Swimming fins are items that you’ll often see on beaches or at pools, but not everyone uses them. Those who do might use them just because they’re fun and can help you go faster. Others use them for specific conditioning purposes. The fins you see today on people’s feet are actually based on a design that started out on people’s hands.
Benjamin Franklin, who grew up loving the sea and loving to swim, created a pair of wooden paddles that he wore on his hands to help him gain speed and agility in the water. Those are the forerunner of today’s swim fins. Oh, and if you are just planning on goofing around at the beach, you can get away with calling them ‘swimming flippers’, but you might show yourself up as a newbie if you call them that and you’re trying to pass yourself off as a veteran or expert swimmer – so it’s best to stick to calling them ‘fins’ rather than ‘flippers’!
Why Wear Swimming Fins? For Fun And Serious Training
Clearly, it’s not absolutely necessary to wear these swimming accessories in the water. Aside from making the wearer unable to walk without looking a bit like a frog, what do they do and why do some people choose to wear them?
One of the biggest benefits is that they do create a more frog-like foot that allows swimmers to push through the water at a greater speed. Compare a swim fin to the human foot, and you can easily see how it acts like a large webbed foot that can move more water, and push the swimmer forward harder and faster.
For kids, they can be a lot of fun, when playing at the beach or pool. And of course, for adults, the different types of fin serve different purposes. They can be used for scuba diving, or in the pool for competitive swim training and body conditioning. Let’s take a quick look at the four main types.
Main Types Of Swimming Fin
1. Long Fins
The long fins are probably the most common for kids and for recreational swimming. Generally they are quite flexible and are sometimes called ‘paddle fins’ as they act in exactly the same way as a paddle on a boat, or an oar, works, by displacing water as you kick your legs.
They are available in all kinds of price ranges, so that youngsters can wear them for fun, but also to enable adult divers to get the most benefit out of them at the higher price ranges. These long swimming fins are designed for a slow kick, which is why they are really best for divers, and do not provide huge benefits to pool swimmers, who want to do resistance training but at a higher kick rate.
2. Split Fins
Split fins are also classed as long fins and are primarily used by divers. They are less stiff than paddle fins and – unsurprisingly – have a split down the middle of the fin itself. The propulsion method here is by creating vortices as water passes between the two blades created by the split in the fins.
Since there is less water resistance with this type of fin, some divers feel that they can’t move as fast through the water, or against currents. It is worth remembering though, that the reduced resistance means you can kick for feet faster than with a paddle fin, so you should think about swimming with a flutter-kick instead (like a regular swimmer). The other advantage of this fin style is that low resistance means less exertion. And less exertion means your air will last longer!
Here’s a quick video highlighting some of the differences between long paddle fins and split fins:
3. Short Fins
These are the fins which are favored by serious and competitive pool swimmers to get a good workout, especially if short on time. They are great for a complete lower body workout, as they provide a good degree of resistance compared to swimming without fins; but they are not so long that they completely disrupt your kicking cadence and ruin your form. Their shape is very similar to long paddle fins – except of course, they are shorter!
This type of fin is pretty self-explanatory – it is a single fin which you attach to both feet at the same time. A monofin is a fantastic training aid for improving your underwater dolphin kick. In pool races, after a turn, this is an extremely important swimming technique to optimize, and using a monofin will help strengthen the right muscle groups and get you using your hips more effectively rather than relying on your knees. It will also provide a wonderful workout for your core muscles, namely the abs, lower back and glutes, as well as the large upper leg muscles.
Swimming with any type of fin is a good way to improve ankle flexibility, build strength and enhance speed through the water. They are also great for helping you maintain form in order to concentrate your training on other areas which might need some improvement.
Who Typically Wears Swim Fins?
This ability to move better underwater comes in handy for people like scuba divers who are wearing weights and air tanks. Without the fins, a diver would struggle in the water because of that weight. But with the fins, they kick normally and are propelled despite the weight.
There are swim fins available that aren’t nearly as large as the awkward ones we’re used to seeing, so that they can be worn on land and allow someone to walk or run and still provide more speed in the water. Some people like lifeguards or surfers wear these. People snorkeling typically wear them so they can move more freely and enjoy more of the underwater sights.
Benefits Of Swim Training Fins
A top reason for wearing swimming fins, besides having more strength and speed in the water, is for physical conditioning. If you swim underwater without fins, the only resistance is from your legs and feet. But with the fins on, you’re pushing against a much larger surface and displacing more water. That provides resistance that can tone and strengthen the legs and ankles, as well as help condition the whole body thanks to the cardiovascular benefits of a more intense exercise. Swimming is already good for the heart and lungs, but with the addition of swimming fins that add resistance, it becomes an even more effective exercise. And if you are pushed for time, they allow you to get a really intense workout in a shorter length of time, because the efforts required mean you will fatigue faster. So there’s no excuse now to wriggle out of training because of your busy schedule!
Summary of Benefits
- Increase lower body strength – don’t forget to engage your core muscles and kick using your hip flexors, not your knees
- Increase ankle flexibility – this is important for gaining the most leverage in the water, so you need to able to point your toes to ensure the whole foot is displacing water during the kick. Ankle flexibility can be a problem for triathletes who started out as runners, as all the muscles and tendons around the ankle are tighter as a result of running.
- Maintain swimming form easier, which allows you to pay attention to other aspects of your technique that may need to be isolated and worked on
- Time efficiency – fins will tire you out faster, so you can get in a good swim session in a shorter time. Great if you live your life to a busy schedule
Brands To Look Out For
There’s a variety of swimming products to choose from, and since we are more concerned with pool and competitive swim training, I’ll mainly concentrate on short fins rather than the equipment used for diving and snorkeling. You can’t go wrong with any of the large and well-known brands, as they provide superior products made from high quality materials, so they should be comfortable for training, as well as robust and long-lasting.
Here’s the Top 9 brands for swim fins (in alphabetical order):
- Aqua Sphere