View Full Version : fins for kick sets

October 31st, 2004, 03:48 PM
Can anyone enlighten me on the benefits of using fins during kick sets? Do they build leg muscles? Also, if they are something I need to add to my workouts, what style is the best for swimmers?

Swimmer Bill
October 31st, 2004, 09:03 PM
Deja vu! This question came up a short time ago, and I posted the following article in response. I wrote this article for Triathlete Magazine a couple years ago, which is why the information is geared toward triathletes and distance swimmers -- but it's really relevant to all swimmers.

Hope it helps!

Kick-Start Your Workouts
By Bill Volckening

Looking for a new way to kick-start your workouts? Try fins! Triathletes often avoid using fins to conserve their legs for running and cycling. However, extra emphasis on kick conditioning and technique can give you a tremendous advantage in long distance swims. Not only can you improve technique, reduce drag, and learn to conserve energy, but you can build greater aerobic capacity, faster, by using fins.

Why Fins?

Swimming is the most technical of the three sports in triathlon. When people talk about swimming technique, they think of arm placement, head position and body balance Š but kicking also requires some consideration. Using fins isnÕt only a way lay off a sore shoulder or go faster through the water. Purposeful use of fins can put your swimming on the fast track.

Integrate Your Kick

Have you ever watched someone who made swimming look easy, and wondered why they were barely kicking? Many of the best distance swimmers know how to use kick to their advantage. It isnÕt really a secret, but you donÕt always hear about it. The key is effectively integrating the kick with your stroke. It may seem like a basic, introductory level concept, but it is an advanced skill.

Step 1: Develop Kick Tempo

Start with kick tempo. You can develop a feeling for tempo by using fins. Distance swimmers often swim with a two-beat kick, which is simply one downbeat of each leg for each complete stroke cycle (a stroke cycle is one complete revolution alternating both right and left arms). When doing a two-beat kick, your legs should fall into the rhythm of your stroke, trailing behind you as if youÕre barely kicking. The most basic way to practice these different tempos is easy freestyle swimming with fins.

„ SWIM: 4 x 50 yards freestyle with fins. Count the number of beats kicking during each complete arm stroke cycle. When both arms have completed the cycle, the number of kicks completed determines your kick tempo.

Experiment with the number of kicks per stroke cycle. After mastering two-beat kick, try four-beat, six-beat and even eight-beat kick. Faster tempo kicks are useful when youÕre making a move during a distance swim, but they arenÕt as easily sustained as a two-beat kick. Long distance swimmers use a two-beat kick because it conserves energy, provides propulsion and lift, and initiates the body rotation.

Step 2: Coordinate your Stroke

Once you learn about kick tempo, try to coordinate the emphasis of your kick with the force of your underwater arm pull. When you combine these two elements, your stroke will become much more powerful.

„ SWIM: 4 x 100 yards freestyle with fins. Concentrate on executing the downbeat of your kick when your arm is entering the propulsive phase of the underwater pull.

The extra propulsion provided by fins may help you discover the feeling of coordinating the kick with the pull. When you place your right arm in the water following the over-the-water arm recovery, the left leg should be kicking into a downbeat (and the same for the left arm and right leg).

Step 3: Stay in the Cylinder

One of the most common technical flaws in flutter kick is found in kick amplitude. To get a sense of kick amplitude, imagine yourself swimming through a long, narrow cylinder. Think about whether or not your feet would touch the inside wall of the cylinder while kicking.

„ SWIM: 2 x 200 yards freestyle with fins. Think about the cylinder, and try to avoid touching the cylinder walls with your feet. Make your cylinder as small as possible. In other words, try to keep your feet relatively close to one another while kicking.

Maintaining a small amplitude flutter kick is a proven method of reducing drag and initiating an effective body rotation. When your kick amplitude is too large, spreading the legs too far apart can prevent you from rotating effectively. More importantly, small amplitude kick is a way of controlling energy expenditure and propulsion when using a two-beat kick during a long distance swim.

Cardiovascular Benefit

Using fins contributes to your leg strength and helps you develop greater aerobic capacity. Because the leg muscles are larger than most of the upper body muscles, they have the potential to process more oxygen when working hard. Wearing fins significantly increases the amount of water you move with your legs. When your legs work harder, they experience a physiological adaptation, which increases the ability of your heart and lungs to supply nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and other body tissues. The result is improved endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

„ KICK: 10 x 50 yards flutter kick with fins. You may use a kickboard, or kick on your back in a streamlined position with arms locked overhead. Using small, fast kicks, go as fast as you can, taking no more than 15 seconds rest between repeats. Check your heart rate at the end. This type of set can be modified in different ways. Try swimming with fins, or change the distances or number of repeats.

You may ask ŅDonÕt I get the same benefit from cycling and running?Ó The answer is simple. The specific leg mechanics required in freestyle swimming and flutter kicking differ significantly from those required in running and cycling. Physiological adaptations require specificity of training.

The long and the short

Fins come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, there are long fins and short ones. How do you choose which ones are right for you? Swim coaches and fin manufacturers often recommend specific types of fins. Some claim using fins helps develop ankle flexibility. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim, the use of fins definitely helps your ankles adapt to swimming mechanics. Long and short fins are great for strengthening and conditioning the legs, and for technique and drills. Long fins are great for developing a two-beat distance kick. Short fins are terrific for sprinting, as they allow you to more easily increase kick tempo, while not disproportionately overexerting your legs compared with longer fins. One of the disadvantages of short fins is the price tag. If youÕre looking for an inexpensive compromise, carefully cut down a pair of long rubber fins with a utility knife.

Do Fins Rub You the Wrong Way?

Here are some helpful hints. Purchase your own fins, and make sure to get a pair that fit comfortably, but snugly. If they are too tight or too loose, they could cause blisters. If you canÕt find the perfect size, try a slightly larger pair wearing tube socks. Some people always wear socks to avoid blisters when using fins, but if you do get a blister, donÕt worry! Simply apply a waterproof bandage strip over the blister before putting on your fins.
There are so many good reasons to use fins. When integrating new elements into your workout, start gradually and mix it up. Fin training is a great way to improve your swimming, and when approached properly, it is also a lot of fun.

Bill Volckening is the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) Editor of SWIM Magazine. For more information about Masters swimming, visit www.usms.org

SIDEBAR: Use the Pace Clock

There are many ways to enhance your swim workout by using a pace clock. Here are some ideas involving different types of swimming and kicking sets involving the use of fins. Incorporate these sets into your swim workouts, and kick it up a notch!

TEST SET: 10-minute kick for distance. Put on your fins, grab a kickboard and go! The objective is to kick as far as you can for the allotted time period. This set is a great in a group environment with a coach on deck, but you may also use a waterproof watch to keep track of time. Record your distance, and try to improve the next time you do the set, which could be weekly or monthly.

INTERVAL TRAINING: 10 x 50 yards fast kicking with fins on 1:00 is a typical example of interval training. The objective is to use the pace clock for a group of repeated swims in which the rest is incorporated into the allotted time period for each repeat. You can vary the amount of rest, the intensity level, the number of repeats, and the distance of each repeat. Mix it up for variety and have fun with it!

KNOW YOUR PACE: 5 x 2 minutes swimming with fins. The distance varies depending on your ability level. The two-minute interval should allow you no less than 15 seconds rest. The objective is to swim hard, as far as you can, plus get the proper amount of rest in the allotted time period.

RECOVERY: 10 x 25 yards easy dolphin kick on the back, with arms streamlined over the head. Relax and get some fresh air with this simple recovery set. Take 15 seconds rest between each 25 yard repeat, and wind down from a hard workout.

November 2nd, 2004, 11:02 AM
Bill, thanks so much for sending me the article. I am going to purchase a pair of fins soon. What kind do you use for your workouts? I noticed online that Speedo has a pair they sell called training fins for $20.00. Do you think they would be a decent choice?
Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom and passion for swimming. I need all the encouragement and help I can get since I just got back in the pool in August after 20 years!

November 2nd, 2004, 11:22 AM
I like the Kiefer silicone training fins. I've tried several others, including Zoomers and Speedo, but these work best for me. They fit well, are durable, and seem to be just the right length. You can buy them online at Kiefer.com.

November 2nd, 2004, 12:26 PM
I have very long narrow fet. Ican't seem to find a fin to fit. Right now, I'm have zoomers G. I used to have zoomers H but they kept falling off. Any suggestions?

November 2nd, 2004, 04:00 PM
Thanks so much for the information on Kiefer fins. I am going to check out their web site today.

December 31st, 2004, 06:59 PM
Originally posted by Swimmer Bill
Deja vu! This question came up a short time ago, and I posted the following article in response. I wrote this article for Triathlete Magazine a couple years ago, which is why the information is geared toward triathletes and distance swimmers -- but it's really relevant to all swimmers.

Hope it helps!

Kick-Start Your Workouts
By Bill Volckening


Now **this** is the kind of priceless information that makes USMS such an incredible place. Thank you so much for this - you've saved me money and time -- all in one post!


January 12th, 2005, 09:02 PM
Just in case another newbie is curious about fins, I've been using my blue Zoomers for a week now and I've never worked my legs so hard in the pool. I use them both w/a kickboard and w/o and I'm really happy I invested the $22.00 in them - my legs are getting bigtime definition! :D

January 22nd, 2005, 07:11 PM
We tried a bunch of different styles in my morning program and finally settled on the TYR split-fins which not only work ankle strength and thigh but also provide the most flexibility off the walls.

January 22nd, 2005, 07:34 PM
We were using fins today in a practice, and I have been feeling the effects (wobbly legs) the rest of the day. On days where we don't use fins, my legs aren't nearly as worked out because I aerobically fatigue before the muscles give out. I used to feel like fins were cheating at swimming, but they really do have a place in a workout program. And I like the feeling of flying through the water. After I remove the fins, I feel like I have lost my super powers.

January 23rd, 2005, 01:46 PM
I have been increasing my fin-time and I'm noticing a positive difference in my legs. I generally do all of my drills and swim all of my laps, and then at the end of my workout, I'll put on the fins, grab a kickboard and take off. My heart rate goes up and after doing maybe 20 laps like that, I'm ready to cool down and head out.

I highly recommend fins!