• Darrin Roles

Updated: 2 days ago

Fins are used by competitive swimmers when doing drills up and down the pool. There are multiple reasons for using them to improve your swimming. We've compiled some information about what you can expect from fins; and why they are a good idea to try out in the river or lake.

Swimming fast is really fun

Fins are amazingly dynamic – adding a great sense of power that can really enhance your swimming experience. Try swimming a regular circuit of your lake or a certain distance in the river; do it again with a pair of fins and feel the change. Not only do they make you swim faster, but they also allow you to emphasize the kick, building endurance training into your drills. This is a fantastic way to improve multiple components of your swimming at the same time.

Improves overall technique

Fins, almost miraculously, increase your speed, propulsion and stability through the water and this allows your stroke rate to lower giving you some extra time to focus on specific components of your technique; like hand position, breathing or hip rotation.

The buoyancy fins add to your legs will change your swimming posture – elevating your position in the water. Typically, elite swimmers have high elevation in the water, holding the body high on the water’s surface for more efficiency and greatly reducing drag. With fins attached, your body position is improved, plus adding power to your stroke and learning how to swim faster on the surface of the water.

The legs being lifted in the water by the buoyancy of the fins can increase the extension, bending of the lower back, a compensatory action, it can feel like you’re sinking in the middle – creating a sway back – which can result in lower back pain. This is something to be aware of and to have in mind the higher body line in the water, so that you feel more streamlined and to really engage the core muscles and push the hips/bum up to the surface.

Improves kick technique

A proper kick technique is described as a ‘flutter’ and is narrow and compact. Your legs are essentially straight and the power is generated from your hips. Toes should be pointed. The weakest part of the kick that fins help improve is the up-kick – the motion that engages your hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles. Fins add resistance to your kick motion which helps not only improve your technique, but also engages your muscles more – this is why your hamstrings or bum may ache after a swim with fins. Also, they can stop your legs from being wayward by being rudder-like keeping you straighter and more balanced.

Benefits ankle and foot flexibility and position

As most of us have not been in pool training for a while, our ankles may have lost some flexibility, some of us may have very little range of motion in the ankle. An efficient swimmer pivots the ankle and points the toes so that the feet aren’t dragging in the water like a brake. When wearing fins, the extra surface area and hyper-extension means that your toes are in-line with your shins and your feet are put into a position where your ankles are forced to be pointed/extended, which adds up to improving overall flexibility in your feet and re-enforcing good technique.

Reduces shoulder stress

Swimmers’ shoulders will sometimes ache with so much repetitive movement – see more on the Shoulder part 1–3 on this blog. If your shoulders need a break, put on a pair of fins to help lessen the impact on them, allowing you to relax and or work on other areas of your swim technique.

Ups the cardio

By increasing the load and resistance in the water, fins can also help improve cardiovascular fitness through the engagement with more muscles in the body – ultimately making you more efficient and faster! This leads to a much more challenging workout with even more than the usual fitness benefits. If you’re in a hurry, you also get more exercise done in less time. Adding fins can push your body into a higher heart rate zone for longer in a shorter period of time.


Fins can allow you to do things you may otherwise not be able to do without fins. For example, you can try drills for variety like freestyle catch-up or single arm freestyle or backstroke which can be difficult without the added propulsion of fins for most swimmers. Alternative arm drills work on your balance and the arm pull technique for both freestyle and backstroke. Being able to experiment with confidence in the water is one of the great benefits of fin power, as well as the ability to get out of the way of a fast boat or angry swan.

Yes, fins can really enhance your swimming experience by improving your technique and providing a more intense workout and, of course, you can impress or drown fellow swimmers with your massive wake. But sometimes they can be too much fun that you forget what it’s like without. It is important to leave them behind on some swims so that you can feel the difference they have made on your fitness and technique.

Which fins to choose?

The length of your fin is the most important when choosing fins because it can dramatically impact how they affect your stroke technique and speed.

Shorter fins give a comfortable feeling of speed and help refine stroke technique while delivering a good cardiovascular workout. Longer fins allow you to go fast at a reduced kick tempo, for a steady long swim for instance and for practising dolphin kick which, let’s face it, is more of a pool thing.

Stiffer fins can make you really fast, but also are heavier which can mean more muscle pain and fatigue. If fins are too soft, they’ll bend when you turn on your leg power and it won’t benefit you with speed at all. The right firmness and flexibility comes down to your preference and strength.

We have tried an assortment of fins and our overall favourite is the Arena pro fin, which happens to be a shorter, heavier stiffer version; but everyone is different so it is important to borrow some from a swimming friend, and try before you buy.

Kath Fotheringham, August 2020

  • Darrin Roles

Updated: 2 days ago

I lower myself into the water each time, swim hat and goggles in place, acclimatising to my change from land mammal to less well-adapted water creature, but nevertheless, becoming part of the wild. I am a human animal, submerged in water, at eye level with ducks and dragonflies, using my strength against the current.

The physicality of swimming, the thrust through the water, feeling the chill build, the glare of sun off the water challenging my eyes, the ripples, spray, and wind-driven waves hitting the back of my head – these are all part of feeling alive and in the moment. Only the now matters.

The light is different every time, early morning, or late evening, seasonal changes. My favourite is early morning, a blue sky, sunny, yet with a nip in the air to feel properly alive. The water a silky cool. The first few minutes are a gentle breaststroke to acclimatise, and then the face goes in the water, the first ouch of chill, before the skin on my forehead, cheeks, nose adjusts. Eyes peering through the green light, into the shadows and brown depths, bubbles flying from extending hands. Passing into the shadow of trees casting a gloom and back into the reflected brightness of blue sky, through the sheen of polished mirror water. I wish I could simultaneously swim, and also watch the wildlife around me unimpeded.

A tern, white and silvery, with its long tail, aptly nicknamed 'sea-swallow' flies overhead, gracefully, speedy and athletic, darting and hovering over water before plunging vertically down for a fish. A group of swifts fly low and fast over the water, catching insects, swooping and changing direction effortlessly. In the evening, they fly high above the river as the insects have been lifted in the rising columns of the thermals.

On the river bank, reed buntings flit between silt-caked reeds, occasionally darting across the river to the reed banks on the other side.

A moorhen stands on one leg preening, unalarmed at her vicinity to orange-clad swimmers. Once, a cuckoo flew above us, from Wytham Woods to the hawthorns on the on the side, and was then chased out by dunnocks. Her flight seemed awkward; was she carrying an egg to be imminently laid? Ducks, crisply mottled in shades of brown, taupe and black, float by in huddles, eyeing us with friendly brown eyes. A cluster of three swans veer away into the bankside.

The river bank is cloaked with vegetation, curtains of brambles falling into the water, trees dipping the tips of branches into the waves. Loosestrife, a brightness of tall purple spires, next to frothy cream Meadowsweet, and a small blue salvia as yet unidentified (by me). Hemlock water dropwort, umbels lifted on corrugated stems, in distinctive clumps along the waterside, very poisonous but who cares, I’m not about to eat it and the insects are enjoying it.

I swim close to the bank, looking for holes of water voles (in vain; they prefer reedy waterways with more cover). The tangles of hawthorn and oak, brambles and nettles, form a messy barrier to the bank, goldfinches flying high up in the branches. White trumpets of convolvulus hang from scrub. Uninviting the scrub may be to humans, it forms a perfect habitat for birds to nest safely, insects to breed and feed, and a world of life exists, barely visible from the water.

The occasional passing of a boat, the swimmers who have increased in numbers since lockdown, the rumble of traffic across the Swinford Toll bridge, it is not possible to entirely ignore the world of human life continuing above the banks of the river. But it is a complete joy to put it to one side, and submerge in the world of the river, renewing one’s physical animal spirit in the silty current of the Thames.

Gen Early, July 2020

Updated: 2 days ago

Between Eynsham lock and Swinford bridge is our year-round playground. Beyond the bridge, adventure waits until currents have slowed and temperatures lifted. It is a record-breaking warm late spring when we can finally return to the river after a long Covid-induced break. The water levels have receded dramatically since our last cool dip in March and the temperature is now well into double figures. For our first long swim in months, Louisa and I tug on wetsuits and head off upstream, uncertain how far we will manage.

Emerging from under the bridge, the moored boats and the red buoys are the first to greet us back, and then the tree, not visited since last autumn, that reaches out across the river, opposite the island. We’ve been told that breeding otters are resident nearby, perhaps on the island, but we are not graced with a sight of them. Otters can roam up to thirty miles in a day but normally only go a couple of miles. This seems a sensible distance to us and as no chill keeps us from venturing further, we continue our journey, beside meandering banks of reeds and nettles trimmed with lacy white umbrellifers and shot with yellow: here a shaggy dandelion, there a proud iris, and everywhere sprinkles of merry buttercups.

Two green buoys intrude on the watery rural idyll to signal a sand bank. Sure enough, before long, my hand catches on the bottom and I adjust my stroke until, defeated, I rise to my knees then stand to wade through ankle-deep water. Now I can lift my gaze to scan more a more distant horizon where fields roll up to a copse-topped hill; a few errant bushy trees have broken free from the arboreal gathering as if to tumble gleefully down the sunny hillside. Darting past, a cormorant threads landscape and riverscape into one stunning tapestry.

We swim on. A spur of leafy reeds juts out within banks of leafy reeds disguising our path and as I look up more frequently to check my route, a supercilious swan and her silvery-soft cygnets sail smoothly through. A heron monitors the river from his office in the reeds. I picture him adjusting his wire-rimmed spectacles with a finger-tip of wing feather and ostentatiously clearing his long grey throat to command the attention of lesser mortals. Did you know that herons will eat coots or moles?

On the bank, tall thin grasses reach up from the reeds and appear as if the bristles of an upturned brush; on their tips, dark fluffy tufts that they have combed from the sky so that the glossy blue tresses of river that we swim along are the perfect reflection of a perfect morning. There is nothing that a cuckoo should do but sing; no greater act that a tern can perform than swoop. With a clink of spoon on mug, a waking boat opens its eyes to the day and curls a scent of wood smoke and bacon through the early morning air.

Onwards, to the boatyard, where in cool dark shadows, bruised and bruising behemoths squat by the bank. Restrained by ropes, their bullying menace in silent abeyance, a dusky odour leeches from their rotting hulls and lingers low on the air. Willow seeds drift snow-like over the surface of the darkened river and sinister thoughts tease my soul. When dappled light promises the return of summer, I relax and within forty strokes, the trees have released their grip on the bright day.

We have swum through Pink Hill lock in the other direction for an event and run across land to it. We know it’s getting close and each bend and curve that doesn’t reveal the anticipated landmark is a surprise. Until it is there, and we scramble out to mark our arrival with a photograph. A small dog seems absurdly pleased to see us and two signs, one in English, one in Polish, instruct us not to fish for carp.

A gentle current nudges us home and each feature that marks our route appears sooner than I expect. A family of ducks is unperturbed by our arrival back at the bridge. The day has shrugged off its early morning chill and on the bank, other swimmers are drying themselves so we exchange words of shared delight at the glory of starting the day with a ramble through the river.

Fiona Undrill, June 2020