How Do Swim Fins Work : Everything You Need To Know!

How Do Swim Fins Work

Are you planning to go snorkeling or scuba diving and wondering if you need to bring a pair of swim fins with you? Or are you just considering wearing fins during your training? Well, if you are going to scuba dive, you definitely need a nice pair of swim fins. Although wearing a pair is not a requirement in snorkeling as many tourists can snorkel without the fins, you’ll be glad to wear a pair.

Wearing swim fins has a lot of advantages whether you are a swimmer or not. But what can swim fins do to your overall swimming performance? They may not look that important especially on your regular swimming sessions but they can significantly improve your overall swimming performance. Here is everything you need to know about swim fins.

What are Swim Fins?

What are Swim Fins

Swim fins, commonly called diving fins or swimfins, are swimming accessories or gear that can be worn on the feet and hands when swimming. The main purpose of swim fins is to help a person move through the water more smoothly and efficiently as a fish would.

Human feet are not shaped appropriately and are too small to provide more thrust particularly when a swimmer is carrying a piece of equipment. Wearing swim fins can make the wearer move effectively through the water. A swimfin consists of a blade and a foot pocket where the blade can be attached to the foot of the wearer.

Many water sports use swimfins such as the following:

  • Swimming
  • Scuba Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Bodyboarding
  • Kneeboarding
  • Bodysurfing
  • Underwater Rugby
  • Underwater Hockey
  • Float-tube Fishing
  • Riverboarding
  • Underwater Diving

Over the years, swimfins have evolved to meet the requirements of each water sport. A swim fin comes in different types and each type is meant for different functions. The swim fins used by scuba divers may not provide the same effect when used in snorkeling and vise versa. This is why it is important to know the different kinds of swimfins and their purposes.

Types of Swim Fins

Types of Swim Fins


Most fins come as a pair meant for each foot. Sometimes they are called bifins or simply swimming fins, but to differentiate them from monofins, they are often called bifins. They are called monofins because it only consists of a single blade but it has two foot pockets for the wearer’s feet.

Both bifins and monofins are usually made of rubber, aluminum, carbon fiber, or glass fiber composites. They can also come in different sizes and stiffness depending on the wearer’s swimming style, type of activity, and muscle power.

Monofins are commonly used in underwater orienteering, free-diving, and finswimming. A swimmer who wears monofins will have a movement of rising and falling from the water that starts in the shoulder while arms are extended forward and the head is locked in between the biceps.

The movement should start from the shoulder, followed by the hips, and then to the monofin. This kind of technique is known as dolphin kick. It is important that the legs don’t bend so that the motion is transferred to the monofin.

Many freedivers use monofins and very long fins because they do not entail high-frequency leg movement during underwater propulsion. This helps lessen oxygen consumption and enhances efficiency.

Full-Foot Fin Type

This type of swimfin is also called closed-heel or slipper fins. It can be worn with soft neoprene socks or bare feet. Full-foot fins are commonly used on surface swimming like snorkeling. It is advisable to choose the right size as they are non-adjustable.

Open-Heel Fin Type

As the name suggests, the heel area is open and the fin is clasped by spring straps. They are normally adjustable so they can fit almost any foot size. Open-heel models are commonly used in diving where a diver needs foot protection and those who have to walk from shore to the water.

Split Fins

There are fins that have a split in the blade’s centerline. Some swimfin manufacturers believe that split fins act like a propeller that lifts a swimmer forward. However, there was a study in 2003 that questioned the significance of the split fin designs. Split fins are suitable for divers who prefer flutter kick to frog kick. This type of fin is better for snorkeling and long-hour dives because it can reduce cramps and leg muscle fatigue.

Paddle Fins

This fin type acts as an extension as the feet kick while swimming. They are usually made of rubber, composite, or simple plastics. Paddle fins come in different stiffness levels. Those that are fairly stiff are said to be more versatile and had shown great improvement in men’s performance. However, a more flexible fin provides better efficiency for women because it adds power to the lower leg.

Stiff paddle fins are usually preferred by scuba divers who are into wreck diving and cave diving because they need to perform helicopter turns and back kicks.

Variations of Swim Fins

Variations of Swim Fins


Freediving fin blades are normally made in the full-foot design with firm foot pockets to minimize weight and increase power transfer from the legs to the fins. They are commonly made from plastic, carbon fiber, or fiberglass. They are somehow similar to paddle fins, however, they are generally longer. This design tends to work better with slow and stiff leg kicks to save energy and oxygen.

Body Surfing

These fins are usually open-heels with a strap and are relatively short. They have a stiff fin blade that aids in catching a wave and creating a burst of power. They are designed for bodyboarding and bodysurfing.


These are stiff paddle fins where vents are placed at the foot pocket’s base. The vents are designed so that water can pass through in the course of recovery stroke but at the same time prevents water from passing during power strokes. The vented fin is popularly used when doing the frog kick.

Swim Training

Swimfins have played an important role in learning, practicing, and teaching how to swim. Many swimmers use them for surface divings, treading water, searching underwater, and even to support an exhausted swimmer. Training fins became popular for lap swimming and swim workouts and until now you can see that many people have training fins in their swim equipment bag.

Uses of Swim Fins

Uses of Swim Fins

By now, you already have an idea of what a swim fin is and the various types. Now it is time to learn the different uses of swim fins and how they work.


Swimfins are used to better perform various techniques in swimming, diving, and other water sports. To better understand their importance when it comes to techniques, it can be described by propulsion and maneuvering.


Moving backward or maneuvering underwater can be difficult and swimming with fins can make turning and reversing easier as long as you have the right skills and use the suitable fins. As with the different fin types, monofins provide the least maneuverability since both of your feet are tucked together in the foot pocket.

A back kick is used when a diver or swimmer needs to do a backward motion in the water. This is normally done to avoid flapping or sculling of hands when moving in reverse. Swimmers perform the back kick when they need to move safely from corals, other divers, and aquatic animals.

A helicopter turn, on the other hand, allows swimmers to pivot on an axis through the core of the body without changing the trimmed diving position. It allows swimmers to change their path and look behind without modifying their position in the water. This is particularly helpful when you are in tight spaces or keeping your fins from touching delicate marine life.


This is the act of moving or pushing forward when swimming or diving. There are three basic finning techniques. These are flutter kick, frog kick, and the dolphin kick.

The flutter kick is the most common and is the easiest kick technique to learn. It’s the basic kick propulsion that was taught when you were still learning to swim. The flutter kick technique is moving the legs up and down alternately. If you are a diver, this is the most used kick. It is also the easiest way to propel from one point to another.

The dolphin kick is somehow similar to the flutter kick, however, the two legs execute the recovery and power strokes at the same time. This kick mostly uses the abdominal and back muscles and might need to exert more power. This may not be suitable for people with problems in their lower back. Any kind of swimfin may be used to perform this finning technique even with the monofins.

The frog kick is swimming like a frog. This technique uses the hips, ankles, and knees. The advantage of using this kick is that it is more environment-friendly compared to a flutter kick. Plus, it lessens the gas consumption giving you more time to dive. It can also reduce the chances of silt disturbance that may cloud your vision while underwater.


Fins help a person perform more powerful thrusts than when without fins. Depending on the type of fins you are using, you can drive more power and thrust.


Training with fins provides a more efficient kick and better leg movement. Swimmers train with their fins so there’s a better range of motion and perform leg action easier. However, to get the most out of your training, you need to use the right fins.


Fins are used to reduce fatigue. Larger fins are regarded to be less exhausting and provide more power when thrusting with less effort.

Benefits of Swimming with Fins

Benefits of Swimming with Fins

Help Improve Body Line

You can easily spot a novice swimmer from an experienced one with their body line. A professional swimmer will look like a speedboat cruising in the water. Their body position helps them stay close to the waterline. One way to achieve this body position is by swimming with fins.

Swimfins add velocity to every stroke and also guides the body to swim faster on the water’s surface area. This also works well when kicking. You’ll be able to hold this position with the additional propulsion from the fins.

Refine Stroke Technique

Many swimmers use fins during training as these can help in refining their stroke mechanics. Fins help add stability and propulsion, thus allowing swimmers to focus more on the stroke they are practicing. Aside from that, they can easily learn advanced skills faster and with fewer drills.

If you are learning or mastering the backstroke, you can do it with less trouble due to the added propulsion of swimfins. They can also help improve your arms pull and balance while working on your backstroke and freestyle

Better Kicks

Learning the different kicks can be difficult but wearing swimfins during training can make this a lot more bearable. Some may blame it on their leg strength but it’s actually more on the kick technique.

The first kick you learn in swimming is the flutter kick where your legs are straight and the hips generate the power, and the toes are pointed. Most people make the common mistake of thinking that the flutter kick should be done in big and powerful strokes. However, it should actually be short and fast.

Swim fins help improve the up kick. When you perform an up kick your lower back muscles, hamstrings, and glutes are working. It can be restrained with the use of the fins to make you swim faster but more efficiently with positive muscle reinforcement.

Reduce Shoulder Stress

Constant swimming practice can make your arms sore even if it’s a low-impact sport. Your legs and arms are overused because of repeated movements. Of course, you can easily add strength training to your workout, but another way to reduce shoulder stress is by wearing a pair of fins.

By wearing swimfins, you can lessen the use of your arms and reduce exerting effort. The swimfins give additional propulsion which reduces the load on your arms and upper body. Aside from that, you get to improve your kick technique without getting over fatigued.

Enhance Ankle Flexibility

Not everyone has a flexible ankle and it takes practice and training to make ankles more flexible. Swimmers and divers need to increase their ankle flexibility to perform certain techniques. Swimfins add resistance to your kicks making your ankles adapt more to perform better dolphin and flutter kick.

Once you have improved your ankle flexibility, you can swim and kick better even without wearing a pair of fins. Your kick tempo will also be enhanced.

Make Workout More Efficient

Swimming or any water activity is a great workout. Sometimes, you do not have enough time to perform your usual workout in the water. One way to make your exercise more efficient is by wearing swimfins while working out. It can increase your heart rate faster compared to when you’re not wearing one.

It does not only make your heart rate faster in a short period of time but it will keep you in that state for a longer period. Sometimes, all you need to do is to swim and exercise smarter and not longer.

Endurance and Strength

Swim fins can increase your strength (including leg strength) and endurance by helping you swim faster and adding resistance. The more resistance you have while swimming, the more your muscle recruitment will be activated while the fins stress them out. It’s a great way to improve not only your strength, overall range of motion, and also your other swim skills.

How to Choose the Right Pair of Fins

How to Choose the Right Pair of Fins

Are you ready to purchase your swimfins now? Before you do, do you have an idea of the kind of fins you should be getting? Here are some tips to help you decide.

  1. Fin Length – Long fins are better used in snorkeling and scuba diving, while short fins are more suitable for swim training. The fin length should be based on the type of your training.
  2. The fin’s stiffness – Stiff fins are commonly used for fitness due to their slower kick tempo. You may not want to get yourself a pair of stiff fins if your goal is to move faster.
  3. Material – The material used also matters. There are fins made with silicone, plastic, and rubber. Many swimmers and divers prefer silicone because they are a bit gentler to the feet and develop a more natural and fluid kicking movement.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Swim Fins Work

Is swimming with fins good exercise?

Yes, swimming with fins is a good workout since it makes you swim faster which means it increases your heart beat faster. A workout in the water can also help in building muscles and ankle flexibility.

How much faster can you swim with fins?

It can improve your swimming speed by up to 30%-40%. Fins allow feet to propel much easily in the water as they can increase the surface area of the feet.

Does swimming with fins burn more calories?

Yes. As mentioned earlier, it’s a great workout for the body. It can burn more calories compared to swimming without fins as it can make you swim faster. The faster you swim, the more your heart rate increases, the more calories it burns.

Does swimming with fins tone legs?

Swimming without fins can already help improve leg strength due to the resistance from the water. However, wearing fins can further increase that resistance, thus effectively toning your legs.

Should beginner swimmers use fins?

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced swimmer, it is always better to wear swimfins. They can easily help you learn the correct kicking technique and improve body position.

What size should I get for my swimfins?

It is advisable to get the same size you would get for your regular shoes. There are fins that can be adjusted, so getting a size the same as your shoe size means only a few adjustments will be needed in case they don’t fit you perfectly.


So, do you think swimfins can improve your overall performance? Swimming with fins has a lot of advantages whether you are a novice or advanced swimmer or diver. It’s just a matter of choosing the right kind of fin for your swim training and your preferred water sport.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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