Using hand paddles at Linslade Crusaders

Hand Paddles at Linslade Crusaders Leighton Buzzard

Using hand paddles at Linslade Crusaders

Leighton Buzzard swimming Hand PaddlesHand paddles come in various shapes and sizes. The smallest are known as finger paddles, because they sit on the fingers and not the hand (see right). Some also have things like fins and others have various holes in them. Some hand paddles are regarded as universally applicable across all strokes, whereas other paddles may be stroke specific. So where do you start?

Why use hand paddles at all?

What happens under the water can be as important, if not more important, than what happens above the water during swimming. However, coaches will often struggle to see what is happening underwater due to a combination of the reflection of light off the surface of the water, the disruption in the water caused by the movement of the swimmers, the swimmers’ bodies obscuring the view and the division of their time throughout the swimmers they are coaching. Even if the coach is able to identify stroke errors they often have to wait until the end of the mini-set before they can feed back to the swimmer.

The efficiency of the catch and pull is the single greatest difference between good and great swimmers. Hand paddles, when used correctly, give immediate and direct feedback to the swimmer on what they are doing. If the hand enters at the correct angle and follows the correct path the hand paddle moves smoothly through the stroke. If the hand enters at the wrong angle or following the wrong path through the water the hand paddle will become unstable, letting the swimmer know they are getting it wrong. They can help swimmers learn to use the entire arm, with good hand positioning and strong catch holding the water through the entire stroke.

At a simple level the hand paddle also increases the surface area of the swimmer’s hand. The argument goes that the bigger the hand the stronger the pull – the stronger the pull the greater the fitness benefit. However, for younger swimmers the additional strain placed on the shoulder, particularly if technique is executed poorly, can cause injury with excessive use. That is why hand paddles are best introduced in the controlled environment of a swimming club as the swimmer works on improved technique.

Does it matter which hand paddles I use?

Absolutely. You should be looking for a hand paddle which is the right size and shape and is designed for the stroke you intend to use it on. For a starting paddle you should consider a “junior” paddle, not an adult one.

A standard hand paddle looks something like this:Leighton Buzzard swimming Hand Paddles

The holes in the hand paddle will have the effect of reducing the drag/resistance caused by the hand paddle and may also guide the paddle through the water. However, the straps cover most of the hand and will give additional stability which undermines the ability of the hand paddle to give feedback. If you had this type of hand paddle we would recommend you adjust the straps so the hand paddle is only attached to the middle finger.

A more advanced version would be this:

Leighton Buzzard swimming Hand Paddles

Note the greater number of holes, to reduce resistance. However, the wrist strap is more substantial and therefore more likely to get in the way.

Hand paddles such as the Finis Freestyler Paddle are designed specifically for freestyle technique development.

Leighton Buzzard swimming Hand PaddlesIt is shaped like and arrow-head with a keel underneath. There is only one strap to attach it to a finger. If the hand goes into the water at the wrong angle, or with a dropped elbow, the body of the paddle causes increased resistance. If the hand does not follow a straight path through the water the paddle twists, meaning the hand is less likely to cross over the midline as you extend forwards or pull through and unbalance the stroke. This reduces the risk of shoulder injury and provides better balance, which also tends to reduce the size of the kick.

Leighton Buzzard swimming Hand PaddlesThe best all-round hand paddle is probably the Finis Agility. There are no straps to worry about. The thumb goes through the hole in the paddle and the swimmer has to keep a light pressure on the paddle throughout the catch and pull otherwise it just falls off. The paddle itself is slightly curved, promoting a good high elbow position for the catch.

Common mistakes when using hand paddles…

Do not use them too soon. If you have poor technique to begin with they are more likely to cause injury than improve technique.

Do not use them for too long. In the early stages of using hand paddles we do not recommend any more than about 10 lengths.

Do not buy the biggest you can find. Fast swimming is a combination of strength, technique and turnover rate. Larger hand paddles may increase the resistance too much, slowing down the speed of the stroke and having a negative effect overall.

Do not compensate by spreading your fingers to add greater stability. The whole point is to receive feedback on what your hands are doing underwater. Spread the fingers out and you counteract the instability which provides feedback

Information on Using hand paddles for our swimmers from Linslade, Leighton Buzzard and Bedfordshire