Skip to Content

Swim Paddles – When and How to Use Them

You’ve undoubtedly seen swim paddles at the pool before, as many seasoned swimmers use them.

And now that you’ve been swimming for a while, you’re wondering if you should get a pair of these too.

You’ve figured out that they should allow to strengthen your shoulders and make you swim faster. But are they such a good idea?

A pair of swim paddles
Swim paddles are useful for correcting your arm stroke.

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 approach:

1) At the beginning of the pull, the arm and especially the shoulder are in an anatomical weak overhead position. Putting an additional load on the shoulder in this position isn’t such a good idea.

2) Often, a swimmer’s stroke is far from perfect. Putting an additional load on the shoulder, in that case, can increase strain and lead to swimmer’s shoulder.

3) 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.

4) 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, other arguments 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 front crawl, you can use them to concentrate on the following focal points:


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 for the water.

While using them focus on feel of the water and correct stroke mechanics instead of on force exertion.

Related Pages