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Swimming with Fins - How and What Kind of Fins for Spec Ops Prep?

Stew Smith combat swimmer stroke duck feet fins military fitness navy seal rocket fins special ops special ops training stew smith swimming

Swimming with Fins - We Do This On Leg Days (Get Used to It)


This week, I received a frequently asked question about swimming with fins. Swimming with fins during rigorous military training like BUD/S, Coast Guard HRSS, Air Force SpecWar, RECON/ MarSOC Training, Army Ranger / SF training, or many law enforcement SWAT programs is required in open water tests. Also, see our YouTube, Instagram Reels, and Tiktok for more info see the CSS to learn more about the technique of the combat swimmer stroke, Lead Arm - Trail Arm, and other swim events in your spec ops future: 

More info on the Combat Swimmer Stroke

The type of fins you should use when swimming in open water for any of these professions is a strong SCUBA-type fin that can also substitute for SCUBA diving. Getting your ankles used to the strain of the kick takes a few weeks of 500-1000m swims, but the initial pain will go away as long as you incorporate swimming with fins regularly into your program. You will need to wear booties with these fins and not be able to use these fins barefoot. 

Here is the email question from a young man preparing for BUD/S by swimming with a newly purchased pair of fins.

Recently I bought a pair of Rocket fins and booties. Until now, I have been using soft fins for your workouts, and I have been able to fin 1 mile in under 30 minutes with soft fins. With rocket fins, however, it feels much more awkward and painful. My arm pulls propel me more than the flutter kicks with rocket fins.

1. Is there a specific technique for fining with rocket fins? Does the kick have to be a certain width? It seems that bigger kicks give me a stop/start movement and interrupt my momentum, but while smaller ones give me constant movement, they still don't propel me that fast.

There is a technique to swimming with big fins, but no one best way as we all have different kick strengths. I have found that athletes in sports like football and soccer may not be the best swimmers without fins, but when they place a pair of SCUBA fins on their legs, they are faster than most people in the class. They have well-developed leg and hip strength and can use bigger kicks to build speed. Some athletes with less strong legs/hips tend to swim fast still but are required to kick using smaller kicks at a faster pace. You have to find out what works best for you. You will want to learn how to swim on both sides as well. Learning to swim on both sides offers a form of “rest” by changing the pull–push stride of your left/right leg.

One corrective issue many have is it looks like they are riding a bicycle when finning - it should be from the hips and only very little knee bend. If it feels like you are riding a bike - you are doing it wrong.

Here is the way you swim at BUDS (CSS with fins) and at Air Force Special Warfare Training (LATA with fins)

As far as arm pulls and breathing, as pictured in the video, the arm pull can be used as another method of propulsion, especially if you need to rest your legs by skipping a few kicks throughout a long-distance swim. Many people like to do a slight pause of kicking when breathing and recovering the arms forward again to remain streamlined. As with any swimming, recovering your arms should remain stream-lined and not an obstacle to forward motion. 

2. The fins seem to cause pain in my feet and ankle after a couple hundred yards and stiffness up my shins' front and side muscles. Is this just a matter of conditioning and getting my feet used to wearing these fins?

It is a matter of conditioning and ankle mobility. When first wearing fins while swimming, you should only swim a few hundred yards and push slightly past discomfort in the ankle and shin area. Do not push too hard and for too long at first, as overuse injuries like tendonitis in the feet and knees can flare up, causing you only to be able to swim or run with severe discomfort or injury. This process usually takes about 10-15 swims or two to three weeks of swimming with fins. Swimming 500m with fins is recommended; if they bother you, take off the fins and swim 500m without, then try fins one more time until discomfort returns. Do this for a few weeks, adding greater distances each time you swim.

3. Do you recommend a particular SCUBA fin before training for BUD/S?

You are good to go as long as you have SCUBA diving fins that require you to wear booties (versus slip-on bare feet flippers). I used my old SCUBA fins before BUDS, and they transitioned nicely when issued Rocket Fins or Jet Fins. So you can use what you have or get the Rocket or Jet Fins. I personally like the CRESSI Frog Fin, and it is what I swim with today. Now they will use either Jet Fins or Rocket Fins. I prefer the Jet Fins, which are more flexible than Rocket Fins. 


                                     Buy SCUBA Booties from Amazon

My best advice is to find a SCUBA store to get fitted for the size you need and get them on eBay. There are dozens of these fins on eBay at over half the price. 

Good luck with adding fins to your swim workouts. It takes time to get comfortable, so do not feel weak if you can only swim a few hundred yards the first time you wear a “real” pair of fins. Feel free to email me if you have any questions at 

   Special Ops Books & eBooks

 See Specifics and More Options Below

Navy PST Phase ONE:  Ace the Navy SEAL PST and increase your chances of graduating from BUDS with this four phase system.  Phase I:  Beginner Guide to the PST  -  IF you can only meet the minimum standards you want this 16-week workout  - you do not want to go to talk to a recruiter until you are crushing this test   

Navy SEAL Phase II & III:  This program is considered to be one step above the Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness published book and is a great preparation guide if you are above the minimum standards but not quite at recommended fitness standards to get both TO and THROUGH BUDS. 1.5 mile runs turn into 4 mile timed runs and 500yd swims turn into 2 mile ocean swims with fins - prepare now for that as well as logs, boats, rucks, etc...   

Navy SEAL Phase IV:  The Grinder PT - This eBook mimics the first four weeks at BUDS. You will be required to work out throughout the day, adding in various punishment exercises (pushups, burpees, wet and sandy).  Simply put, Phase FOUR is the toughest workout you will ever do.  This is hardcore and not for beginners.  It is a true Gut Check with tips on mental toughness.  

Be a Naval Special Warfare Combatant Crewman - Navy SWCC Workout - Learn to drive fast boats with big guns and train with the SEALs in this fast paced Naval Special Warfare career booster.  This is a NINE-week plan to help you ace the training required to work with the SEALS.  

Combat Conditioning - Advanced Workout - The toughest standards of all the regular military forces are combined into this total fitness package.  Ruck marches, swimming with fins, PT, weights, sprints and distance running combined create a cross-training workout plan designed to create super-fit soldiers. 

The New UBRR Workout - The UpperBody Round Robin Fitness Test is a new challenging workout that many Special Ops Teams worldwide are not only using as a tough physical event, but it has also started to become a selection process testing event.  Run, rucking pullups, pushups, bench press and many more max rep exercises.  

The Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout - This Ten Week Plan will help you ace the toughest standards of the Army and the endless miles of ruck marching and running.  Be prepared for running and rucking at SFAS!  If you are not, your body will let you know.  The Ten Week plan is great for preparing for  for RIP and SFAS as well as the actual courses. 

- Ace the Recon Indoc Program (RIP) and follow on training with this 12-Week Program.  The USMC RECON / Special Ops twelve program will help you with the rucks, runs, swims, and hardcore PTs at all stages of RECON Training.  Many have successfully used this workout mixed with the Navy SEAL Workouts to prepare for MARSOC. 




Air Force Special Warfare Workout  - The AF IFT and OFT Workout will help you ace the test to get into training but also help you ace the tough standards in the water, PT and running at the Air Forces Special Operations Training Center.  This workout also helps officer candidates seeking STO / CRO professions as well.  On test days add the distance required on your PAST as needed.  Prepare for the entire AF Spec OPS Training Pipeline with this top-notch workout plan.  Great for Pool drill competency, too with cool drills. 



The US Navy and Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / SAR Swimmer Workout - This workout is a challenging aquatics skills program mixed with even more tough running and calisthenics to build the needed endurance when fighting high seas to save someone's life. Whether you are training for the Coast Guard HRSS or the Navy SAR training schools, this workout will help you prepare.  

 For a complete list of BOOKS, EBOOKS, COACHING PRODUCTS (click)

There is More To than a You May Know

(In fact, there are more than 40 books, 1000+ articles, online coaching - and more) 

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts 

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

Army / Air Force Advanced Fitness / Special Ops 

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout
Air Force Special Warfare IFT / OFT / Selection Prep


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
Air Force PJ / CCT Workout  Battlefield Airman Prep Course
The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Boot Camp Workout


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Workouts

The FBI Academy Workout  |   FBI Workout Vol 2  
The DEA Workout
The FLETC Workout - Ace the PEB
The PFT Bible: Pushups, Sit-ups, 1.5 Mile Run
The Fire Fighter Workout - Ace the CPAT


Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks) 

Increase Strength & Crush the PST / PAST
3 Weeks Strength - 1 Week PT / Cardio Focus 
(16 weeks)

These programs will walk you through 4 cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

Online Coaching Options

Online PT CLUB - Weekly Workouts created personally for you.

New Member's Only Content / Services Program!

If you want access to years worth of workouts, many of the top eBOOKs, favorite workouts of the week, free fitness APP, closed Facebook Group, video / picture library of exercises, and more access to LIVE Q/A sessions check out the Stew Smith Fitness Members Section

The dashboard below has the links to all the information, archives, videos, and links to workouts, podcasts, live Q and A lessons. 

Consider this! - A Membership Program and Gain Access to Exclusive Content
(click for Fitness Club Dashboard - members only)

Best of all, if you have questions, email Stew Smith himself (  Join the tactical fitness group discussions, latest articles, videos, podcasts at the Stew Smith Tactical Fitness Training Closed Group on Facebook.


Questions?  Just email -

At - List of Products and Services

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  2. Podcasts and Swimming Videos (Youtube, TikTok, Instagram)
  3. eBooks
  4. Books and eBooks in PRINT
  5. Stew Smith Fitness Club membership site
  6. Online Coaching  

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