Love them or hate them, it would appear you can’t get away from them. Do they help or hinder your swim? Should you or shouldn’t you use them? Some coaches like to suggest their athletes use paddles, whereas others shy away from them. This is what we think…
So, what are swimming paddles? Basically, they are a device that’s made up of a plastic plate that fits over your palm and attaches over the back of your hand with elastic cords. Sometimes the plate is perforated, sometimes not. You can get smaller, finger paddles, which as you would imagine, just fit over your fingers. These are targeted more towards swimmers looking to improve their technique, as they improve your catch and feel of your swim stroke.
And why would you use them? Primarily, they are a training aid used by many seasoned swimmers, with the idea being that they strengthen your shoulders and upper body, and help you to swim faster. By preventing the water from flowing through your fingers, your arm pulls with more power and ultimately this works the upper body muscles harder. Swimming with paddles allows you to really focus on your stroke and become more efficient in the water.
Sounds great, so what’s the problem? Swim paddles may not be helpful in the early days. If you’re not sure how “technically” well you’re swimming, it may be best to get this assessed first, as you need to be sure that you are swimming well before you start using this type of training aid. Also, incorrect technique with paddles, or using over sized paddles can put additional strain on your arms and shoulders and end up doing more damage than good.
Weighing up the pros and cons… So on the plus side, paddles will help you develop power, can potentially improve your speed and efficiency whilst highlighting to you any problems with your stroke, and they also add a bit of variety to your swimming workout. However… you can put extra strain on your shoulders, develop bad habits and make your natural swim (without paddles!) less enjoyable as you’re not experiencing the same speed and feel like you’re putting in a lot more effort! Also, you’re not allowed swim paddles in events, so you are better off ensuring that you are as powerful and efficient as you can be without them.
Ready to give them a try? Start with a paddle that is only slightly larger than your hand. Do not opt for anything that’s more than 10% larger than your palm. You can build up to bigger paddles that have more resistance, but if you start big then you are likely to cause yourself an injury! Paddles with holes will reduce the resistance as the water can flow through the paddle, but they will allow a more natural stroke pattern. And use your new paddles in moderation! Training devices should only be used for a maximum of 25% of your training session – don’t become dependent on them and don’t give yourself shoulder strain!
What to go for? There’s a wealth of options when you’re searching for swim paddles, but the good news is that they’re not hugely expensive, so you can afford to not get it right first time, and really find out what works best for you.
Companies such as Speedo, Finis and Zoggs offer a range from finger paddles to different technical spec hand paddles.
You may decide to start with finger paddles, such as these Arena Elite Finger Paddles available at the Swimming Shop.
These are small paddles that are just worn on the fingers and help you to improve your hand action in whatever your chosen swim stroke.
Finis offer Agility Hand Paddles (available from ProSwimwear and many other retailers) and these help teach the correct palm positive hand position. These are strapless, so incorrect technique will cause the paddle to fall off.
In the same brand there are the Freestyler Paddles which are specifically designed to improve technique for the freestyle stroke. These are NOT designed for resistance and strength training but decrease resistance through water, thus improving reach and distance per stroke.
Speedo Power Paddles (available on Amazon) are very much the classic paddle that many athletes opt for. Engineered for maximum resistance in water and designed to