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Swimming styles – scuba diving guide

As a scuba aficionado, I found that a short compendium of underwater swimming techniques may be very useful for all those divers looking to improve their underwater swimming skills. The simple “kick your feet”, which we instinctively apply, is insufficient in certain environments, because it raises sediment, it propels us only forward and has a certain amount of the propulsion force oriented upwards, which requires a slightly negative buoyancy to counterbalance the tendency to rise.

Each of these styles answers to certain requirements. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to learn them only by reading on the monitor, so this article is meant to make you think and practice for those next scuba getaways. Video examples can be easily found on the Internet, all you have to do is search for the names of each style.

The Flutter Kick

It’s an instinctive kick, the feet are moving up and down in opposite directions. It always offers forward thrust, so we don’t feel the need to swim efficiently and we usually end up bending the knees too much.

The feet must be kept almost straight in order to kick from the hips. Therefore, the hips and legs must be in line with the torso. The knees bend a little when raising the fin, so its movement through the water won’t hinder the forward propulsion, and then we straighten the legs again and kick down, which gives the desired propulsion. The angle formed by the foot and the body (controlled in the ankle) determines how much the thrust is pushing us forward and how much is pushing us up.

It is better to use the muscles in front of the thighs to make the greatest effort. This is very useful because these muscles are used when walking, so are usually better trained than the others.

If you have fins with a newer design, such as the split ones, or very flexible fins, you should bend your knees a bit more, while the leg movement should have lower amplitude.

This style provides greater speed for forward propulsion, but dives are not usually done in speed, so we risk wasting our energy (and air).

As negative aspects, this style provides upward propulsion as well, which affects our buoyancy and, if we are near the bottom, it will stir the mud, silt or sand, disturbing marine life and the visibility of other divers, behind us. This style must be avoided when we are inside a wreck or in another confined environment, as it will quickly compromise the visibility.

Modified Flutter Kick

If you want to quickly get rid of the most unpleasant aspects of the Flutter Kick style, you can practice it with your knees bent, the heels positioned above the line of the body. You’ll get slower propulsion but with less effort, this style being a good choice for a slow and relaxed dive in waters without currents. Also, because the fins are above the line of the body and are moved slower and with lower amplitude, the stream of water generated won’t be strong enough to disturb the bottom.

In order to practice it effortlessly, concentrate on a slow movement, good buoyancy and it will actually work best when your feet tend to rise.

The Scissors Kick

Keep your legs straight with your knees slightly bent, while the edge of your fins is positioned vertically, instead of horizontally like in the Flutter Kick. Your leg movement is similar to that of a scissor’s: that is, your feet are spread and then brought together suddenly, in a horizontal plane, and then kept in this position for a bit, for propulsion. Usually, if a leg will accidentally generate upward thrust, the other leg would counterbalance it, generating downward thrust.

This style offers pretty good speed with less effort than the Flutter style, while the water jet is directed only at the back. For this reason, you can swim closer to silted areas, without disturbances.

The Frog Kick

This style has many advantages. It provides strong forward motion, is effective, is the most efficient in avoiding raising sediments and, thus, disturbing the water, and you use other muscle groups than in the Flutter style, so it may be a practical alternative when you’re tired using the Flutter. For these reasons you should learn how to Frog Kick, along with an efficient Flutter Kick.

Your torso and thighs are aligned, but your knees are bent, at a usually right angle between your calves and thighs. Your legs will spread and then come back together. Your fins are kept horizontal when your legs spread, and vertical when closing them again. The fins are rotated from the ankle and are kept so that the generated water flow is directed towards the rear, to propel us forward. For a maximum efficiency of movement, you should clap your fins as if applauding. Instinctively, the angle between your thigh and calf will increase when your legs come together, so you’ll have to pull back your calves in the initial position.

If you hold your fins vertically when you part your legs, this style will give you a clear sense of lack of effort and stability.

Once you get used to this style, you’ll find it relaxing to swim like this the entire dive, possibly alternating it with the Flutter style for short periods of time. Because it doesn’t work well with certain types of fins like, for example, many split fins or the ScubaPro Sewing Nova, it is a good idea to check first if the fins you want to buy allow easy Frog Kick swimming.

Short Frog Kick

It’s a version of the Frog Kick, but different from it, instead of moving your legs from the hips, here the thighs remain virtually motionless, while the calves move just slightly. Most moves are executed from an ankle motion with the help of the calves, but their amplitude is very small. Basically you applaud with your fins using only your ankles. It’s an excellent kick for tight spaces for two reasons: first, it doesn’t need a lot of space, like the Frog Kick, where the legs were being spread quite a lot; second, the propulsion is not powerful but it’s precise and the water flow will disturb far less silt than all other swimming styles.

Backwards Kick

As its name implies, it is a style used to go backwards. It is, in my opinion, the most difficult kick of all; it doesn’t look very elegant, but is very useful because it allows moving backward in a precise manner without disturbing silt and without using the hands. I saw several explanations and types of movements in various clips and I tested two distinct versions.

One version, the most often seen, is that the movement is actually a replica in reverse of the Frog Kick. The fins are angled obliquely from the ankles, while the legs are pushed away from your body from the hips, which will slightly draw your body backwards. Then, the movement is interrupted. The fins are directed so as not to inadvertently provide propulsion forward and are brought in the initial position, namely your legs will be side by side. I found this kick easier to learn in two stages.

First, sit upright on the bottom of the pool, slightly negative.
Step 1. Regardless of the position of your legs, draw them so as to pull you forward. It is a movement in which you bend your knees and push them down and sideways. The fins go sideways, pulling us forward.
Step 2. Then, you move your fins obliquely through the water and you stretch your legs, too. There must not be any movement backwards!
Repeat pulling the legs sideways, like in step 1.

These moves are easy to practice because you can see the legs moving unhindered and you can adapt the movement easily. At the same time, the muscles used in this swimming style will get accustomed, the kick becoming instinctive.

In the second stage, we’ll do the same thing, but positioned horizontally as normal, belly down and in neutral buoyancy. The leg movement is identical. The only problem I identified is that I tend to pull myself both backwards and upwards, but this can be solved by paying attention to the leg movement and a good position underwater.

Personally, I’ve experienced with some success another sequence of movements.
Step 1. Legs are side by side and stretched.
Step 2. Then, three simultaneous movements take place. (1) From the ankles the fins are placed in a position similar to that when standing upright, while the feet form a V. So we have two movements: the feet (fins) which were nearly horizontal become vertical and, at the same time, don’t stay parallel, but separate slightly at the tip. (2) You pull the legs while bending the knees, keeping the calves parallel to the rest of the body. The movement is similar to when you bring your knees to the chest and somewhat similar to squatting (usually, when we squat, the calves don’t stay parallel). (3) Simultaneously, you spread the legs.
Step 3. You close the knees and ankles.
Step 4. You straighten the fins, which become horizontal.
Step 5. You extend the legs backwards, making sure that the fins are in a position that does not provide forward thrust. After this move, we’re back to the original position.

Practicing these moves will give you a good start. You’ll determine the exact movements by practice. If you don’t have results, try slightly varying the movements. Such small variations may have a big impact and can make the difference between standing still while moving your legs, and going backwards faster or slower. If executed correctly, this kick provides a slow but reasonable movement backwards. If speed seems too low, try varying the movements in order to increase their efficiency.

The Helicopter Turn

The only body part in motion is a leg, namely that in the direction in which you rotate. The leg has the same position as in the Frog Kick, i.e. the thigh is horizontal and in line with the body, the knee is bent, the calf and foot oblique. The other leg may be in any position, but it should stay still. The movement is done basically from the hip, but all leg muscles and joints can take part if you have room and conditions for a large amplitude motion and if you want to move fast.

The Dolphin Kick

This style is particularly useful when you can swim with only one leg. The unusable leg may be placed overlapping the other one, and then you may use a similar style as the Dolphin swimming style.

The moves are best learned by watching either other swimmers or dolphins. The speed is similar to the Flutter style, but with a significantly greater effort.

Finally, remember that if you want to see how your fins work in the water, you can swim on your back.

I hope these lines will get you wanting to experiment and learn the techniques described above. Please remember that, for both the other divers who may come behind you, as well as for the underwater life, it is better not to stir sediments. Also, employing different muscle groups from time to time will allow you to always swim without getting tired, something which on land is certainly harder to accomplish.

* Note: I hope this article is useful to have more enjoyable and comfortable dives. If you want us to improve it, to talk about it or to report a problem, we’re waiting for your suggestions in the comments below or on the forum.

Invited author: Gheorghe Amăriuţei AKA Ghrt
The article is licensed as CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 

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