The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to Swim Paddles

Swim paddles are a staple in just about every swimmer’s training. Here is everything you need to know about making the most of this piece of equipment. 


“Fins and paddles!” coach called out.

A chorus of smiles and cheers swiftly followed. Some things are totally universal in our sport, and one of them is the pleasure in getting to Mach-1 while wearing equipment that throws our swimming into hyper-drive.

Paddles are one of those pieces of equipment that are found in just about every swim bag across the world, but have you ever really stopped to think about why we use them?

From how you should use them, the research behind their effectiveness, the shortcomings of their use, and even some links to some of the best rated paddles on the market, we are going to cover everything paddle related.

Swim Paddles: The Research

As an experienced swimmer you have used them so many times that you have never really paused to consider the point of them. But you do know what happens when you put them on: you swim a longer distance/stroke & you swim faster.

The research backs this up:

A group of female swimmers using a pair of small hand paddles (116cm) & over-sized paddles (286cm),completed a series of 25m sprints. We noticed both swimming speed and distance-per-stroke increased significantly.

In what is basically a copy of the previous study, this time a group of male age groupers swam a series of 25m sprints (the oversized paddles were bigger in this trial—311cm). They were instructed to hold a consistent stroke rate via an underwater speaker that helped them it constant. Same results: increased speed and distance per stroke, and handspeed in the push and in-sweep phases were down when wearing paddles.

The Benefits of Swim Paddles

There are generally two main benefits to incorporating paddles into your training: building power and strength in the water, and also to help solidify good technique habits.

Here’s why you should use paddles during swim training:

1. Specific development of power.

In terms of building strength and power this is about as specific as it gets. As long as you are performing the stroke precisely as you normally would (which can be hard with a slower catch and pull as shown in the research above), you are adding resistance to your stroke.

2. Teach you speed and efficiency.

You don’t need me to tell you that swimming with paddles is awesome because you get to go much faster—probably as fast or faster as race pace when going all-out. When swimming at this kind of speed you can really get a feel for how you are most efficient in the water, from keeping a rigid torso, to having an early catch, and so on.

3. Spices up your workout.

For those long, monotonous repeats of 500s or whatever coach is subjecting to you that day, throwing in some paddles is a an easy way to mix things up and keep you fresh mentally.

4. Encourages a better catch.

When you are feeling particularly hardcore use only the middle finger strap. When you don’t engage the early catch the paddle will slip off and you will be feeling like a rank amateur having to put your paddle back on mid-length. (On the bright side it will teach you what not to do.)

5. You’ll know when you aren’t pulling correctly.

Paddles accentuate everything about the pulling motion. Your catch is stronger, the pulling motion is stronger—you will be able to better focus and tune those parts of your stroke.

The Downsides

Everything is not all golden when it comes to your hand paddles, though. If you’ve ever had pain in your shoudlers you know that they tend to exacerbate the tenderness, and while they can encourage some good training habits in some instances they can also open the door to bad ones:

Oversized paddles put strain on ligaments and tendons in your arms. If you have weak shoulders, or are experiencing a fresh round of the dreaded swimmers shoulder than large paddle use is probably not for you. Think of paddles like weights: if you have bad, shaky form in the water the potential for injury increases significantly.

Paddles can encourage bad training habits. Just as often as they encourage good ones, throwing the dinner plates on your hands can also develop habits you are trying to steer clear of: from spreading the fingers, to having a gallop in the stroke from a slow pull but fast recovery, and so on.

Swim Paddles Speedo India Online

Best Practices for Using Hand Paddles

Start with paddles just larger than your hands.

We all vary in terms of natural hand size and shoulder strength. You might have small hands but boulder-shoulders, and vice versa—so start with paddles that are just a little bit larger than your hands and progress from there.

The tendency is to start with dinner plates right off the bat (guilty!), but if it means that your stroke is unbearably slow or that its straining the tendons in your elbow than the paddles become a moot training tool.

Remove the wrist straps.

The last thing you want to do is throw on some paddles and start ingraining some less-than-rad training habits. By removing the wrist straps you will find out very quickly whether or not you are swimming with good technique, particularly in freestyle.

If you aren’t swimming with your “natural paddle”—the hand to elbow, and going for early vertical forearm at the beginning of the pulling motion, the paddle will slip right off. To be sure it is annoying when it happens, but it will keep you technically honest.

Mimic natural finger position.

A common occurrence with really big paddles is for swimmers to spread their finger sin order to more evenly apply pressure across the paddle. If you need to do this the paddles are too large.

Similarly, if your fingers extend beyond the edge of the paddles you are going to naturally curl your finger tips around the edge of the paddle for more stability.

The Takeaway

Like anything else in your mesh bag, your swim paddles should serve a clear purpose when you use them.

Whether it is improving your technique, developing more power, or acclimatizing yourself to cruising along at race pace, use your swim paddles smartly and with purpose and your swimming–and shoulders!–will thank you.


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