Is It a Better Swimming Workout to Use Fins?

by Barrett Barlowe

You might wonder about those fin-dependent swimmers as you tough it out lap after lap without propulsion aids, but also wonder if you would be better off donning flippers during workouts. Swim fins come in many shapes and sizes that help specific aspects of your swimming. Using them every time you get in the pool can negate their benefits, however, as can using them the wrong way.

Fin Basics

Owen Churchill designed the first modern rubber fins in the 1930s, adapting the woven palm frond swimming aids worn by Tahitians. Former Olympic champion Adolph Kiefer tested the fins and later sold them through his catalog and specialty store. Open-water swimmers, scuba divers and military personnel use long, flexible fins to move quickly and efficiently through and under the water. Fitness and competitive swimmer add fins to their workouts to increase the workload on their legs and hone their technique.

Shapes and Sizes

Swim fins come in many different shapes and sizes tailor-made to suit swimmers’ needs. Fins with long blades put more pressure on ankle and knee joints but allow you to move faster through the water. They increase ankle flexibility in adult swimmers and force you to use you legs more during lap swims. Shorter and stiffer fins such as zoomers or shooter monofins allow you to move faster without loading too much pressure on your joints. Monofins have one blade for both feet. They force you to work both legs in unison when you kick, creating a dolphin-style kick.

Using Fins

Swimming with fins increases the amount of water you move with every kick you make. Long fins also let you ride higher in the water thanks to the added propulsion, simulating the speed and position of elite swimmers. You can wear either long or short fins to practice back, front or side dolphin kicks. More advanced drills that build explosive power include “rockets,” in which you kick up from the bottom of a dive well or very deep pool quickly; the goal is to break the surface of the water like a rocket.

Potential Drawbacks

Although you can get a better workout for your legs using fins, you also can injure yourself if you wear the wrong ones or use them incorrectly. Do not wear fins if you have a knee problem or pain. Because any fins increase stress on your knee joints, you risk exacerbating existing conditions. Never wear fins when swimming breaststroke. The stroke already stresses your knees and legs during the forceful inward kicks, so making your knees move even more water laterally can put too much stress on them. Put your fins on for speed and kick drills, then take them off for distance swims.

Photo Credits:

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or