (Newton's equal and opposite reaction). Simultaneously, the left leg recovers backward, which drives the left leg forward (Newton again). Left hip forward and right hip back equals turning your hips to the right. To rotate your hips to your right, kick your right leg as you recover the left leg. To rotate your hips to the left, kick your left leg as you recover the right. It sounds simple, but it takes some real awareness and focus to grasp. It does NOT take an extra-hard or extra-large kick to rotate. Simply release your hips and LET them rotate that quarter turn, then hold them in place as you continue to flutter kick. Each time your hips rotate, allow the the top part of your body to take a ride along with your hips (which will happen automatically if you are holding a tight-line). You may be tempted to try to help the rotation by throwing your shoulders around as you kick. DON't. Throwing your shoulders doesn't help. Not at all. Not even for you. Just take my word for it.
Once you are comfortable with making occasional rotations, add rhythm to the rotations. You'll use what is called a six-beat rotation pattern, which is simply two flutter kicks (F) followed by one rotation kick (R), which turns you to the right, followed by two flutter kicks and another rotation kick that turns you back to the left, where you started. That's a total of six kick beats to complete a cycle of two rotations (F F R F F R), after which a new cycle starts without breaking the rhythm ( . . . F F R F F R F F R F F R F F R . . .) It helps to count these beats out loud, one for each foot as it kicks forward. Continue this six-beat rotation pattern while keeping your head still, nose pointed straight forward -- just let your body rotate under your stationary head.
EVen if you have mastered standard vertical kick (VK)without fins, it is strongly encouraged to use fins while first learning VKR. Swim fins will allow you you to slow the tempo of your kick. This allows distinct awareness of each beat, making it easier to pinpoint which kicks should be flutter kicks and which should be rotation kicks. Fins will also improve the feedback you get about which muscles you are using to drive each rotation. Once you master VKR with full-size fins, you can try short-blade fins, and eventually, bare feet. In moving bare feet, you may find that hanging from a small floating object held against your chest is helpful, as it was with VK.
1. Each time you rotate your hips, you should be aware that your shoulders rotate at exactly the same timeas, and exactly as far as, your hips. Your tight-line posture instantly transmits the rotation of your hips along your spine, allowing the action of your legs to drive the rotation of the entire upper body as a single unit. If you find that your shoulders lag behind your hips or that they don't turn as far as your hips, you have lost your tight-line. If you find your hips lagging behind your shoulders, then you are trying to help the rotation by throwing your shoulders ahead of your hips (which, surprisingly, works to hinder hip rotation instead of helping it).
2. Check to see if, in preparation for a rotation kick, you are bending your knee on the recovering leg to bring that foot a bit farther back for a bigger or more forceful kick to drive rotation. It is important not to try to help the rotation by doing this -- it simply moves the rotation fulcrum from your hips to your knees, effectively cutting your lever length in half and making your effort much less effective.
After you are comfortable with an easy six-beat rotation pattern, experiment with increasing the tempo. If you maintain the six-beat pattern, a faster kick tempo will result in a faster rotation tempo. With faster rotations, you may find that you need a bit more tension on your tight-line to keep the upper body rotating as a separate unit. And, be sure to experiment with schlumpy versus tight-line postures.