Finning is the process of generating propulsion by moving our scuba fins.
In that sense, it is probably the most basic of skills in diving, and one that most of us are already able to do when we enter the water. With experience and good fins you can power through a lot of situations and get yourself out of trouble. You will also not get as tired on longer swims with fins.
We highly recommend using fins when snorkeling as well, because they greatly increase the safety factor when snorkeling. They enable you to move much easier through the water. If there was never any current or waves or wind, that would not be such a big deal, but Nicole and I have many times tried to swim without fins in those conditions and found it nearly impossible. In fact we are so used to fins, that when we don’t have them on swimming we find how hard it is to move.
There is another reason we highly recommend wearing fins when you snorkel. If you aren’t wearing them, you will likely need to swim with your arms and this flailing of the arms is going to scare away the creatures you are trying to get close to.
How to use snorkel fins?
You can choose from a few different types of fins. Learn how to choose the right fins for you here.
The motion you need to make with your legs is slow and in a large radius. Keep your kicking fairly slow. And do most of the work with your bigger leg muscles, up in your thigh and butt, bending your knees. Let your lower calf and foot muscles stay a bit more relaxed. Let the fin do the work.
Without being there or knowing what fins you have, it is hard to say why you are having trouble going straight. Make sure your fins are put on correctly and are both pointing straight ahead. Maybe you have one leg a little stronger than the other? When I was a kid skateboarding I used to have one leg that was way bigger than the other from kicking on one side only. Yep, I was pretty funny looking.
Keep at it and just bring a lot of awareness to your body. I am sure you will figure it out. It won’t take long for you to get comfortable in the water with fins. If all else fails, it could be your fins, if you bought a cheap set. If you continue to have problems try another pair.
Benefits of swimming with Fins
Improved Kick Technique
If you’re like most swimmers, your kick might be the worst part of your swim training. Whether it’s with a kick board or in streamline, you seem to go absolutely nowhere. This has less to do with your leg strength and more to do with your kick technique. This will help in competitive swimming as well.
A proper kick technique (flutter) is narrow and compact. The best kick is short and fast, rather than big and powerful. Your legs are essentially straight and the power is generated from the hips. Toes should be pointed. The weakest part of the kick that fins help improve, is the up-kick.
The ‘up-kick’ motion of the kick that engages your hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles. Adding resistance to this range of motion helps improve your technique by providing you with the positive muscle reinforcement (and propulsion) to make you more efficient and faster.
Improved Ankle Flexibility
An efficient kick has a small amplitude. Your feet should separate no more than 12 inches during any part of the kick. To do this, you need straight legs and, most importantly, great ankle flexibility. This is something that only develops over time, and some swimmers are naturally more flexible than others.
Applying fins to kick training and swimming will dramatically increase your ankles’ adaptation to a more efficient flutter and dolphin kick. The added resistance of the fins will reinforce proper kick mechanics so you improve faster than kicking or swimming without fins.
Improved Body Position
One of the key differentiators between swimmers of different levels (Olympic to novice) is body position in the water. When you watch an elite swimmer cruising through the water they look like a speedboat that was designed to maintain high elevation in the water. Most swimmers do not hold this body line, but swimming with fins can help.
Swimming with fins improves body position by adding velocity to the stroke and also teaching the body how to swim faster on top of the water. This works with kicking as well – when you’re in streamline on your back or front, you’ll be able to hold a higher body line with the added propulsion of fins.
Increased Strength and Endurance
There’s no question you can swim faster with fins. Fins not only make you swim faster, but they also allow you to swim and kick for longer periods of time, building endurance. Muscle recruitment is at an all time high when you’re wearing fins, and this is why fins are a fantastic way to improve multiple components of your swimming at the same time.
Like any footwear for sport, buying the best scuba fins for scuba diving is important, here we break down what to look for and review some of the best out there.
Choose The Right Kick when you’re scuba diving
When scuba diving better finning technique, in particular choosing the right technique for the right circumstances, can increase the efficiency of your dive. This, in turn, will decrease your air consumption and the physical fatigue you experience from a dive, extending your dives and increasing the pleasure of them. Also, picking the right finning technique can decrease the level of environmental disturbance you generate. The right finning technique can mean less silt kicked up when diving in a cave or close to a silty bottom, which can, in the worst case scenario, be a matter of life and death.
There are three main fin kicks that any diver should know. These are flutter kicks, frog kicks, and bent-knee cave diver kicks.
The aptly named frog kick looks very similar to the leg portion of the breast stroke from swimming. A large and wide kick that utilizes the full strength of the leg, it is a good, general technique for open-water diving, either in the water column, or close to the bottom. Because the movement and propulsion isn’t continuous, good buoyancy technique is required, though. The movement here is horizontal, or close to it, meaning that when swimming close to the bottom, there is minimal disturbance of the bottom, which in turn will maintain the visibility for any divers that come after you. However, the width of the kick means that the kick isn’t recommended for caves, or when diving close to a wall.
This kick, combined with good buoyancy, will quickly become your go-to technique once you get used to it, and will likely decrease your air consumption quite significantly. The more properly trimmed your position in the water, and the more you take advantage of the gliding phase before initiating the next kick, the more you’ll reduce your energy (and air) consumption.
Bottom line: powerful kick, that can be extremely efficient, especially if you master the kick-and-glide aspect. Good for open-water diving in mild currents, in the water column or close to the bottom. Not advisable in stronger currents or close to walls.
Bent-Knee Cave Diver Kick
This technique with the complicated name is the go-to technique for technical divers, and is the one that causes the least disturbance of the environment. The bent knees means that the movement is very limited, with the entire kick coming only from a small movement in the hips, combined with a kick of the ankles. This means that propulsion is limited, compared to the two kicks above, but it also decreases strain and air consumption. The small movement means that it works well in cramped areas, such as inside wrecks and caves, and when executed properly, can minimize the amount of silt kicked up to almost nothing.
The flutter kick is the basic finning technique that most divers use, this technique is similar to the leg part of freestyle swimming.
Watch 90 percent of all divers, and you’ll see them use flutter kicks. The technique was the only one taught until not that long ago, so any old dive movie like the James Bond movie “Thunderball”, you’ll see this kick too.
The reason for its popularity is quite simply that it is the strongest of all the kicking techniques, and it generates a lot of propulsion. And back in the early days of diving, before the invention of the BCD, speed was the primary way of maintaining buoyancy. The advantage of this kick is the forcefulness of it. It is great for moving at fairly high speed, or when fighting a current. The vertical up-down movement of the legs also means it is very useful for wall diving, especially when diving by a wall covered in corals. As there’s less risk of kicking the corals or the backwash of the finning destroying corals.
The disadvantages of this kick are related to the advantages. The forcefulness of the kick means that it is fairly strenuous, and increases air consumption because of it. Also, the vertical movement can kick up a lot of silt if you’re diving close to a loose bottom. In open water, this is annoying, in particular for the divers following you, but in a cave, it can be downright dangerous. Also, the continuous movement can lead to using movement for buoyancy, rather than proper scuba technique.
How to Choose the Best Swim Fins for You
Picking out a pair of swim fins seems like a no-brainer–pick out the biggest, baddest pair of the bunch!
But if you want to make the most of this piece of swimming equipment, and want to avoid getting bruised heels and blisters, then here is what you need to know about picking out a pair of swim fins for yourself.
Length of the fins.
When it comes to training with fins, length is the most important thing. But probably not for the reason you think.
Fins might all look the same, but they should serve a function beyond just going fast. They should match up to what kind of training you are doing. While we all scramble for the long fins because in our minds long = much faster, this isn’t necessarily the case. The longer your fins, the more difficult it is to kick with any kind of turnover. (Longer, stiffer fins are best used for snorkeling and diving, not swimming.)
If you take one thing away from this guide, remember this: long fins will collapse your kick frequency, and short fins are border-line pointless for longer, distance-oriented swimming.
Open heel vs Closed Heel.
Until recently almost all swim fins designed for competitive swimmers had closed heels. More and more now we are seeing fins that have the open heel, with a strap going around the ankle to keep the fin in place. Personally I much prefer the open heel fins, as it will usually provide you with a fuller range of motion. The problem with really rigid fins that have closed heels is that if you have decent ankle flexibility the top of the heel will dig into your Achilles when you are kicking. In my experience these types of fins also stay on the foot much better, which comes in handy when you are kicking all out, or pushing off the wall.
Stiffness of the fin.
Another important thing to consider when buying a new pair of fins is how rigid they are. For this reason, I would recommend that you either get your hands on a pair you are thinking of buying to assess the stiffness for yourself. Zoomers, for instance, one of the most popular set of fins you will find in a swimmer’s bag, are quite rigid and unforgiving. Most diving fins are similarly rigid, made of a hard plastic. The more stiff the fins, the harder it will be to kick.
While a stiff fin may be useful for getting fit, or getting a harder workout out of your legs, they promote a slower tempo kick, which doesn’t benefit swimmers who are trying to get faster. Additionally, really stiff fins tend to dig into the top of your heels as mentioned in the previous point.
Sock or not to sock.
One of the things that drive me nuts about using fins is the blisters that sometimes come with their usage. To combat this as an age grouper our coaches had us bring old cotton socks to put on to help mitigate some of the rubbing. Nowadays there are all types of socks designed specifically for this purpose. If you are using a more rigid, rubber fin I would recommend getting a pair of socks if you are going to be doing substantial training with your fins on.
Silicone vs. rubber.
More and more high performance fins are being made with silicone these days, and thankfully so. Silicone rubs and blisters your feet a whole lot less than rubber, which means that you can kick to your heart’s delight without worrying about destroying the skin on your feet. The suppleness of silicone also promotes a more fluid and natural kicking motion.
Snorkeling Fins Sizing & Fitting Tips
Can’t decide which fins to buy? Buy them both and mix and match!
Make sure they fit correctly. You want your snorkeling fins to be a bit snug, but not too tight. As your feet cool in the water they will shrink a little. So your fins will get looser in the water and slip more. So a little tighter fit is better than loose. You don’t want a loose heel cup or strap. Nothing is more irritating than snorkeling fins that slip off when you are trying to kick hard. If you are going to use boots in your fins, get them first, and then try your fins with them. And make sure your boots are very comfortable and will not rub raw spots when you kick in them for an hour or more.
Pay attention to any areas where it feels like your fins or footwear are pressing hard against bones or bunions, particularly if the fin has hard plastic sides. If you are in the store, point your foot and mimic a kicking action. If the fin or boot pinches, or rubs hard on any areas of your feet, it will only get worse when you repeat that action hundreds and thousands of times in the water. Find a more comfortable combination.
Marks & Blisters
Moderate red rub marks on your feet from your fins or footwear are fairly common when you have not been snorkeling recently. It may take a few days for your feet to get used to your fins and boots again. But blisters and open wounds are not OK. Open wounds are very uncomfortable, and a potential source of infection. Don’t let your feet get beat up. Travel with waterproof bandages, and toe tape, and be proactive in your foot care.
Fin Stiffness, Propulsion, Body Strength & Size
You might think that to get a lot of power and propulsion out of a fin it should be fairly stiff, so that you can push a lot of water. We have not found that to be the case. We like fins that are pretty flexible, and we go fast with them, without exerting ourselves very much. But here is the thing. Neither of us are really big people, with huge leg muscles. For us, a stiff fin does not provide efficient propulsion because we have to work too hard to push it through the water. It’s like being in the wrong gear on your bike going uphill. So we feel that the best propulsion comes from matching your physical strength and size with the correct fin stiffness. To really dial that in it helps to try different fins in the water. You might be shocked how different they feel. The right fin makes all the difference in your top speed and comfort while snorkeling.