Master’s Swimmers and Triathletes: Should You Be Swimming With Fins?

One of the most common questions I am asked by Master’s Swimming newbies and triathletes is whether or not they should be using fins. It seems as though many of them have been told at some point that “fins” is a dirty word and that they are somehow cheating by using them.  I disagree for three main reasons.

First off, many of the people asking this question have very poor ankle flexibility. They may come from a running or biking background, but they certainly didn’t grow up strapping themselves into “The Rack.” I usually demonstrate this fact by having them sit on the ground next to me with their legs stretched out in front of them and relax.  While my feet naturally flop over towards the floor, their toes tend to point straight up in the air, perpendicular to the floor.  Without ankle flexibility, kicking is extremely inefficient, and sometimes counterproductive.  Swimming with fins will increase ankle flexibility.

Secondly, there are many ranges of abilities in Master’s Swimming, even more so in the slower lanes.  For those who have a hard time keeping up with their lane mates, the addition of fins can make the difference between making and missing the intervals. Not only does this make the lane run more smoothly, it is also more fun and builds camaraderie!  As they begin to improve they can start to reduce the percentage of their workout executed while using fins.

Lastly, many triathletes and beginning Master’s swimmers have a hard time maintaining correct body position while swimming and also while performing drills. The addition of fins helps keep the legs from sinking and allows the swimmer to experience what it is like to glide across the top of the water, instead of plowing through it.  Additionally, most triathletes will be swimming in a wetsuit and/or in salt water come race day.  Fins help simulate the buoyancy effect that a wetsuit or salt water would have on a swimmer.

The bottom line is fins are a tool, not a crutch, and that kicking with fins improves your “naked” kick.  They are a must for every mesh bag.

- Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN