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Swim Club Blog - Develop Your Kick... FINS ARE NOT CHEATING!!

Last week we posted a blog about swim kicking and why it's so important for age group swimmers. This week we're talking about swim / kick fins and how they can help to develop your kick. You can read last week's blog post HERE

If you're a triathlete who started swimming at a later age, no doubt the thought of 'kick work' initiates a cold sweat. There are some common patterns which we see amongst age group triathletes and open water swimmers. A lot of them have poor balance (low legs) and as a consequence they prefer to use a pull buoy when swimming as it helps their speed. 

Why should I do kick work?

When you're swimming in triathlon events, you shouldn't be kicking hard and using your leg kick as 'propulsion', we accept that part. But you don't just kick your legs for propulsion, your leg kick influences the whole body chain, your balance and your rotation in the water.

When you run, you don't use your arms to propel yourself over the ground, but if you strapped them to your sides, you wouldn't run as quick!!

Here's some things to consider:

1. Your legs are attached to your pelvis and when kicking your legs, you have to stabilise your pelvis by using your core muscles.

2. Without strong swim core muscles, you'll never balance in the water, you'll never hold a streamlined position and there's no chance of successfully rolling onto your side.

3. By using your legs and pelvis, you can rotate your hips in the water and generate (body roll).

4. If you use a pull buoy, your legs and core muscles 'switch off' and you'll drag your lazy flat lower half behind you.

That's all very good, but I can't do a single length of kick...

To be fair, that is a valid point. Many age group triathletes and open water swimmers can't do a single pool length of kick without stopping half way. The key thing here is to develop your leg technique by focusing upon the technique points on the Swim Club session plans. The other thing you can do is wear fins...

Wearing swim fins is clearly cheating!!

Wearing swim fins is not cheating, neither is it 'easier' wearing fins than without. Let's break 'kicking' into 2 separate sections and outline how wearing fins or not wearing fins impacts upon each:

1. Propulsion - this is the speed at which you move through the water. Wearing fins aids propulsion and people move through the water faster than they do without fins.

2. Technique - This refers to all the technical points of kicking as written on your session plans.

Wearing fins makes your technique worse than it is when you don't wear fins. The simple outcome of the above is that when people wear swim fins, they generally display bad technique but they still move through the water at a reasonable speed. When they don't wear fins, they show good technique but often go nowhere and come to a halt.

Why is this the case?

Fins work very much like hand paddles. The larger the surface area, the more resistance when you try to move the object through the water. This is why paddles are considered to be good for 'strength'. A fin is simply a paddle for your foot. Rather than making your hand bigger, it makes your foot bigger. The problem with the extra resistance, is that it leads to poor technique. For example, when kicking with fins, people are more likely to bend at the knees due to the greater resistance being placed on the foot. More knee bend means that your legs will sink and your balance will be poor.

Another great example is watching people complete the swordfish drill (kicking on your side with lower arm extended out in front and upper hand resting on hip). Without fins, people tend to show a good streamlined position but struggle to propel themselves forwards, getting out of breath very quickly. When swordfish is completed wearing fins, propulsion isn't a problem but swimmers tend to adopt a 'C' shaped position in the water. The legs bend at the knees and as a result, the feet finish behind them rather than in line with the body. The whole spine is arched excessively and their streamlined position is exchanged for a twisted mess.

Why does this happen?

1. They haven't got the core strength and control to hold the correct body position when wearing fins, the extra water resistance is too great and forces bad technique. It's IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND that kicking with correct technique is much HARDER with fins than without.

2. They're probably not aware of their position and don't really care because when wearing fins they can still propel themselves through the water, even with bad technique. Hence people mistakenly think fins make things easier.

So what do I need to do?

1. You need to kick with correct technique. Kick from the hip, minimal knee bend and keep the ankles 'floppy' (keep the ankles loose rather than tensing and pointing your toes). Have a go with fins... see how hard it is to keep your legs straight.

2. Use your fins, they're not cheating. If you regularly use your pull buoy because it makes your swimming easier to manage, then I'd rather you use your fins and kick gentle than a pull buoy, this is far better for swim development.

3. Focus on holding perfect technique with your fins rather than just kicking with rubbish technique and relying upon the propulsion.

4. Kick gently, this is not a race.. tense your stomach muscles, keep the legs long and give some purpose to the kick set.

The type of fins you use are critical. If you buy larger fins, they give too much propulsion so swimmers generally end up getting a lot of propulsion but poor technique. Buy a smaller fin as these give enough propulsion without impacting upon technique.

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