Swimming with fins: what’s the difference between long and short fins?

John Wood explains the differences between swimming with long and short fins, their benefits and the best fin swim sets


A fin is a fin, right? Wrong! Today fins come in all different shapes, styles and lengths, with each fin model creating a different training experience. But broadly speaking, you could say the two main types are long and short fins.

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Long fins are great for beginners, as the long blade rewards the swimmer with easy forward propulsion and raises the hips to the surface. However, these long fins make it difficult to replicate the fast kicking technique you will apply when you’re racing. While some people like the longer ‘snorkelling’ fins that make it easier to swim, many coaches and swimmers prefer something more swim-specific. This actually led to the development of the first short-bladed fins.

Unlike long fins, the short-bladed options allow your legs to cycle fast enough to keep up with a normal arm stroke rate and still maintain a six-beat kick. By reducing the length of the blade and positioning it at the correct angle, the legs and feet mimic a natural swimming kick. As a result the swimmer can build true swimming-specific leg strength and hit a race tempo, all without fatiguing prematurely.

As a coach I’d never use long fins in a session, partly because they’re inconvenient and take up a lot of space, but also because a shorter fin can do the job of lengthening the legs/ankles pretty well too. A shorter fin is actually relevant to your swim.

I’d use fins for building up leg strength and getting used to kicking at a fast pace. Alternatively you can use them to make a more technical drill slightly easier so that you don’t have to worry about power output. The rotator kick, where body position and rotation from the hips is as important as the kick, is a prime example. You could also use fins to help you do butterfly kick, which will really get your core working and improve your power output. Here are some example kick sets to get you started:

  • 16 x 50m with 15secs rest between reps (no kickboard) as: 4 with fins, 4 without, repeat twice.
  • 10 x 100m with 20secs rest between reps as: all with fins, aim for 6-8secs quicker than race pace.
  • 8 x 50m with 15secs rest between reps as: 25m rotator kick, 25m swim (focus on good hip roll and core stability)
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