Choosing and Using Paddles

Paddles are a great training tool. For those of you unfamiliar with paddles, they are hard plastic extensions that increase the surface area of your hand. Paddles provide multiple benefits, not least of which is the extra workload they put on the muscles while you are swimming to increase strength. Another major benefit is the increased feel for your stroke.  I regularly have my swimmers use the paddle during drills to help them have a greater sense of what their arm is doing.  Today I would like to discuss two major consideration with paddles how to choose the right pair for you and how to use them:

How to Choose the right paddles

Here is a list of criteria to use when selecting the brand of paddles to purchase:

  • Select paddle which have holes in the surface of the paddle. These holes help ensure you can feel the water during your stroke.
  • Hard surface paddles. I don’t recommend swim gloves, leave them for water aerobics, not for swimming
  • Choose paddles that keep your hand flat. A flat hand is how we want to swim and I don’t advice getting used to swimming with a cupped or curved hand surface.

Size of paddles

Once you have selected your brand you need to determine which size to purchase.  Most manufacturers provide a list of who should use what size. I consider this a starting point in deciding what size to use. If you are new to paddles choose the size smaller than you believe is the best overall choice for you.  It is best to start with paddles that are a bit undersized and adapt to the extra strain they create.

Using paddles

Once you are beginning to train with paddles start with doing less than 10 percent of your total yardage with paddles. As you adjust you can increase the yardage to a variable amount from 10 percent to 20 percent of total yardage.

Now that you have adapted you can consider moving up a size of paddles.  Here are my criteria on when you are ready to move up a size:

  • If you are faster with your paddles on then off
  • If you have no shoulder pain from paddles
  • If you can maintain your pull mechanics

When you move up a size of paddle, drop the overall yardage you are doing of pull and build back up.
A few side notes

As you start with a smaller paddle you may be able to reach your fingers over the edge of the paddle, but don’t.  Keep your fingers flat and extended even if they extend past the paddle

You can use paddles with every stroke. In backstroke you may be able to use the same size paddle, or you may want to drop back a size. For most people, they will need to drop a size or even two for fly.  In breaststroke, drop two sizes, or try fingertip paddles made specifically for breaststroke.

While not as addictive as a pull buoy some swimmers do get addicted to the pull buoy. They think if some is good isn’t more better?  More is not better if it is replacing freestyle yardage with no paddles. I have seen paddles turn into a pace crutch where individuals put on their paddles to keep up when they begin to tire. It is better to leave the paddles off and work on making the long freestyle set without your paddles, wearing them only during the planned pull set helps stop them from becoming crutches.

Up Next: The Vocabulary of Swimming

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