Fins and Paddle Power

Posted: June 5, 2015 in Equipment, Swim
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It’s on the record now that I got married over the weekend. As part of our master plan, we eloped to Stratford, Ontario where we got hitched at our favorite Break & Breakfast.  The Coach was on hand with her family to act as our witnesses and eight minutes or so of ceremony on the front porch, it was official, we were pronounced as “husband and wife”; commence with the kissing.  We spent the following day walking around the downtown core in the rain and shopping for chocolate balsamic vinegar, cheese and whatever else tickled our fancy before retiring back to the B&B to read and nap…*sigh*…good times.  On the Monday, we headed back home again to begin the rest of our lives together (after a bike ride, of course).

Anyway, I managed to convince Kelly to stop off quickly at the Team Aquatics shop in Burlington on the way home.  I know all about the “happy wife, happy life” thing already but, hey, who’s to say that the hubby doesn’t also needs some placating?  And it just so happens that this new hubby needs himself some new flippers so we stopped off to pick me up some new pool toys.

Up to this point I have been using a pair of flippers not specifically designed for swimming, but diving.  What’s the difference you ask? A fin is a fin, right?  Ha.  Wrong.  I had the exact same question when someone first told me about their fancy new swim flippers but I didn’t have that kind of scratch at the time so instead, I’ve been using my “perfectly fine” pair of Cressi fins that I picked up cheap at Dan’s Dive Shop here in St. Catharines.  I just didn’t know any better.

As it turns out, long fins are perfect for the beginner swimmer (which I was at the time) as the long blade rewards the swimmer with easy forward propulsion and raises the hips to the surface.  And, believe me, at the time I needed a lot of lift in the water.  However, what I didn’t know is that those long fins were also making it difficult to replicate the type of quick kick I’d likely need when racing.  Of course, I didn’t really kick back then either (click HERE for a little reminder) but that’s a moot point by now.  So for the past 3 years or so I’ve been happily using my Cressi’s until, low and behold, they finally bit the bullet last week when the foot box all but ripped off them on both sides.  Oh well, time to invest in a new pair.

Now, of course, being a bit more seasoned – not to mention a better swimmer – I decided to finally invest in a pair of proper shorter blade swim fins that would better blend in with all my other triathlon and swim buds.

On the shelf at the store they had two varieties, Speedo and Arena.  I tried both on but the Arena fins felt a bit more comfortable over the Speedo’s.  As it turns out Arena are all the rage in Europe the way Speedo is here.

The only problem?  They were a god-awful acid lime green color.  Now I’m not self-conscious at all when it comes to what I look like in the pool but, seriously?  Puke green?

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Yeah.

Not sexy.

Thankfully they had one last pair of black Arena fins in the back so with great relief I picked up a pair.   Unlike long fins, the short bladed “Zoomers” allow your legs to cycle fast enough to keep up with a normal arm stroke rate and still maintain a six beat kick.  Of course, I consider myself successfully if I just remember to kick – period.  But by reducing the length of the blade and positioning it at the correct angle, the legs and feet will start to better mimic a natural swimming kick; at least the kind of kick I always envisioned anyway.  As a result the swimmer (in this case, me) can build true swimming-specific leg strength and hit a race tempo, all without fatiguing too prematurely. Certainly, they definitely felt a lot different and I had to work at being more efficient in my kick form just to maintain any pace that I could establish better with my old Cressi’s; so much for easy propulsion.  In fact, they felt more difficult than when I kicked normally without them.  Huh?  It’s true!  It may not be obvious at first, but when you’re using fins to swim faster, your legs are actually working harder than they normally would (without fins) to maintain that speed.  Over time, your leg muscles become stronger which will ultimately allow you to swim faster and longer when you’re not using fins.

So these have now been added to my current swim arsenal.

While I was at the store, I also inquired about these bad boys:

The Finis Agility Paddle.

I have two different types of paddles in my swim bag already so when I saw these only recently I was all like, “what are those?”

Long story short: there is a certain Canadian athlete currently working out in my local pool in preparation for the up-coming PanAm Games in Toronto, but since Kelly also has a penchant lately for referring to him as my latest “Man Crush”, well, suffice to say, he swims very well and he uses these paddles a lot…like, a lot.

Of course my interest was piqued.

So I used the opportunity to grill the swim guru at Team Aquatics as to their purpose and learned that the Finis Agility is a clever new paddle, perfect for intermediate and advanced level swimmers looking to develop their stroke technique.  In one sense the Agility is a traditional paddle, designed to increase the surface area of your hand and so create more resistance to the water.  However, it’s uniquely contoured to the shape of your hand and relies on positive pressure on the palm at all times during your stroke to keep it in place. In other words, there are no straps or anything to otherwise secure the paddle to your hand. Instead, you just put your thumb through the little hole in the paddle and off you go!

The Agility has several advantages over a conventional resistance paddle:

  • The three dimension shape, a natural thumb position and lack finger strap means the hand sits in a very natural position as you swim with very little pressure applied to the fingers.
  • The strapless design means that a light constant palm pressure must be kept on the paddle at all times (Finis terminology: ‘Palm Positive’).  A poor catch or pull technique will result in the paddle coming loose or falling off.
  • The Agility increases the working area of your hand to increase resistance on the water but the paddle is not so large as to apply too much force through your shoulders, which would risk injury.

So they’ll make me stronger and help me “self coach” myself to better perfect my stroke through the water?

Shit, sign me up!

When I first used them I learned that it was necessary to go a bit slower through the water with them, instead, focusing on my hand position so that they wouldn’t fly off and lodge itself in another swimmers forehead.  So what is lacks in developing speed and power, it more than makes up for in aiding my overall swim technique.  I can certainly get behind that and I think they’ll make a fine addition to the swim bag o’ tricks.

So along with my snorkle and, say, a rocket propulsion system, gills or maybe a sick-looking trident to wave around menacingly at other lane swimmers, I think I’m pretty well kitted out for the pool for the next little while.

Shit, I’m like the Batman of the Port Colborne YMCA pool.

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