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The most useful scuba fin kicks

Tech diver in lake using flutter kick

The most useful scuba fin kicks

In this article I will discuss the different scuba fin kicking techniques and which ones should be used in which scenario.

One only needs to look around at a busy dive site to find a variety of finning techniques across all levels of divers. Some work better than others while certain kicks are useful only in specific situations or completely impossible due to physical constraints.

Remember: Not every kick will suit your style of diving.

Scuba fin kicking techniques

When starting off with scuba diving in their Open Water Diver course, most students don’t think about how they move their fins and simply follow along with their instructor and the group they are diving with.

The concept appears simple enough. The harder you kick, the faster you move underwater.

Scuba diver hovering underwater
Sometimes, not kicking your fins at all is the answer. 😉

As a nice side effect, fin kicking also compensates for lack of buoyancy (which, of course, we all know we shouldn’t do…). As divers progress in their skills and experience, efficiency in moving around and conserving air becomes crucial, however.

When entering the new and exciting world of tech and cave diving, wrong finning can cause unwanted problems such as silt-outs or entanglement.

But even if you never plan on entering a cave, proper and effective scuba fin kicks will make all your dives more relaxing and fun.

Let’s go through the different scuba fin-kicking techniques and discuss their pros and cons, as well as use cases.

Flutter Kick

Pros

  • The basics are easy
  • High speed
  • Good when swimming against current

Cons

  • Inefficient
  • Higher air consumption
  • Course deviation due to muscular imbalances
  • Misused as buoyancy compensation
  • Stirring up sediment from the ground
  • No backward finning or in-place hovering possible

Let’s begin with the most common scuba fin kick, the “flutter”. You propel yourself forward by kicking up and down with each leg in opposite directions in a “fluttering” motion.

While the basic motion is easy to figure out, the key to success is to keep the hips and thighs in line with your back and only bend from the knees downward.

For the best results, point out your toes and use long leg strokes.

For health reasons, please don’t extend your legs all the way out and thereby causing your knee joint to act as a natural barrier. Instead, flutter gently and evenly without too much force and remain neutrally buoyant throughout.

Pros of the flutter kick

High speed

You can reach and maintain high speeds with this technique, just like swimmers at the surface. In emergency situations or when trying to get somewhere fast, this is very handy.

Tech diver in lake using flutter kick
The flutter kick in practice. Often used but not always optimal.

Currents

The flutter is also the kick of choice when swimming against currents as it allows for constant movement.

That’s why the only course in which we actively teach the flutter kick is our Current Diver specialty course.

However, this fin kicking technique comes with several cons which is the reason experienced divers will seldomly use it.

Cons of the flutter kick

Inefficiency

The biggest concern is its inefficiency which leads to increased air consumption. With the flutter kick, a diver needs to constantly be in motion to keep a straight, neutrally buoyant position in the water.

Every muscle activation increases the amount of oxygen needed while heart rate and respiratory minute volume increase.

Asymmetric

The flutter is an asymmetric motion which means that course deviations during underwater navigation are common. Everyone usually has a stronger leg and when diving in low visibility areas or blue/green water it is hard to keep your direction as intended.

Poor buoyancy

The most common issue for beginning divers is the false feeling of being neutrally buoyant from a lot of fin kicking.

Let’s be honest, every one of us has done this in the beginning…you feel that you’re sinking to the bottom constantly but you’re still a little too afraid of putting more air in the BCD because you might ascend too quickly.

Scuba diver swimming underwater
The flutter kick often leads to poor buoyancy.

With the apparent DCS looming over your head and trying hard to stay at the same level as the instructor, you keep kicking your fins, thereby wasting even more air.

This is usually accompanied by way too much weight on your belt and a missing weight check before diving. Read our guide to a perfect pre-dive weight check, so you don’t make the same mistake.

The constant kicking might not pose an issue in shallow reefs or blue water, however, in wreck or cave diving, as well as freshwater diving in lakes and rivers, any disturbance of the ground can cause silt-outs during which the visibility drops to zero.

No back-finning

Last but not least, the flutter does not allow for back finning or in-place hovering or repositioning without switching into a different body position – non-horizontal – and generally does not enforce good trim and buoyancy.

Although this is a valid scuba fin kicking technique, it should not be the standard kick but used only when the circumstances require it.

Best fins for flutter kicking

You can do flutter kicks with any fin you like. If you want something comfortable with a lot of power, check out the ScubaPro Seawing Nova line.

They are incredibly light, look cool, and fit over any boot.

Frog Kick

Pros

  • Pros
  • Efficient
  • Low air consumption
  • Relaxing in the water
  • Perfect for horizontal trim
  • Keeps fins away from the ground
  • High body control
  • Starting position for back-finning, helicopter turns, etc.
  • Must have skill for tech and cave divers, as well as photographers

Cons

  • More difficult to master than other kicks
  • Does not work well with split fins
  • Might not be enough when swimming against strong currents


The frog kick is the first technique I teach to my students and the one we use almost exclusively at Social Diving.

It might not appear as intuitive to some people as the flutter – especially if you are not from Europe where we learn the breaststroke before crawl swimming. However, once you practiced it enough it becomes very easy and relaxing to dive like this.

For the frog kick, you extend both legs outward and move the water with the bottom or “sole” of your fins by kicking backward.

Pros of the frog kick

Effectiveness

The biggest advantage of this scuba fin kicking technique is its sheer effectiveness. You only need to kick your fins once per stroke and do the next whenever you choose.

Stay on course

In contrast to the flutter, you stay on course as you don’t need to balance out the last kick from your opposite leg. Navigation becomes a lot easier this way.

Great trim

The frog kick enforces good horizontal trim which is the foundation for tech and cave diving. If you are serious about pursuing your diving career in this direction, good trim and mastery of the frog kick and its variations lay the foundation for that.

Lower air consumption

All of the points above lead to lower air consumption, which is what all divers desire. By moving more calmly in the water, your heart rate stays low which is just as beneficial.

No touching of the bottom

Besides its obvious advantages in regard to positioning underwater, this kick keeps your fins far away from the ground and in line with your torso. Therefore, the chance of causing silk-outs is drastically reduced.

Foundation for back-finning

This scuba fin kick is also the starting position for back-finning, as well as all kinds of turns and hovering techniques that start out the same way. This way, you never have to adjust your body position when turning.

If you desire to become an underwater photographer or would like to take better pictures in general, the frog kick is incredibly useful in order to hover motionless and to swim closer to the object you would like to capture with your camera.

Cons of the frog kick

Learning curve

There are some drawbacks to using the frog kick, however, most noticeably the steeper learning curve involved for some students. Beginning divers tend to replicate the style of those around them and if everyone uses the flutter it is hard to pick up the frog kick quickly.

Ask your instructor for help and keep practicing!

Watch one of our training videos and try it out yourself next time you are in the water. You will also find other scuba fin kicks demonstrated there.

Not for all fins

Frog kicks are more difficult with certain types of fins – which is to say that they don’t work particularly well with split fins. However, neither does back-finning or any other fin kick, really, so this is not such a big con after all.

Be careful in currents

Be careful in strong currents though, as this is an area in which you are better off using the flutter because you are constantly creating forward thrust.

Best fins for frog kicking

The best fins for frog kicking are stiff and usually made of full rubber or similar. I really like the Apeks RK3.

They are powerful yet light enough for travel. My instructors and staff all use them and they released them in different colors, too. 😃

If you are looking for something sturdy and own a dry suit, the ScubaPro Jet Fins are your best option! They have been around forever and will not fail you ever.

Modified Flutter Kick

Pros of the modified flutter

  • Great for small passages
  • Faster than the modified frog kick

Cons of the modified flutter

  • Slower than the other kicks

The modified version of the flutter kick is another essential fin kick for tech and cave diving. The base positioning is the same as for the frog kick, however, you use only your feet and fins to flutter.

This kick is great for getting for very narrow passages where a frog kick is not possible. It enforces good horizontal trim while being faster than the modified frog kick.

A drawback to this finning technique is that coming to a halt is a little more difficult because the fins aren’t in a position to create drag. It is also not advised to use this kick for a long time as it can become exhausting and increases air consumption.

Modified Frog Kick

Pros of the modified frog kick

  • Great for small passages
  • Very little movement needed
  • Symmetric motion

Cons of the modified frog kick

  • Stopping can be difficult
  • A little exhausting after a while
  • Constant movement necessary

The only real difference between the modified frog kick and the normal one is that you don’t extend your legs outward as much.

Scuba diver exiting cavern
The modified frog kick is very useful once you start diving in narrow spaces like caves and caverns.

It helps to get through narrow passages and confined spaces and is not a new technique as much as controlling your movement in tight corners.

Stay relaxed while diving and make gentle strokes as you won’t win any races with this one. With this symmetric scuba fin kick, it is easy to stay on course.

Back Kick

Swimming backward is a really cool and handy skill and not reserved for dive instructors or Dive Leaders only!

While it takes practice to master, in the end, you will be a much better and more relaxed diver who never needs to use arm motions to reverse your direction.

It is also a great skill to help protect our underwater reefs as it prevents you from bumping into corrals when swimming close to them.

The backward kick is a frog kick but in reverse motion. Instead of the sole, the top and side of your fins will now move the water. This kick is a lot easier with suitable fins that have a higher profile.

Extend the legs and fins backward and “pull” the water when moving your fins to your torso. Watch our dive training videos for a demonstration.

Helicopter Turn

Technically, this is not a different scuba fin kick, but an application of the frog kick in a certain scenario.

The helicopter turn is a convenient way to turn on the spot underwater and a basic skill every tech and cave diver needs to possess.

Once again it starts from the horizontal, neutrally buoyant position you are used to from the frog kick and doesn’t require any adjustment of your body position.

The trick is to “pull” with one fin and “push” with the other in a circular motion and depending on the direction you would like to turn to.

The helicopter turn looks cool and shows off experience as a diver because you don’t need to move your hands anymore for anything underwater.

Conclusion

Each scuba fin kicking technique has its own use cases and advantages and disadvantages. I recommend using the frog kick as your standard fin kick, as it is very efficient and easy to use and will improve your buoyancy and trim immensely.

It also lays the foundation for any tech or cave diving courses and makes you a better diver overall.

The more common flutter kick has its use cases, especially when it comes to speed or currents, however, beginners should incorporate neither in their first diving adventures and use the frog kick instead.

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃

Cheers

Julius

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