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
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
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
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.