How Swim Paddles Can Make You a Stronger, Faster Swimmer

I have a new pair of paddles!!I asked a swimmie to buy a pair of Strokemakers for me (my favorite), on one of his trips to the U.S. He refused to accept payment for them when he got back so, Yeay thank you!!! I love coach gifts ????.Before I gush about this new pair, I feel the responsible thing to do is offer a preamble aka premumble on the pros and cons of using paddles, particularly for my tri friends. A survey (1993, U.S. study) of 1,262 age-group to national level swimmers revealed that swim paddles and shoulder-bearing exercises were acknowledged as "having the capacity to aggravate shoulder injuries". One might say that triathletes rarely swim on a daily basis, at least not the way pure swimmers do, wouldn't this make them less susceptible to a swim injury? It's a bit of a double-edged sword situation; a triathlete swims less often but he/she also has not had the time to build the upper body and shoulder strength that pure swimmers grow into. Throw paddles and a random training plan into the triathlete training mix, and that could lead to shoulder injuries as well.SHOULD YOU USE SWIM PADDLES IN TRAINING? Yes. Yes you should and here's why:1. Build strength and power. Paddles add resistance to your pull, which inevitably builds swim-specific strength and power. I highlighted swim-specific because that's the key - isn't it? After being locked away in one of the world's longest quarantines (Philippines, 18 months), I am painfully aware that it is impossible to sustain your swim gains on dry-land workouts alone. Swim specificity is essential to building swim strength and power. 2. Train with speed and efficiency. Swim long enough and you know that when the coach announces: "Ok, paddles and pull buoy.", you can expect the lanes to erupt in celebration and sighs of relief. Who doesn't love that feeling of skimming through the water and enjoying more distance covered with each pull? You swim faster when you train with paddles, at a speed that is as fast or even faster than your best pace.  Swimming at this speed gives you insight into what it takes to sustain it - like keeping your core engaged and streamlined, to holding water with an early catch, and making sure that you complete your stroke all the way to the back.3. Instant feedback on your pull form. Different paddle shapes, sizes, and thickness allow these tools to react to the smallest changes in the way you pull.Hand entry: the strokemakers for example will either flip up, dunk down, or offer too much resistance if your hand is anything but perfectly angled as it enters the water. Alerted to an entry error, it then takes a little fine-tuning to get your hand entry just right.Proper catch and pull through: a paddle will let you know if you've missed the catch, or if the pull isn't fully engaged with the water. Keep an eye out (?) for a feeling of concentrated pressure on the shoulders, which is a warning that you may be pulling with a straight arm and overloading very small muscles in your shoulder. If your paddles wobble and slip with barely any force, it's a sign that you've lost your "hold" and are most likely swimming with a dropped elbow, or sliding your arm backwards. Incomplete pull finish: if you try to pull your arm out of the water too early, the back of the paddle will flap loose to let you know that, 'no, you still have room in your pull back there'. ARE THERE DOWNSIDES TO USING PADDLES? meh. a few.If you're new to paddles, or this post suddenly inspires you to step out and buy a mega-sized pair, please know that you have to use them sensibly.They can lead to injury if not used properly. This is real talk, if you have weak shoulders or poor form - practice caution. Using paddles that are too big for you can blow out the tiny muscles in your rotator cuff and lead to the infamous swimmer's shoulder injury. Remember the hierarchy of swim development: form comes before strength. Before you add monster pull sets to your workout, make sure you've had your swim form analyzed and corrected!Temporary loss of feel-for-the-water. There are some paddle styles that lead to a loss of feel-for-the-water. Rarely a problem with my strokemakers, but long pull sets can numb your hands and affect the quality of the rest of the workout. This effect is temporary but when you're pressed for time or only have an hour or two to get a good workout in, it matters. Can lead to new technique errors.In previous posts we talked about force avoidance. Under stress of training or fatigue, your muscles and limbs opt for the paths of least resistance - often leading to poor form. Cut out compensating habits like spreading your fingers too wide in an effort to push the paddles harder (yes there are days when I wish my hands looked like this pic); or using a choppy, limping pull-rhythm care of a slow underwater pull and arms swinging fast when out of the water.TIPS ON USING HAND PADDLES1. Know your training goal. Are you training to improve your form? There are form specific

How Swim Paddles Can Make You a Stronger, Faster Swimmer

I have a new pair of paddles!!

I asked a swimmie to buy a pair of Strokemakers for me (my favorite), on one of his trips to the U.S. He refused to accept payment for them when he got back so, Yeay thank you!!! I love coach gifts ????.

swim paddles

Before I gush about this new pair, I feel the responsible thing to do is offer a preamble aka premumble on the pros and cons of using paddles, particularly for my tri friends. A survey (1993, U.S. study) of 1,262 age-group to national level swimmers revealed that swim paddles and shoulder-bearing exercises were acknowledged as "having the capacity to aggravate shoulder injuries". One might say that triathletes rarely swim on a daily basis, at least not the way pure swimmers do, wouldn't this make them less susceptible to a swim injury? It's a bit of a double-edged sword situation; a triathlete swims less often but he/she also has not had the time to build the upper body and shoulder strength that pure swimmers grow into. Throw paddles and a random training plan into the triathlete training mix, and that could lead to shoulder injuries as well.

SHOULD YOU USE SWIM PADDLES IN TRAINING? Yes. Yes you should and here's why:

1. Build strength and power. 

Paddles add resistance to your pull, which inevitably builds swim-specific strength and power. I highlighted swim-specific because that's the key - isn't it? After being locked away in one of the world's longest quarantines (Philippines, 18 months), I am painfully aware that it is impossible to sustain your swim gains on dry-land workouts alone. Swim specificity is essential to building swim strength and power. 

2. Train with speed and efficiency. 

Swim long enough and you know that when the coach announces: "Ok, paddles and pull buoy.", you can expect the lanes to erupt in celebration and sighs of relief. Who doesn't love that feeling of skimming through the water and enjoying more distance covered with each pull? 

You swim faster when you train with paddles, at a speed that is as fast or even faster than your best pace.  Swimming at this speed gives you insight into what it takes to sustain it - like keeping your core engaged and streamlined, to holding water with an early catch, and making sure that you complete your stroke all the way to the back.

3. Instant feedback on your pull form. 

Different paddle shapes, sizes, and thickness allow these tools to react to the smallest changes in the way you pull.

Hand entry: the strokemakers for example will either flip up, dunk down, or offer too much resistance if your hand is anything but perfectly angled as it enters the water. Alerted to an entry error, it then takes a little fine-tuning to get your hand entry just right.

Proper catch and pull through: a paddle will let you know if you've missed the catch, or if the pull isn't fully engaged with the water. Keep an eye out (?) for a feeling of concentrated pressure on the shoulders, which is a warning that you may be pulling with a straight arm and overloading very small muscles in your shoulder. If your paddles wobble and slip with barely any force, it's a sign that you've lost your "hold" and are most likely swimming with a dropped elbow, or sliding your arm backwards. 

Incomplete pull finish: if you try to pull your arm out of the water too early, the back of the paddle will flap loose to let you know that, 'no, you still have room in your pull back there'. 

ARE THERE DOWNSIDES TO USING PADDLES? meh. a few.

If you're new to paddles, or this post suddenly inspires you to step out and buy a mega-sized pair, please know that you have to use them sensibly.

They can lead to injury if not used properly. This is real talk, if you have weak shoulders or poor form - practice caution. Using paddles that are too big for you can blow out the tiny muscles in your rotator cuff and lead to the infamous swimmer's shoulder injury. Remember the hierarchy of swim development: form comes before strength. Before you add monster pull sets to your workout, make sure you've had your swim form analyzed and corrected!

Temporary loss of feel-for-the-water. There are some paddle styles that lead to a loss of feel-for-the-water. Rarely a problem with my strokemakers, but long pull sets can numb your hands and affect the quality of the rest of the workout. This effect is temporary but when you're pressed for time or only have an hour or two to get a good workout in, it matters. 

Can lead to new technique errors.In previous posts we talked about force avoidance. Under stress of training or fatigue, your muscles and limbs opt for the paths of least resistance - often leading to poor form.

Cut out compensating habits like spreading your fingers too wide in an effort to push the paddles harder (yes there are days when I wish my hands looked like this pic); or using a choppy, limping pull-rhythm care of a slow underwater pull and arms swinging fast when out of the water.


TIPS ON USING HAND PADDLES

1. Know your training goal. 

Are you training to improve your form? There are form specific paddles such as fingertip paddles, freestyle specific paddles, agility paddles and more. *Don't use them in a resistance/strength-building workout. 

If you're training to get stronger and thereby swim faster, then you need a standard training paddle. *Don't use agility paddles in a resistance workout (insert tarsier eyes).

2. Choose the right-sized paddle. 

All bodies are different. Hand size, upper body strength, stamina and swim form determine what size paddle to work with. A rule of thumb is to start with paddles that are about an inch wider than your hand, when your fingers are held in a relaxed position. 

If the paddles are too small - you're not getting the resistance you need to get stronger. If your finger tips sit right at the edge of the paddle it's time to move up.

If the paddles are too big - you could negate all the gains of training by injuring yourself.

If you've used the same pair of paddles for too long - your progress may plateau, unless you add distance or speed challenges to your paddle workouts. Think about moving up a size.

I have small hands and strong shoulders ???? and I was ready to move up to larger paddles. I should have moved to a paddle size between the yellow and red but hey, they were a gift and I'll take them! : ) 

I need to ease into the workouts and ensure that I maintain good form throughout. So I'm excited to see how much stronger I feel once the muscles adjust to the added resistance. 


3. Pay attention to bad habits when you use paddles. 

Make sure that your fingers aren't spread out while pulling, or that you aren't slicing the paddles sideways. These are all possible signs that the paddles may be too big for you, you need to work on your upper body strength, or it's time to book a swim analysis. 

4. Ideally, your paddles and pullbuoy workouts are part of a complete swim program.  

Hopefully you're not training with a hodgepodge of workouts "curated" off of the internet. If you've been stuck in a rut swimming at the same speeds and effort, following a proper training program can make all the difference. 

Yes, you can train with paddles and pullbouys anytime, but if you are training with a specific race in mind, there are optimal times to get the paddle resistance training in and reaping the benefits of timing these workouts properly. 

5. Be sensible.

Listen to your body. If you feel a pinching or burning sensation in your shoulders, or if your arm motions are unusually tight, leave the paddles in your pool bag and give your shoulders a rest for a week or two. If the pain persists you may need to have your shoulders checked. Hopefully you never reach this point if you follow all the notes above!

Also remember to space upper body resistance work, with a rest day before or after a swim. 

**

CLOSING

That's it, post-note, I did feel some hand numbing after my pull set this morning. The red paddles are heavy :) 

Do you have any questions about paddles and pull buoys? A favorite pull workout you'd like to share? Please feel free to post on the comments section. 

Hope this helps, happy swimming!