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What are Swimming Paddles?

By Lisa O'Meara
Updated: Feb 07, 2024

Swimming paddles are rounded implements made of either rubber or plastic that are designed to attach to the hands and help swimmers develop stronger muscles and increase their speed in the water. For swimmers trying to perfect their stroke, swimming paddles can also be used as a diagnostic tool to determine areas of improvement that can make them more efficient. Some Olympic trainers have used these paddles for decades in order to condition and prepare their athletes for world-class competition.

Using swimming to build muscle mass can prove difficult due to the fact that the resistance of water generally never changes. Often, swimmers can reach a point in their training where their strength and speed reach a plateau because their muscles get used to working against the water. Swimming paddles can assist people in moving past this obstacle by making the hands larger and heavier and therefore more difficult to pull through the water. This additional resistance can result in increased usage of the arm and back muscles and can be beneficial in building muscle mass in swimmers. Typically, the bigger the paddles, the more difficult they are to pull through the water, which enables swimmers to increase the difficulty of their training by using larger paddles as needed to challenge their muscles.

Swimming paddles can also be used to make swimmers more efficient by refining their strokes and teaching them proper technique. If a person is wearing these paddles and his or her hand placement is incorrect as it enters the water, the paddles will force the hand to turn in an unnatural way or will make it extremely difficult to pull the hand through the water. Additionally, if a swimmer's arms are not working in tandem, the paddles may cause the hips to turn and will force a correction in the stroke. Generally, trainers recommend that swimming paddles for stroke refinement be the same size as a person's own hand and have holes to enable the swimmer to feel the water as much as possible. Finger paddles, which can cover all or some of the fingers but not the palm of the hand, are a type of swimming paddle that some trainers believe are especially good for helping people get a feel for the water.

The efficiency of a swimmer's stroke may also be assisted by the use of swimming paddles because they can enable a person to feel exactly where he or she should begin to pull the arm through the water. When the paddles catch the water at the front of a person's stroke, his or her body will begin to propel forward, indicating that the swimmer should begin to pull the stroke through. By identifying this point where the hand connects with and grabs the water, a swimmer can become aware of the timing necessary to get the most powerful stroke with the least amount of exertion.

A person with a history of injury to the shoulders or elbows generally would not be a good candidate for using swimming paddles for training because the extra exertion could cause too much strain on these joints. Beginner swimmers typically won't benefit from these paddles because of their need to focus on breathing, mechanics, and familiarity with the water. Due to the fact that the use of swimming paddles taxes the body in much the same way that lifting weights does, a person generally should use them on alternating days to allow the muscles time to recover.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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