I’ve used hand paddles throughout my entire swimming career. Hand paddles are used to increase the surface area of your hand which allows the swimmer to hold more water as they pull. I find that my distance per stroke improves with paddles. I also find that I work my muscles a little differently with the added resistance (in a good way).
Personally, I LOVE pull sets. There’s nothing like the way hand paddles can make the triceps burn when you’re finishing your stroke correctly. It’s awesome. I think hand paddles are a great way to reinforce that what you are doing is correct. On the flip side… they are also very telling when the swimmer is doing something incorrectly.
In the above photo, you will see that hand paddles come with multiple bands to hold them in place. As a club swimmer, I swam with both the wristband and finger band until my Junior year, when my club got an amazing new coach who promptly took my paddles, removed the wristband and changed the finger band so that it only wrapped around my middle finger.
The reason my coach removed the wristband was quite smart. With the wristband in place, the hand paddles are not free to move around as much as they can without them. That means, if I kept the wristband on and swam with improper technique, I could get away with it (unless it was really, really bad) whereas removing the wristband would amplify even the smallest hand entry or hand exit mistakes.
It took some work to get used to swimming with paddles set up in this manner. If I ever entered or exited the water incorrectly, the paddles would immediately twist and turn as if they had a life of their own – WHICH IS SO ANNOYING! It was also awesome because I got immediate feedback every time an entry or exit mistake is made. Now I could feel mistakes as they happened versus just being told what they were by my coach. Often, I’d be in a great groove and then all of the sudden my hand would catch and it would disrupt everything, jolting me back to reality (ACK!) and ultimately causing me to go slower than I would if the mistake hadn’t happened.
It did not take long for me to adjust to the paddles. I think the greatest improvements happened when I was tired and forced to maintain proper technique. I literally had to make the conscious decision to swim correctly through pain because the alternative was worse. When I got to college, the genius continued when my coach gave everyone their own set of strokemaker paddles and had us set them up in the same manner.
I think hand paddles were the most jarring when my hands exited the water with a short stroke. I never had that happen when I was fresh but occasionally it would happen as I got tired during a set. You always know a short stroke because your hand will continue to exit the water while the paddle catches so much water that it gets left behind – sometimes even falling off your hand. On a short stroke, there will actually be water between your palm and the paddle, which is not good. Believe me, if it happens to you, you will know.
When I swim, I have a high elbow during the recovery and I keep my fingers relaxed, with a tiny bit of space between them. I enter the water with my hand tilted slightly towards my pinky, not my thumb. I also tend to swim with a 3/4 catch up anytime I’m not sprinting. You’ll notice I’m wearing a front breathing freestyle snorkel in these photos. I can talk about the snorkel in a subsequent post. For now, I just want to focus on hand paddles.