Swimming With Fins (A complete guide)


A pair of yellow swim fins on the pool side

Swimming fins are an incredibly valuable and serious training aid that can benefit swimmers of any level and any age, from beginners to pros. They allow you to glide through the water and experience fast swimming speeds.

I remember the first time I tried on a pair of swimming fins. It felt unbelievable. The exhilaration I felt as I cut through the water was fantastic.

Swimming with fins makes for an enjoyable and excellent workout by increasing your speed without increasing your workload. They can be used alone or in combination with other training aids, such as kickboards, to help develop a strong kick.

In addition, swimming fins are a fantastic training aid to help isolate and develop your leg muscles, and your kicking technique as well as increase ankle flexibility, which will improve your overall swim speed and performance.

There is a lot to know about swimming with fins, so in this article, I will cover all the important points including:

  • What does swimming with fins do?
  • 9 Benefits of swimming with fins
  • Is swimming with fins good exercise?
  • Should beginners swim with fins?
  • How to choose swimming fins
  • Why don’t swimmers use fins all the time?
  • Is it OK to swim with fins in a public pool?
  • Swimming with fins technique (How to use fins)
  • Swimming with fins workouts

What Does Swimming With Fins Do?

Swimming with fins is one of the most enjoyable workouts and a vital training aid for those swimmers looking to improve or advance their swimming.

The primary function of swimming fins (also known as swim fins, swim blades, training fins or flippers) is to move faster through the water. Experiencing this fast pace has many great benefits for swimmers, including increased swim motivation and knowing what swimming fast feels like.

Swimming fins provide resistance to the water, which helps develop strong leg muscles. In addition, swimming fins also improve ankle flexibility and allow you to glide through the water quickly and easily.

Swimming fins are an essential part of improving your kicking technique. When you wear swimming fins, you are forced to use a more powerful and efficient kick. This will help you develop a strong and fast swim kick, which is essential for swimming fast.

As you can feel the instant result of your kick while swimming with fins, it is excellent feedback on what your kicking technique is like. You can experiment and try different leg positions and movements, feeling instantly how effective your kick is.

Finally, swimming with fins has mental health benefits. Swimming with fins can help you feel exhilarated as you swim and help you understand what swimming fast feels like. They can also be really great at giving you confidence in the water as you feel the power that the fins offer.

9 Benefits Of Swimming With Fins

Swimming with fins has some awesome benefits for swimmers, and some are not as obvious as you might think. Here are my favourite benefits of swimming with fins.

1. Improved Ankle Flexibility

The more flexible your ankles, the better your swim kick technique will be.

If you are a runner or like me, played a lot of field sports in the past, you may have very rigid ankles.

Rigid ankles are good for running to avoid injury as your ankles can stay in place for all the knocks and bumps they are exposed to. However, you need flexible ankles in the pool.

Research has shown that ankle flexibility is an essential factor in the propulsive force generated by the legs and feet when swimming. [source]

Rigid ankles typically result in a poor swimming kick that is very inefficient.

Wearing swimming fins can help you feel what a good swim kick is like and increase ankle flexibility as it stretches the ankle ligaments with a gentle water force.

Be careful not to overdo it! As your ankles will not be used to such a workout when swimming with fins, the extra strain placed on your ankles could cause injury if fins are overused.

I have covered the importance of ankle flexibility for swimmers in much greater detail in this article; Is Ankle Flexibility The Secret To Swimming Faster?

2. Improved Body Position

As you glide through the water with fins on, you will learn what a good body position in the water feels like.

With your legs high in the water because of the force of the fins, you will feel you are “swimming downhill”. The swimming fins will make your momentum in the water feel effortless.

The fins will provide you with instant feedback as you change your body position and try to improve.

While swimming with fins, if you start “rolling with your hips”, or extending your arm, reaching over your head before you pull, you can feel how much more efficient these minor adjustments to body position are.

An improved body position results in better swimming technique.

3. Recover From Injury

If you have a shoulder injury, using swim fins to generate most of your propulsion can take the strain off your arms and shoulders.

This is a good way to stay in the water and maintain your swim routine without overusing or putting unnecessary pressure on your shoulders.

4. Great Cardio workout

Swimming with fins is a great workout, and the extra resistive load of the fins can result in an excellent cardio workout.

When you wear fins, you use your legs more. Using your legs as you swim is very exhausting, so the more you kick, the more energy you burn and the faster your heart and lungs pump.

This results in a great cardio workout.

5. Building Muscle

When you wear fins, you displace more water with your legs and there is a higher weight or load placed on your legs.

This larger volume of water that your legs are moving results in a better workout as you feel more resistance on your leg muscles as you swim.

This increased resistance will help build stronger leg muscles.

6. Motivating

When you are feeling a bit down about your swimming (we have all been there), or if you are not progressing or just feeling too slow, then swimming with fins could be the motivation you need to get back in the water and start enjoying your swims again.

It is incredibly motivating to feel your body glide through the water at speed. This can result in a feeling of exhilaration and get you motivated to get back in the pool and to keep swimming.

7. Helps Slower Swimmers

For those of us who are slower swimmers, yet love to get our laps in every week, wearing a pair of fins can help us keep up in busy or fast swimming lanes.

It can be very common to find yourself in that twilight zone where you are too fast for the slow lane where you are catching up on other swimmers, yet too slow or just intimidated by the fast lane.

Wearing a pair of swimming fins could give you the confidence you need to transition to the fast lane or to get a long-distance swim in.

To learn more about how to cope with the feeling of being too slow for lane swimming, I have covered this in greater detail in this article, “Too Slow For Lane Swimming (And what to do about it)”

8. Safer Open Water Swims

Swimming with fins in the sea or open water can be safer, especially if you have to contend with currents.

Although swimming with fins will not guarantee your water safety as you still need to be a strong a competent swimmer, they will give you extra power if you face currents which can wear you out easily.

Overall, this swimming aid can help swimmers navigate open water more effectively.

9. Water Confidence Building

I first wore swimming fins as part of a confidence-building exercise.

I have a lifelong fear of deep water and could not bring myself to swim over the deep end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, despite being able to swim effectively in the shallow end.

Swimming with fins allowed me to experience the deep end for the first time and because of the extra power I had from the fins, even when my breathing became panicked, I had the power to get through the deep end.

This regular deep water exposure (with a supervisor present), helped me to become less fearful of the deep end and helped build my water confidence.

The following image is of my first pair of training fins. I am very nostalgic about these fins, and also very grateful for them as they helped me to face my fear of deep water.

Is Swimming With Fins Good Exercise?

Swimming with fins is an excellent way to get a great workout.

As mentioned, swim fins provide resistance to the water, which helps develop strong leg muscles. They also improve ankle flexibility and allow you to glide through the water quickly and easily.

When you wear swimming fins, you are forced to use a more powerful and efficient kick. This will help you develop a strong and fast swim kick, which is essential for swimming faster. The result of this is an excellent leg exercise and cardio workout.

Does Swimming With Fins Tone Legs?

Swimming with fins can help tone your legs. The additional resistance provided by the fins will help to build muscle and improve overall leg strength.

Although swimming will help to tone your legs, adding some additional resistance will help with some extra muscle building.

To get an effective leg toning workout, it is important that you use the right type of fin. For example, shorter and more rigid swimming fins such as the FINIS Zoomers, will make your legs work much harder than longer, more flexible fins.

Should Beginners Swim With Fins?

Swimming with fins is great for beginners as it can help a beginner swimmer to appreciate what it feels like to move through the water effortlessly.

From my experience of learning to swim as an adult, swim fins are good for occasional use by beginners.

It can be very tempting to use swimming fins all the time as a beginner. However, once you take the fins off, you will find that your legs are sinking and everything is much harder.

Don’t get too reliant on swimming fins as a beginner, as it is more important to master the basic swimming mechanics and technique without them.

Swimming with fins can hide poor swimming technique and any poor technique you learn as a beginner swimmer will stay with you for some time.

How To Choose Swimming Fins

When choosing swimming fins, it is important to select the right type of fins for your needs.

As a general rule, when choosing the right fins for your swimming, you need to consider what your swimming goal is and what your current ankle strength is like.

For example, if your aim is to improve swimming fitness and leg strength, then using a shorter and more rigid fin is the better choice. If you want to focus on arm technique and speed, then a longer and more flexible swimming fin will give more power and speed.

If you have very rigid ankles, then it is best to start with a more flexible fin, as this will cause less stress on your ankle ligaments. I know your objective might be to target your rigid ankles, but if you go too stiff too soon with the type of swimming fin, you will only be able to use your swimming fins intermittently as you build up your ankle flexibility.

In addition, overuse of stiff swim fins with rigid ankles could make your ankles sore and cause an overuse injury.

The following table summarises the most common swimming goals and the combination of swim fin flexibility and length that is the best choice.

Swim GoalSwim Fin LengthSwim Fin Flexibility
Swim FastLong
(& Wide At The Toe)
Flexible
(The more pliable the fins, the greater the speed)
Work On Shoulder TechniqueLongFlexible
Build FitnessShort
(& Wide At The Toe)
Stiff
Build Leg StrengthShortStiff

Heel Design

There are generally two types of heel designs on swimming fins:

  1. Cupped Heels
  2. Heel straps

Which type you choose is a matter of personal preference. However, each heel design offers different benefits.

A cupped heel (where the back of the heel is fully enclosed) gives a better fit and is more secure on your feet as you swim.

On the other hand, a cupped heel can cause bad blisters with a bad fit.

Heel straps are more liberating and can be good for those with rigid ankles who want to work on their ankle flexibility, as they offer a larger range of motion.

If you do struggle with blisters when wearing fins, it is possible to wear a swimming sock that will help reduce the friction on your skin.

Many elite swimmers who swim with fins frequently will wear a swim fin that is one size bigger and then wear a swim sock to reduce the risk of blisters.

Why Don’t Swimmers Use Fins All The Time?

Swimmers do not use fins all the time as long as they can become a crutch, hiding poor swim technique.

Although they are a wonderful training aid and can help you develop your swimming technique in the short term, particularly your kicking technique. If you wear them all the time, you will feel lost and slow without them.

Using swimming fins too often could cause a swimmer to become over-reliant on them and ignore the basic mechanics and technique of their swim stroke.

Second, swimmers rarely use fins because they can be tiring and can cause overuse injury, particularly for rigid ankles.

You need to take it slowly when using fins for the first time and build up your ankle strength gradually to avoid overuse injury.

Is It OK To Swim With Fins In A Public Pool?

As swimming fins are a training aid, they are generally accepted in public pools and I have never seen a sign or notice that restricts their use.

However, from my personal experience, there is some pool etiquette around swim fins that you should consider.

1. Use “Shorter” Training Fins In Busy Pools

There are different lengths of swimming fins, and it is possible to purchase a smaller “training fin” that is better suited to public pools and lane swimming.

These training fins will not move as much water, so will create fewer waves. It is possible to create a large wake wave when swimming with fins which other swimmers will feel.

In addition, as they are not very long, there is less risk of them interfering with or impeding other swimmers.

2. Avoid Using Fins In Small Busy Pools

As mentioned, swim fins can sometimes create a wave or “wake” especially when sprinting.

In a small and busy pool, these extra waves and splashes will be noticeable and could create a lot of turbulence in the water.

If your pool is smaller than 15m, busy and is used by leisure swimmers, swim fins could be too strong as one kick will take you most of the length of the pool.

In addition, in these smaller pools, additional waves can be felt much more easily.

Of course, this depends on the design of your local pool, but it is worth keeping in mind so you do not affect the enjoyment of other swimmers.

Swimming With Fins Technique (How To Use Fins)

At first, it can feel really weird wearing fins.

In theory, swimming with fins should help your swimming technique as it will give you instant feedback on how well your legs, particularly your ankle flick, are affecting your swim.

In addition, it will allow you to take the workload off your legs and focus on your arms if that is preferred.

But how do you use fins?

Here is what I have learned from swimming with fins:

1. At First, Just Play Around

When you first put on a pair of swim fins, it will feel different, as you will most likely have experienced nothing like it previously.

At first, just play around in the open swim area to get used to the feeling. It is not a great idea to put on fins and go straight into a lane swim unless you have a clear lane as you will be shocked by how fast you can swim.

Play around and get a feel for how they work.

2. Practice Stopping

This may seem like weird advice; you want to swim, so why practice stopping?

It can be hard for many swimmers to have control when they first put on fins, especially if the swim fins are long.

If you dash up a swim lane with swim fins on, you will quickly catch whoever is in front of you and you will need to be able to stop.

It is important to have control while swimming with fins.

3. Practice Drills

When wearing swimming fins, one of the best things you can do is to work on your swimming technique, whether that is increasing speed, stroke performance or body position.

Personally, I recommend some drills from Total Immersion Swimming, as you can really get a feel and genuine appreciation of what effortless and good swim technique feels like.

Alternatively, you can practise some fin workouts as mentioned below.

Swimming With Fins Workouts

There are some great swim fin workouts.

One of my favourite workouts when swimming with fins is to use a simple kickboard. That way, I completely isolate my legs and give my ankles and legs a great workout.

Here is a video of some great swimming with fins workouts from Coach Robb Beams. Swimming on your side is a powerful and beneficial swim-fin workout. You will be amazed at how good this is for your core muscles.

Final Thoughts

So is it better to swim with fins or without?

Swimming fins are an amazing training tool for swimmers and definitely something to keep in your swimming mesh bag.

If you incorporate swimming drills that use fins into your swimming routine, not only will you see an improvement in your swimming technique if you follow swimming drills, but you will also have a load of fun.

Many swimmers forget the psychological impact of swimming fins and how they can make you feel exhilarated in the water, motivated and fast.

I have come across bias towards swim fins in the past, where some swimmers consider them cheating. If you use them without permission in a swimming race, then that would be cheating. However, for daily swimming, they are a wonderful and essential tool for all swimmers of any age and any level.

Happy swimming!

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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