Training

Dear Coach: Why Should I Use Swim Paddles?

Swim paddles can provide technique and strength benefits in the pool—which should make you a more efficient and faster swimmer.

If there’s one thing we know about triathletes it’s that they love their gear! From cool TT bikes to fancy watches to cool shoes and everything in between. And our love of gear doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. When it comes to the pool, besides your goggles, there is one other must have piece of equipment: your swim paddles.

When we run or bike, we have resistance from the wind, the hills, or even the ground surface. (For example, running on a dirt path is harder than running on pavement.) But in the pool, we don’t have hills to swim up, and very rarely does the pool get rough enough to simulate open water. The one tool we do have to create a strength-based workout is a pair of swim paddles.

Swim paddles can be used as a learning and technique tool or as a power and strength tool. Let’s take a deeper dive into how and why triathletes should use swim paddles.

One note on technique: I like our athletes to swim without the wrist strap that comes with many swim paddles; it allows them to focus on their pressure on the water from the moment of entry until the paddle leaves the water.

Benefits of Swim Paddles

  • Using paddles will force you to keep a high elbow and work the forearm into your swim stroke. A common mistake made by most swimmers is dropping their elbow and letting their hand slip through the water without pressure. Using swim paddles helps us overcome that issue.
  • Obviously, using a paddle slightly bigger than your hand will create resistance and force you to get stronger. Think of this as swimming uphill!
  • For those who haven’t used swim paddles before, creating a new stimulus in your training will allow you to see improvements. If you swim the same all the time, chances are you will not stress your body enough to actually see improvement.
  • You will take less strokes per length helping you to swim faster along the way. Distance per stroke goes up, while speed increases.
  • As the paddles help you increase your efficiency, you’ll become a better swimmer once you take them off as well.
  • Swimming with paddles can also help take the monotony out of swimming. Take a long set of 5x500y and make the even reps with paddles—boom, you can mix it up, go faster, with less effort, and learn to swim more efficiently.
  • The main reason I like paddles is because they teach you how to pull strongly and they help you work on the finish of your stroke. Should you pull your hand out of the water too soon, the paddle will drop off. Applying pressure all the way through the stroke is key.

Cons of Swim Paddles

  • There are some downsides to swimming too much with paddles right away. If your paddles are too big, you’ll cause too much strain on your shoulders, elbows, tendons, and ligaments.
  • You can rely on them too much and only want to swim with paddles. Create sets in your program that are paddle specific (and sets without paddles) vs. getting in the pool and swimming 4,000y straight with paddles.
  • You can get into the habit of spreading your fingers too wide on the paddles and then have that carry over to your normal swimming.

Swim Paddle Workouts

Here are two of favorite paddles sets to try:

Workout #1:

Start with 500s in the first week and build to 1000y by four to six weeks in.

500y swim/500y w/ pull buoy/500y with pull buoy and paddles

Workout #2:

Easy warm up of 300y, then 12 x 50y (four with left paddle only, four with right paddle only, then four with both paddles)

Main set can be 8 to 16 x 200y in groups of four:
Set 1: 3x200y no paddles, 1x200y with paddles
Set 2: 2x200y no paddles, 2x200y with paddles
Set 3: 1x200y no paddles, 3x200y with paddles
Set 4: 4x200y with paddles

The benefits of using swim paddles are many and, as long as you are continually working on making your stroke more efficient and not forcing the power, you’ll see improvement all season long in your swims times. If you’re looking for more gear, make sure you have a set of swim paddles in your swim bag this season!

Mike Ricci is a Level III USAT Certified Coach and was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year. He is the founder and head coach of D3 Multisport. The three D’s—Desire, Determination and Discipline—are the cornerstone for his coaching philosophies. The D3 coaches use evidence-based training science, technology, and wisdom to guide athletes toward their multisport goals.