Swimming with Fins: Flippers, SCUBA to Rocket Fin Progression

Marines swim with fins during scout swimmers course.
Maj. Breck Perry, left, and Sgt. Christopher Rateau-Holbach swim laps with fins during a scout swimmers course Oct. 21, 2014, at the Camp Hansen Aquatics Center. (Lance Cpl. Abbey Perria/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Many questions received often depend on the goals of the person asking the question. Just starting a fitness program with running or swimming and wondering what kind of gear is needed or preferred is different than those seeking different goals such as triathlons, marathons, military and special ops. Here is an answer to a common question for any level of swimming in pools, regardless of goals:

Sir, what kind of fins would you recommend for pool swimming? Chris

Swimming in a pool with fins is nothing new. Swim teams, beginners, advanced master swimmers, SCUBA divers and military special-ops trainees will use pools in their training as well as fins on their feet. But it depends on your goals. Just swimming? Get some slip-on flippers. (FINIS brand is a great option.)

To get your ankles used to the bigger fins, you need to start practicing with typical SCUBA fins. A moderately stiff fin from companies like US Diver or Cressi has the ability to build your ankle and leg strength for longer swims and dives.

For special ops, you need a stiffer and longer SCUBA fin that requires booties. too. You will be issued Rocket fins or Jet Fins if spec ops is in your future. Your ability to swim 45-90 minutes or more with fins will be required regularly in military diving/combat swimming programs (SEAL, divers, SWCC, PJ, RECON, MARSOC, etc.).

Here is a sample leg swimming workout to build your leg joints and muscles for longer endurance with fins:

Swim 500-Meter Warmup with Fins

Repeat 10 times

  • 50-meter freestyle, side stroke or dolphin kick
  • 50-meter backstroke (kick only), aka “turtle-backing”
  • Swim 500-meter cooldown with or without fins

If your feet, ankles or legs hurt, take the fins off and continue for 5-10 minutes without fins, then put them on until they start to bother you again. Eventually, the pain will go away, and you will build up the ability to swim for hours, if needed, to with fins.

The options are actually a good progression to go from swimming, to starting with slip-on fins, to building up to stiffer SCUBA fins. A good model of swimming with fins for a steady workout is 30-45 minutes. Typical SCUBA divers can take 30-45 minutes as well, so you have to get used to moving your legs with fins once in open water.

Some waters will have a current to swim through, or your ability to see more of the underwater world will require your ability to kick your legs. Practicing swimming in SCUBA fins will make your SCUBA dives much more enjoyable. And it is a great leg workout, no matter what the ultimate goal of swimming with fins is.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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