You’ve certainly seen swim paddles at the pool before, as many seasoned swimmers use them. And now that you’ve been swimming for a while you wonder if you should get them too.
You’ve figured out that they should allow to strengthen your shoulders and make you swim faster. But are they really such a good idea?
Swim Paddles and Shoulder Strengthening
As discussed above, hand paddles are often described as the swimmer’s equivalent of the weight lifter’s dumbbells. The idea is that using them regularly will make your shoulders stronger and allow you to swim faster. However, there are several problems with this thinking:
- At the beginning of the pull, the arm and especially the shoulder are in an anatomical weak overhead position. Putting additional load on the shoulder in this position isn’t such a good idea.
- Often, a swimmer’s stroke is far from perfect. Putting additional load on the shoulder in that case can increase strain and lead to swimmer’s shoulder.
- There are far better exercises to strengthen the shoulders with dry land training than to use paddles. See for example the rotator cuff strengthening exercises and the scapular stabilization exercises.
- Water resistance increases exponentially with speed. So there’s a limit on how much speed you can gain by increasing your strength. It is far more easier and effective to work on decreasing drag than to increase strength.
Other Shortcomings of Swim Paddles
Besides the debatable shoulder strengthening argument, there are other arguments that speak against the use of swimming paddles:
- Swimming paddles aren’t allowed in competitions. So you have to learn to be efficient without them.
- With paddles you swim fast without much effort and feel great. But when you remove the paddles you don’t feel so fast and great anymore.
How To Use Swimming Paddles
However, hand paddles have their uses. They shouldn’t be seen as strengthening tools but as teaching tools to improve correct stroke mechanics. For example, in the freestyle stroke, you can use them to concentrate on the following focal points:
- To feel how to correctly pierce the water with a flat hand during the recovery.
- To extend all the way to the front with a long and relaxed stroke to drill front quadrant swimming.
- To feel how to properly anchor the hands in the water and to pull the body above them.
If you want to use swimming paddles, make sure to use the smaller variants with holes in them. They put less strain on the shoulders and allow a better feel of the water.
While using them focus on feel of the water and correct stroke mechanics instead of on force exertion.