Updated: Sep 25, 2020
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