by Pablo Morales

Monofins: A Serious Training Tool

Over the last several years, the monofin has appeared with increasing regularity at swim practices throughout the world. Though regarded by many as nothing more than a pool toy—something used to have fun and swim fast—monofinning is actually much more than just an amusing diversion.

The monofin is now recognized as a serious training tool by a growing list of accomplished and innovative swim coaches. These coaches have recognized several benefits: monofinning can help swimmers improve streamline, body alignment, dolphin kick technique and general kicking efficiency, as well as provide a good core body workout.

Five Steps to Monofin Technique
1. Streamline. Extend arms as far as possible and overlap hands, which are clasped together by the thumb of the top hand. Tuck head securely beneath the biceps while reducing the triangle-shaped space between the arms. Compress body to remove as much resistance as possible.

2. Hunch the Neck and Shoulders Slightly. While streamlined, slightly hunch the neck and shoulders without dropping the hands or head. This not only initiates the crucial undulation that will grow as it reaches the hips, but also keeps the upper body in a more aligned position while creating a forward "over-the-top-of-a-small-wave" sensation.

3. Drive the Legs. With heels up and knees slightly bent, quadriceps flex and feet are driven downward in unison and with equal force.

4. Hips Forced Up. As the feet drive down, the body's undulation reaches the hips, which are forced up to accentuate the power of the downward kick. Do not drop the hands, but keep them oriented forward and in alignment with the upper body from the waist up.

5. Hips Slide Forward. Thrust the hips forward to assist the sweep of the upbeat kick and to get the heels ready more quickly for the propulsive downbeat. This hip thrust should also trigger the neck and shoulder hunch, starting the body's undulation and monofinning cycle all over again. The feeling created should be of the hips sliding forward as the speed created from the downbeat is maintained. Transition from the up position of the hips to the hip thrust forward should be smooth and continuous with no delay between the respective motions.

Train Core Muscles and Improve Efficiency
As indicated in Steps 1 and 5 (above), the primary movement in monofinning is the upward and forward undulation of the hips. Thus, the main source of power derives from the swimmer's midsection, involving the lower abdominal and back muscles, buttocks and quadriceps.

The forces exerted on the feet while monofinning will, over time, increase the flexibility and range of motion of the feet and ankles to improve flutter, dolphin and breaststroke kicks.

Training Tips and Suggested Sets
Monofin training does not need to be more elaborate than the sets and drills that a coach already gives. Ideally, swimmers using the large monofin should have their own lanes, especially if they are beginners; if they are using the short monofin, several beginners can share a lane.

For more advanced monofinners using the large monofin, I would suggest two to three per lane; if using the short monofin, more swimmers can safely share a lane. Always do a minimum of 200 yards of easy monofinning prior to any drill or set to warm up the feet.

Note: A period of introduction to the monofin lasting three to five weeks should be observed. During this period, it should be used no more than three times per week for a maximum total distance of 500 yards/meters per session.

General Drills
Amplitude. Swimmer on side with arms extended. Hips should undulate as much in front of the centered body line as behind it. Limit the bend in the knees and maintain as much as possible the upper body along the imaginary line.

Kickboard Resistance. (For a more advanced monofin user.) Hold top and bottom ends of kickboard, length-side down, kickboard perpendicular to surface of water, so that surface area of kickboard pushes against water while kicking. Short series of 25s recommended. Develops power in dolphin kick.

Stroke-Specific Drills
For Freestyle: Speed Turns. From the middle of the pool, fast streamline approach to the wall and turn, streamlining the breakout, back to center of pool. Increased momentum forces a fast tuck and tight flip turn, and to quickly reassume streamline position as swimmer pushes off wall.

For Backstroke: Shooters. Start at flags, flip turn, 15 meters underwater "shooter," breakout, amplitude drill to flags, repeat.

For Breaststroke: Breaststroke Hands/Dolphin Kick. Quick and continuous arm turnover, rapid tempo (one kick per arm stroke), maintain high hip position with hips sliding forward, not down. Increased speed forces narrow and streamlined (elbows together) arm recovery.

For Butterfly: Hands-down Dolphin. Done on surface, hips undulate above and below hands, head in positive alignment, chest and shoulders press water, and chin rides forward as hips rise during downbeat of kick.

Suggested Sets
Set 1. 15 x 25: 3 sets of 5. #1: Hands down dolphin; #2: Amplitude drill; #3: Underwater (with three or four breaths for the lap—more or less depending on skill level). Moderate effort, feel a smooth rhythm and check streamline and body alignment.

Set 2. 15 x 25 underwater (shooters): 3 sets of 5. #1: 60 percent effort; #2: 80 percent effort; #3: 100 percent. Feel greater resistance as speed increases, forcing a tightening of streamline positio Set 3. 12 x 100 with snorkel (for more advanced level). Short rest, every third one is strong effort. For general conditioning and streamline training.

Set 4. 9 x 25 butterfly, moderate rest: 3 sets of 3. #1: no breath sprint; #2: sprint, breathing every stroke; #3: sprint breathing every other stroke. Speed assistance to eliminate resistance, improve rhythm and technique of breathing and non-breathing cycles.

Set 5. Set of 50s butterfly (for more advanced level). Four kicks underwater streamline, surface and take two butterfly strokes, breathing on second stroke.

About the Author
Pablo Morales, former world record holder and 1992 Olympic champion in the 100 meter butterfly, is an assistant coach at Stanfor University and vice president of FINIS, which manufactures monofins.