How to Use Swim Paddles

Curious about how you can use swim paddles to become a stronger and more efficient swimmer? Read on and take your hand paddles, and your swimming, to the next level.

Swim paddles are one of my favorite all-time tools for swimming better, faster, and more handsomer.

But for as simple a piece of swim gear it is, the way that paddles are used isn’t always clear.

Or fully understood.

Every swimmer is different (obviously) and so are their needs in the water.

Paddles have two main uses:

Getting stronger in the water and improving your swim technique.

How you use swim paddles is ultimately up to you, but here are some tips for getting the most of the time you have the paddles strapped to your hands.

How to use hand paddles for getting stronger

Hand paddles are primarily a power development tool.

Or at least, that’s the way I always viewed them when I was an age grouper. I always reached for the largest paddles I could find in the equipment bin as I figured this would immediately transfer into super gainz in the water.

While I was only about half right (going super large with your paddles is almost always counter-productive), there are some awesome ways to power up your swimming with paddles:

  • Paddles and fins. Everyone’s favorite! Combine with swim training fins for some super speed in the water. Paddles, plus fins, has you swimming at top speed, quickly teaching your nervous system what it takes to swim at that position.
  • Use paddles strategically. Use your hand paddles in short durations for power development. Any kind of resistance work in the water should be done with adequate rest to ensure that you are getting maximal effort and benefit.
  • Long, easy swims can be done with paddles, but should be increased gradually and with total emphasis on swimming with proper form. Consider pairing with a snorkel to reduce the strain on your shoulders.
  • My favorite way to do pull sets. Shoulder strengthening can be done swimming solely with paddles (my preferred way to do “pull” sets as it more closely resembles swimming) or with a pull buoy to make it a fully upper body workout.
  • Power 9000. Paddles can also be used with a swimmer’s parachute, DragSox, or tethered rubber tubing. Take lots of rest when doing this kind of set (8×25 all out @2:00, for example) to avoid overloading the nervous system. This is a more advanced form of training and your shoulders should be prepared for this level of resistance and stress.

How to use swim paddles for improving your technique

Paddles aren’t just for power work! They can also be used to improve your technique in the water. Forget the pace clock and experiment moving through the water while wearing them.,

Here are some ways that you can do this:

  • Boost your feel of the water. “Feel” the water when initiating the pull movement to encourage a flat hand and fingers pointing at the bottom of the pool
  • Clean up the hand entry. Remove the wrist strap to encourage a cleaner hand entry. By removing the wrist strap, you coach yourself to enter the water cleanly, or else the paddle will slip and slide sideways or even fall off.
  • Strengthen the top of the catch. Reach out with the paddle at the top of your stroke and see how much water you can catch. This is a great way to encourage a strong and early vertical forearm.
  • Power up your grip in the water. Use paddles when sculling to strengthen your “grip” on the water. Catching more water means you can take less strokes per length to swim the same speed. Efficiency!
  • Improve your finish. Paddles encourage you to finish the full pulling motion, particularly when you have the wrist straps removed. This is similar to the point above about having a cleaner hand entry—when your hand exits the water, if not placed properly the paddle will twist and fall off.
  • Use them for drill work. Drills are a great way to over-emphasize parts of your technique that you want to improve. Paddles add another element of exaggeration. For example, if you are trying to sharpen that early vertical forearm, you could strap on a snorkel and do long dog free drill, really sinking the fingers at the bottom of the pull and pulling yourself through the water forcefully.

How to choose the correct hand paddle size

When using paddles for strengthening, there’s no need to be a hero on day one.

Progress and take your time building up the meters and intensity with them.

How big should the hand paddles be to get faster in the water?

Although it may be tempting to grab the biggest paddles you can get your hands on, choose a paddle that is slightly larger than the palm of your hand. Protecting your shoulders is crucial when using paddles.

On top of placing undue strain on the arms, choosing a paddle that is too large will slow your tempo to a crawl, reducing any performance improvement you would derive from using them.

More Swim Paddle Guides

🏊 6 Benefits of Hand Paddles for Swimming. Using swim paddles can help you do a ton of different things in the water. Here is a look at the six benefits of hand paddles for swimming.