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Hand paddles are great for improving both technique and strength; they are also terrible for ruining technique and causing injuries if used incorrectly or overused.

They work by increasing the surface area of water available to push against. This means the muscles have to work harder if the arm is to be pulled back at the usual speed With the increased resistance itís much easier to detect subtle variations in the best direction to pull during the stroke.

Problems usually occur because it only takes a very small increase in paddle surface area to increase the resistance considerably. The swimmer sets off with the intention of doing lots of lengths, their arms tire rapidly and they either ruin their technique because the hand starts to slip laterally to avoid exertion or they stoically push on and get a shoulder injury.

If youíve never used paddles before I would recommend buying the small finger paddles and regarding them as a training aid to technique only for a few weeks and then gradually increasing the distance covered with them. (If you want a real challenge, take the larger strap that holds the paddle to the hand off so that it is only attached to you at the fingers. This means that the hand must find a perfect path in the water to prevent the paddle flipping away).

If the finger paddles start to lose their challenge you could either move up to hand sized paddles or combine the finger paddles with a drag belt with cups. We prefer the latter because there is a real tendency with bigger paddles to reduce the stroke length and just use the arms instead of the torso to pull. If the resistance is around the waist there is less inhibition to the natural stroke. Plus, the belts come with several cups so that you can gradually increase resistance in smaller increments by adding one more cup every few weeks.

We would not, however, advocate extending this further and using drag aids such as small umbrellas that are pulled a few meters behind you simply because you get tangled up in them when you turn, and they yank you back suddenly a few seconds after you push off the wall.

Definitely donít :

1. Wear gloved paddles with weights in them. The glove part is OK, though your fingers will be forced apart slightly, but the weights mean you will be resisting gravity which does not act in the same direction as your backwards, horizontal pull.

2. Wear a t-shirt. You want your shoulders to be free to move.

   
 
   
 
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