The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Foot & Ankle Injury Prevention: 5 Tips for Swimming with Fins

Posted by on Thursday, August 7th, 2014

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Swimming with fins is not just for scuba divers and snorkeling on vacation. It’s also a hot workout trend! It’s true that regularly cutting through the water with a pair of “flippers” will do you some good– strengthening ankles, legs, hips, and core. However, many people find that the areas they aim to tone, end up injured instead. At The Center for Podiatric Care & Sports Medicine, we see a lot of fin swimmers with injuries like Illiotibial Band Syndrome, “Swimmer’s Heel,” ankle sprains, and Ankle Tendonitis. Here are three tips to minimize your risk of foot and ankle injury as you enjoy this last month or two of swimming at New York beaches.

swimming with fins
Before you start exercising with fins, you should warm up with several weeks of practice and stretch before every swim. Image Source: Wikimedia.org

Tip #1: If you have a vacation coming up that involves finning, start practicing!

Many novice finners make the mistake of waiting until they’re on vacation, and it’s time to scuba dive or snorkel. They find that their ankles are incredibly sore– so much so that they can barely walk afterward! When ankles are weak, swimmers tend to roll them from side to side as they swim– which throws the hips, knees, and back all out of alignment. With fins, it’s best to gradually work up to longer durations and faster speeds.

One way of training, says Military.comis to swim 500 meters with fins to start. If they bother you, take the fins off and swim another 500 meters without. Then try the fin on one more time until discomfort returns. Try this for a few weeks to build up to greater distances. It usually takes 10-15 swims (or a couple of weeks) to develop the strength necessary to be a decent swimmer with fins. You may feel a little sore, but you should be pain-free several days after a swim.

Tip #2: Refine your technique.

People tend to overemphasize the work their feet and ankles do when they are wearing fins, but in actuality, the majority of your propulsion should come from your hips. One way to ensure this happens is to point your toes as you kick, thereby forcing your hips to work harder. Here is a video about finning technique to show you a few pointers. Diver Magazine also has a fantastic rundown of the flutter kick, frog kick, short frog kick, backwards kick, and split kick. They tell you not just how to do these kicks, but also when. 

Tip #3: Do your foot and ankle injury prevention stretches!

One thing foot and ankle doctors say until they’re blue in the face is to “Do your stretches!” People find it hard to believe that just 10-15 minutes of ankle rotations and flexions could have an impact on pain, but these exercises really do help. Hydration and stretching out the foot and ankle are especially important strategies to prevent the dreaded foot cramp that slows many a swimmer down.

Tip #4: Check your equipment.

It is possible to injure yourself by choosing the wrong size or type of fins. Here is a general guide to buying or renting fins:

– Always try fins on with a neoprene sock and keep in mind that the feet will swell as you swim, so it’s better to be a little looser rather than tighter.

– If your ankle slips out of the fin while you’re moving your feet in them, then they are too big.

– If you’re between sizes, consider buying fin straps that go around the heel and secure your foot in the pocket.

– Understand the difference between long vented scuba fins and newer short blades like Rocket Fins or Jet Fins.

– Consider going with a soft or medium blade if you want a workout with less effort. Stiff, hard blades are a poor choice for injury recovery.

– Cramping and discomfort in the Achilles tendon may indicate that the fin’s pockets are too big or the wrong shape, causing your toes to claw up.

– If it doesn’t feel right, try a different brand for a more comfortable fit!

Tip #5: Stop by your local sports medicine clinic for a visit!

Here at The Center for Podiatric Care & Sports Medicine in NYC, we can assess you for biomechanical weaknesses that may cause injury while swimming with fins. We offer advanced diagnostic tools and highly trained sports medicine doctors who have worked with professional athletes at all levels, from novice to Olympian. We can also show you how to do stretches and strength-building exercises that will help you immensely in the water. If you are recovering from a foot or ankle injury and wish to take up swimming as a way to maintain fitness as you heal, we are more than happy to show you how to hop in the water and get started. Book a consultation at our Manhattan or Westchester, NY offices today.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.