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

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

Divers with finning techniques

- 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.

Cave dive finning techniques

When in Rome, Kick as the Romans - Credit: 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.

Flutter kick finning techniques

The "Fast and Furious' of all kicks is the flutter kick - Credit: 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.

 

Finning techniques include frog kicks

The cleverly named frog kick is suitable when close to the bottom - Credit: 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.

Finning techniques like bent knee avoids silts

Bent-knee cave diver kick may be stealth-like but helps avoid a silt-out - Credit: 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!  

About The Author

Thomas Grønfeldt Senger

Thomas is a Naui Instructor and has been diving in Australia, France, Egypt, Sweden, Indonesia, Iceland, and numerous other locations around the world.

14 Comments

  1. David Woods

    This is a good assessment of the various kick strokes. It does not, however, address the total air efficiency formula.
    Testing has shown that swimming faster may get you to your destination sooner but it virtually never gets you there with more air. There is a sweet spot (speed) where the diver can minimize the air consumed to cover a required distance. If one swims too slowly he would consume too much air just as he would if he swam too fast.
    Consider that it takes air simply to sit on the bottom as an example. Moving at a speed of zero one would consume an entire tank without going anywhere.
    Air consumption testing has shown the best speed to travel to cover the most distance on the least air is the fastest speed one can swim without increasing their breathing rate over that of sitting still. In general that speed works out to between .9 and 1.1 miles per hour.
    My website contains the results of extensive air efficiency tests done in the process of creating swim fins which are up to 50% more air efficient than the most efficient recreational swim fins commercially available. Take a look. You may find it interesting.

    Reply
  2. Thomas

    Hi David,

    I agree, the article doesn’t cover anything about optimum finning speed for air consumption, nor was that my intention. I simply wanted to introduce divers to the fact that there are other finning techniques available aside from the classic flutter kick.

    I’ve dabbled a bit in air consumption testing (there’ll probably be an article on this topic on Dive.in soon), both in diving, and in particular in free diving. And my experience parallel the one you describe: swimming faster often, it not always, costs you more air and makes it less likely that you’ll complete your dive with enough air, compared to swimming more slowly. As one of the guys who taught me free diving, the great Stig Severinsen, said to me: slower is faster.

    Your research sounds interesting, would love to check it out, could you perhaps post a link to your web site?

    Reply
  3. Neal Gerard

    I’ve become kind a curious now. What is the best technique and is it different depending on environment like warm/cold water or salt/fresh water?

    Reply
  4. David Woods

    Thomas,
    As you requested, here is the link to my website http://www.TECreationDev.com/Maxair . The text next to the first video contains links to .pdf files with performance curves of various fins. I would be glad to do an article discussing the details of how that was done and the swim speed ramifications for divers.

    Reply
  5. Thomas

    David,
    Sorry, but the link doesn’t work. I get a “page not found” instead.

    Reply
  6. Thomas

    Hi Neal,

    If by “best technique”, you refer to finning technique, I’d say, as the article points out, that the various techniques have their merits in various environments, so which one is better depends on the context. Bent-knee cave diver kicks are best for situations where there’s a high risk of kicking up a lot of silt, whereas flutter kicks are good for propulsion. And to my knowledge, there’s no real difference between salt and fresh water in terms of which technique is preferable.

    Reply
  7. Jim Olinger

    I’ve never seen anything published on this, but I really enjoy a
    scissor type kick. Think sidestroke from swimming and rotate 90 degrees so that your legs motion up and down. It’s relaxing and yet has good propulsion properties.

    Reply
  8. Thomas

    Hi Jim,

    Trying to visualize the technique you’re describing, but can’t quite get my head around it. How does it differ from a standard flutter kick? Do you happen to have a video of it?

    Cheers,
    Thomas

    Reply
  9. Jim Olinger

    I started using this when some torn cartilidge in my knee was causing me pain with the flutter kick. So just rotate from this side position into normal dive postion with stomach down and perform the kick. The glide helps decrease the effort involved.

    Reply
  10. Tristan Paylado

    on top of the finning techniques, you may also consider the diving environment, situations and the kind of fins you will be using. For example, you will be having a dive vacation in the clear and calm waters of the tropics, so there’s no need to bring the rigid heavy jet fins. You my also consider comfort and fit that will significantly contribute to finning efficiency.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      I think you are completely right! Bringing the heavy fins you need to be committed to many dives and know you need to use them form something other than a few small bay divers with no current.

  11. Linda

    Since i dive in often silty condition, following a wall or a steep slope and our best divesites rarely have any current I use cave dive kick. That kick or the frogkick is most common here (westcoast of Sweden) and beginners are fairly soon encouraged in a friendly way to learn and use it by other divers.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      I think that most Swedish diver I’ve been diving with (quite a few when I was working in Thailand) where excellent at not stirring up the sand.

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