Triathletes dislike kick sets and yet all swim coaches have their swimmers spend 10-20% of their pool time kicking. Maybe it’s because triathletes depend on wearing wetsuits, but whatever the reason I think a lack of kicking is a mistake. Having said that, I do have some sympathy. If you haven’t swum since the age of 7 and have stiff ankles sometimes you can feel like you are going nowhere. In fact, I have even seen triathletes going backwards. Fear not. I have a solution. Far from cheating, the introduction of fins to a pool workout adds another dimension. Here are my top 6 reasons for using fins, along with a couple of ideas on how to include them in your swim workouts:
- Fins will provide some propulsion so you will actually move forward.
- By gaining some momentum you will be able to employ the correct kick technique with the initial drive coming from the hips, followed by a small extension in the knee, and finally a flexion at the ankle. This will also help you to improve your ankle flexibility.
- By using the correct technique you will (eventually) train the muscles (and the nerves that stimulate them) in the correct pattern for kicking so it becomes second nature. This provides much more balance to your overall stroke.
- The benefit of this is that you have a more compact kick and better body position, both of which will make you more streamlined.
- Using the powerful leg muscles will actually provide you with a much more beneficial workout. The quads are the biggest muscle group in the body and they require more oxygen, so their involvement provides a better aerobic stimulus. Ultimately you will have a better workout, with less stress on the shoulders, and your water fitness will improve.
- Lastly, you will have no fear of kick sets so swimming will be more fun!
How to get the most from your fins
Vertical kicking: This is the best way that I have found to get the correct technique. With your hands by your side and your toes pointed, float in the pool with your chin at water level. Now, kick from the hips with a very slight knee bend and try to lift your chin above the water. Aim for 15s and then rest for 15s. Repeat until you have completed 10 reps. Over time build to 30s duration.
Traditional kicking: When you have done vertical kicking a few times try a traditional kick set holding a kick board out front at arm’s length and use your new technique to power your way to the end of the pool. Use sets of 25m to start with and take 10-15s rest at each end. 10 x 25m will be a good start, and then build up to roughly 20% of your total session volume as kicking.
Swim for speed: Once you have learned the correct kick technique introduce it to some of your swim sets. I really like doing this in speed sets in front crawl. Kicking hard provides extra momentum, and with a fast arm turnover you will reach the end of the pool faster than you have ever done. You will have to turn your arms over faster to keep up. Complete a set of 10 x 25m with 30s rest (so you keep the quality up) and then for the last 2 remove the fins but try to keep the kick mechanics and the arm turnover.
If you are looking for fins there are many to choose from but I really like the Aquasphere Alpha Fins because they are light (great if you are travelling with them) and very comfortable.