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How to Use Swim Paddles

There are myriad tools and toys you can use around the pool to help you train smarter, harder, or just break up the monotony of swimming laps. While kickboards, fins, and pull buoys are easy to use and understand, swim paddles are often misused because their purpose is misunderstood. But, when used correctly, swim paddles can help you fine tune and strengthen every movement in your upper body. And because the upper body does most of the work while swimming, paddles are an important, vital training tool for any recreational lap swimmer, competitor, or triathlete.

Swimmer using Speedo Hydrosity Paddles.
Hand paddles should not be significantly larger than the user’s hand. A too-big paddle can cause serious shoulder strain.

How Paddles Work

Before you decide on using any kind of training tool in the pool, you should know how the device works. Swim paddles are seemingly simple devices. The most basic paddle expands your hand’s surface area in order to displace higher amounts of water. Displacing more water requires extra upper body strength and propels a swimmer faster through the water.

This is where people tend to misunderstand these brilliant training tools. Because it’s easy to assume that bigger is better, many swimmers choose a hand paddle that is much too big for their hand size. Even a slightly too big paddle can quickly overtire a strong swimmer and cause excess strain on the shoulders. Swim paddles only need to be about 10% larger than the palm in order to work efficiently. The slight increase in surface area works hard to help a swimmer displace more water and pull through the water with greater speeds. And it’s important to remember that not all swim paddles are designed to increase arm pull resistance. Many models, such as the Finis Agility Paddles or the Finis Forearm Fulcrum, were designed to work on other aspects of a stroke, such as arm entry and hand placement.

A pair of Finis "Perfect Technique" Paddles
Learning how to use swim paddles of different styles will round out the finer points of your arm stroke.

Why Use Paddles?

As mentioned above, swim paddles do a great job at perfecting the catch and pull; but keep in mind that that’s not all they do. Many swim paddles, especially those that are traditionally designed, help swimmers gain upper body strength. Their added surface area heightens resistance against the arm, chest, back, and shoulders – engaging muscle groups throughout the upper body. Besides strength training, swim paddles can help swimmers fine tune the technical aspects of their stroke. Some paddles take the hand entirely out of the swimming equation, which helps users correct and perfect their arm entry and hip rotation. Other paddles cover only the finger tips, leaving the palm free to feel the water. These types of paddles help hand positioning and give swimmers a more organic feeling while training. No matter what you’re looking to improve in your armstroke, there’s a paddle designed to specifically target your training needs.

Tips For Paddle Training

Just like any other training device, paddles should only be used in moderation. Any kind of training device should not be used in more than 25% of your training session. Using paddles for too large of a portion of your workout time can cause swimmers to become dependent on the devices, and, not to mention, can cause serious strain on the shoulder joints. Be sure to use paddles that are only slightly larger than the palm, and pick a model that features soft tubing or straps. These will help keep the paddle firmly in place, as well as keep your hand comfortable throughout the entire swim.

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