Updated: Jun 24
One of the many misnomers about our swim training beliefs is the use of fins, or non use of fins. After the Olympics, Trisutto introduced the use of fins for basic stroke work of one arm swimming to Tri Medley, and depending on level of expertise, our version of Tri Fly.
This was done to help age group swimmers who struggled to cope with the intensity of these exercises. It was also introduced to our elite athletes after we saw the positive reaction from the age group athletes. Not only was their skill enhanced but so was their enjoyment of being able to move faster while carrying out the tasks, so it became a staple of our pros in both warmups and recoveries.
We have also used fins in freestyle for athletes who are six-beat kickers.
This has opened up a box of worms. Some have asked "so why don't you use fins for the age groupers in the main sets?" Thus I thought it was time to put the Sutto myth that I don't like fins to rest.
Many years ago as swim coach, I loved fins so much that in my 6 to 12 year swim squads every child wore them exclusively, just as if they were run shoes. Kids would walk on deck wearing not just togs, cap and goggles, but also fins were a full part of the kit. They not only swam freestyle with fins, but fly, backstroke and, yes breaststroke. They were all taught two-beat fly kick, with fins, for every stroke. The only kick sets they did were breaststroke kick, which was also the only time they took the fins off!
Some may question how effective this was. So I’ll state that in 1983 our 4 x 200m relay team won the Australian National open title, with the oldest member 17 years of age. Each swimmer had come from this program, with all using fins on a daily basis in freestyle sets, and two swimmers using fins exclusively in every main set.
Second leg of the Tri Medley - breaststroke with dolphin kick
This begs the question: why don't we use fins in our main swim sets for age groupers in triathlon? The reasons are all based on logic:
1/ We have to use our legs for biking and running. Fin training places much more stress on the leg muscles. Bike and run training after a swim set with fins is affected in a negative way,
2/ Wetsuits in races provide buoyancy that nullifies much of the propulsion of six-beat kickers, because of a much higher position in the water.
3/ Most age groupers who are leg dominant swimmers fail to engage their arms to their full capacity.
4 / The majority of age groupers race half ironman or full ironman distance with their fall back Olympic or sprint distance races.
5/ Lets do a little critical analysis. For Olympic distance races we take approximately 1500 strokes. For an Ironman approximately 3800 stokes. Here is the bit of science overlooked - for a six-beat kicker that means for every arm stroke there is this figure to contend with:
1500 strokes —> 4500 kicks
3800 strokes —> 11400 kicks
Why is this important? The kick engages the biggest muscles in the body, using up the most oxygen and glycogen stores. Not to mention the muscle strength of every muscle in the legs that will be needed in the bike and run for the actual events that we are indeed training for.
How many of you have felt no power on the bike after exiting the swim, only to find that after an hour on the bike it starts to come back? Many, I get your messages to prove it! “What am I doing wrong with my bike training? I just can't seem to get going after a hard swim?"
In many of our previous swim articles we have addressed that one might want to not look at your bike training, but look at your swim program construction.
In this blog I'm bringing another thought to the table. How much energy is your swim technique using in relation to your actual individual speed?
It is our belief that an efficient stroke that one can replicate over your race distance (especially if that is 3800 metres), will pay much larger dividends in your bike and run, than swimming a little faster but using up a lot of energy that can be better utilised on the bike and run.
Just the way I see it.