Five Reasons to Use Fins for Swim Training

Andrew Wallace
18.05.23 10:12 AM Comment(s)

Using Fins for Swim Training

Swimming fins or flippers are a ubiquitous part of any serious swimmers swim kit. However, it's not always so obvious how best to use them or how much fin time to allocate in your training sessions.

There are people who think they're a superb piece of kit to use in your swim training and there are those who think they are useless.

As an ex-competitive swimmer who swam at national land international level back in the 1980s swim fins were an integral part of our swim kit even back then. Swimmers have been using them for a long time and, despite all the fancy designs you may come across now, they have changed little over the years.

Back then as indeed now there are a number of ways health fins can be a real benefit to your training.

1) Resistance Training
The most obvious benefit of using fins is for resistance training, which basically increases the resistance your legs feel when kicking. This means you will build up muscle and also leg fitness but the fact they are increasing resistance with the water also compliments the other benefits.

2) Heart Rate
As anyone who does any serious swim training with fins will tell you, rather than making you go faster with less work they will rockett your heart rate because to use them engages the massive leg muscles which burns up oxygen at a healthy rate forcing your heart rate to increase drastically. Prolonged use of course will have the effect of condensing a longer session into a shorter set. Do more of this over time and ... well... the benefits cardio strength become obvious.

3) Balance & Kick Beat
If you are a swimmer who finds it difficult to master the hip rotation in your front crawl stroke then fins will make it easier to control that rotation and to give you balance on each roll. They also help with the glide phase after each overarm stroke as you can maintain a little more momentum between each stroke using the fin kick. Finally, due to the resistance in the water, fin work will help you to get away from the 6-beat kick often seen in novice/beginner swimmers who are yet to master the 4 or even 2-beat kick cycle, which is much more energy saving and far better for longer distances.

4) Core Strength
As you use fins more and more you will see that your core muscles certainly feel the effects! The use of fins is a great way to increase core strength as you can do various kicking drills such as surface or underwater based down or on your side, frontcrawl or 'dolphin' kick underwater.

5) Hypoxic Training
This involves training your body to have more of a tolerance for breath holding and lack of oxygen as well as underwater swimming techniques so you can go further and faster under the water.  Start with sets of 25m underwater swimming using butterfly kick to really engage the core muscles and get a feel for the water. If you can, combine with a surface swim in sets of 50 meters split on 25m each, under / over. You can also experiment with kick frequency using long, low frequency, high amplitude kicks to conserve oxygen and avoid build up of CO2, and faster, high frequency/low amplitude kicks for speed and maximum underwater work out.

Will Fins Help My Kick Technique?

Yes!  Many swimmers who were not coached from a young age by trained club coaches often have a very 'stiff' leg kick, which throws them off balance. Many runners or triathletes, especially those who come from a running background, also often have stiff ankles. The first thing to remember when kicking is that the kick originates from the hip but the knee must remain flexible, so that you get that 'snap' on the downward end part of the kick, and to some extent on the way up too. Also, look at swimmers ankles when they swim -  their ankles are extremely flexible to the point of being 'floppy' (just like a seal's rear fins...). This is due to years of correct kicking in the water and aids in propulsion but also in streamlining as they can achieve that 'ballet dancer foot' where there is a straight line from the toe, along the shin to the knee. We observe many runners struggle to attain this foot position. Fins will help with this and, over time, will increase your ankle flexibility.

What Fins Should I Use?

The original fins back in the 80s were short and stubby and these are still available and used by lots of swimmers. Personally I feel the larger snorkeling size fins are more beneficial.

How Long Should I Train With Fins?

There is no rule to this but while it might be tempting to do entire sessions with them you should generally split your total thin swim training up so you do not come to rely on them and aim for approximately 50% of total swim time.

Can I use them for anything else?

Sure! A pair of fins helps you explore the underwater world right here in Pembrokeshire. With so much to see above and below the water, using fins will allow you to dive deeper and see more exciting stuff!

Andrew Wallace