Finning Techniques – How To Get The Most Propulsion From Your Kick

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Thomas Groenfeldt

Finning is the process of generating propulsion by moving our scuba fins.

In that sense, it is probably the most basic of skills in diving, and one that most of us are already able to do when we enter our first dive course.

For anyone who has spent any proportions of their childhood in and around water, it is as natural as walking or running.

Here’s a Basic Guide On Choosing Scuba Fins.

But, like running, it is something that most of us might be able to do, but that doesn’t mean that we do it well, never mind optimally.

So like many runners experience a huge increase in running pleasure and efficiency, many divers could benefit from working on their finning techniques.

Choose The Right Kick For The Circumstances

Better finning technique, in particular choosing the right technique for the right circumstances, can increase the efficiency of your dive.

This, in turn, will decrease your air consumption and the physical fatigue you experience from a dive, extending your dives and increasing the pleasure of them.

Also, picking the right finning technique can decrease the level of environmental disturbance you generate. The right finning technique can mean less silt kicked up when diving in a cave or close to a silty bottom, which can, in worst case scenario, be a matter of life and death, as the case of cave diving accident in Italy’s Grotta Rosso proved all too well.

There are three main fin kicks that any diver should know. These are flutter kicks, frog kicks, and bent-knee cave diver kicks.

When in Rome, Kick as the Romans
When in Rome, Kick as the Romans
Photo by: Takashi Usui

Flutter kicks

The flutter kick is the basic finning technique that most divers use, this technique is similar to the leg part of freestyle swimming.

Watch 90 percent of all divers, and you’ll see them use flutter kicks. The technique was the only one taught until not that long ago, so any old dive movie (Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s films and the James Bond movie “Thunderball” to name a few), you’ll see this kick too.

The reason for its popularity is quite simply that it is the strongest of all the kicking techniques, and it generates a lot of propulsion. And back in the early days of diving, before the invention of the BCD, speed was the primary way of maintaining buoyancy.

The advantage of this kick is the forcefulness of it. It is great for moving at fairly high speed, or when fighting a current. The vertical up-down movement of the legs also means it is very useful for wall diving, especially when diving by a wall covered in corals. As there’s less risk of kicking the corals or the backwash of the finning destroying corals.

The disadvantages of this kick are related to the advantages. The forcefulness of the kick means that it is fairly strenuous, and increases air consumption because of it. Also, the vertical movement can kick up a lot of silt if you’re diving close to a loose bottom.

In open water, this is annoying, in particular for the divers following you, but in a cave, it can be downright dangerous. Also, the continuous movement can lead to using movement for buoyancy, rather than proper scuba technique.

Bottom line: Fast, powerful technique, good for when you’re fighting a current, for short bursts of speed, and for diving close to vertical structures.

The “Fast and Furious’ of all kicks is the flutter kick
The “Fast and Furious’ of all kicks is the flutter kick
Photo by: Rostislav Ageev

Frog kick

The aptly named frog kick looks very similar to the leg portion of the breast stroke from swimming. A large and wide kick, that utilizes the full strength of the leg, it is a good, general technique for open-water diving, either in the water column, or close to the bottom. Because the movement and propulsion isn’t continuous, good buoyancy technique is required, though.

The movement here is horizontal, or close to it, meaning that when swimming close to the bottom, there is minimal disturbance of the bottom, which in turn will maintain the visibility for any divers that come after you. However, the width of the kick means that the kick isn’t recommended for caves, or when diving close to a wall.

This kick, combined with good buoyancy, will quickly become your go-to technique once you get used to it, and will likely decrease your air consumption quite significantly. The more properly trimmed your position in the water, and the more you take advantage of the gliding phase before initiating the next kick, the more you’ll reduce your energy (and air) consumption.

Bottom line: powerful kick, that can be extremely efficient, especially if you master the kick-and-glide aspect. Good for open-water diving in mild currents, in the water column or close to the bottom. Not advisable in stronger currents or close to walls.

The cleverly named frog kick is suitable when close to the bottom
The cleverly named frog kick is suitable when close to the bottom
Photo by: DJ Mattaar

Bent-Knee Cave Diver Kick

This technique with the complicated name is the go-to technique for technical divers, and is the one that causes the least disturbance of the environment.

The bent knees means that the movement is very limited, with the entire kick coming only from a small movement in the hips, combined with a kick of the ankles. This means that propulsion is limited, compared to the two kicks above, but it also decreases strain and air consumption.

The small movement means that it works well in cramped areas, such as inside wrecks and caves, and when executed properly, can minimize the amount of silt kicked up to almost nothing.

Here’s a very compelling guide on How To Survive A Silt-Out!

For this reason, it is also the recommended technique for diving close a very silty bottom.

Bent-knee cave diver kick may be stealth-like but helps avoid a silt-out
Bent-knee cave diver kick may be stealth-like but helps avoid a silt-out
Photo by: Rich Carey

The slow movement also means that this technique helps you slow down, making it good for muck dives or other nature dives where you’ll be looking for small animal life.

Because it is a very low-propulsion kick, this technique has its limitation when swimming against a current, though.

Bottom line: a minimal-impact kick, that is ideal for cramped environments and close to very silty bottoms, as well as helping you slow down during your dives and maximize your available air.

Which is your preferred finning method? Do you change between the different methods? Tell us in a comment below! 


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