Improve Your Stroke with Swim Paddles and Gloves

If you’re getting serious about your swim training, you may consider adding some extra umph to your workout. Popular among triathletes, recreational swimmers, and hard-core Olympians alike, swim aids like paddles and gloves are often introduced into a session in the pool to help improve technique and build strength.

Swim paddles and gloves are made to help increase efficiency by creating resistance in the water. By isolating and focusing on the stroke, these “swim toys” can help you improve your swimming mechanics while simultaneously improving strength and technique. Despite all the benefits, they need to be used the right way to avoid potential injuries.

Getting Started

If you’ve decided to start implementing training tools into your routine, you’ll most likely also want to invest in a pull buoy as well. Pull buoys are a flotation device meant to immobilize your legs so that you can focus specifically on your stroke without having to worry about your kick. It does for your upper body what kickboards do for your lower body. Isolating your stroke will allow you to concentrate on your technique and establish greater endurance.

You’ll want to choose a swim paddle that coordinates with your skill level and the goals you are trying to achieve, whether it be strength, technique, power, or speed. Let’s go over the different kinds of paddles and gloves so you can decide which will be appropriate for you and your exercise regimen.


Swim paddles come in a lot of shapes and size, ranging from sizes that are almost the same size as the hand, to some that are significantly larger. Some are flat, some come curved. Traditional style paddles are made of a stiff plastic and have finger straps or finger channels to help you keep a grip on the tool.


The size of the paddle will determine the amount of resistance that you feel in the water as you pull it through the water. Therefore, the bigger the paddle, the more effort it will take.

A lot of swim newbies will assume that getting the biggest possible paddle is the best choice. However, this is how a lot of shoulder injuries occur. If you start off with a paddle that is too large for your experience level, you could end up with a debilitating injury. It’s best to start with a paddle that is just larger than your hand to avoid shoulder strain. The general rule is that your paddle should be 10% larger than your hand.

Flat Swim Paddles

Perennial lap swimmers love the standard flat swim paddles. These come in different shapes from triangular, to rectangular and those that are approximately the shape of a hand. Most will have some holes that allow water to flow through the plastic as it’s brought through the water while some paddle options are solid.

Flat paddles are a good option for all swimmers who enjoy swimming laps. Just remember to really focus in on technique during use to get the most out of your time with them in the water.

Ergonomic Design

Some paddles come with an ergonomic design that is meant to be comfortable and smooth in the water. The curves of the paddle often mimic natural hand shape and the form will usually be closer to hand-shaped than a flat paddle that usually has a rigid and geometric design. These types of paddles allow swimmers to get all the benefits of resistance training without altering technique as much as flat paddles.

These designs are available with and without holes and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Ergonomic paddles are ideal for beginning lap swimmers and advanced swimmers alike.

Stroke-Specific Paddles

There are some paddles that are intended for use with one kind of stroke only, most often freestyle. They are typically triangular in design and will have “freestyle” in their name. There are some manufacturers, too, who produce catch paddles that are intended specifically to work on the catch phase of the stroke instead of the entire underwater pull. Catch paddles are usually smaller and worn under the fingertips.

Specialized paddles aren’t as popular since they have limited application, but they can help if you have areas of your stroke that are underdeveloped. These are mostly appropriate for advanced swimmers or those under the supervision of a coach.

Fulcrum/Anti-Swim Paddles

There are some training devices that do the opposite of what paddles do by DECREASING the resistance in the water, making swimmers use their forearms, kick, and body position to generate momentum instead. Devices like forearm fulcrums or anti-swim paddles help swimmers develop a more efficient stroke.

They’re not quite as popular as traditional swim paddles and won’t improve shoulder strength and/or pull. These types of tools are typically used for short periods of time in the water, if at all.


Swim gloves are just what they sound like—soft neoprene gloves with fabric webbing that give swimmers extra resistance in the water. Swimming gloves are really popular for triathlon or open water swimmers during training because they are easy to use and give the hands some extra insulation in the cold. They’re also popular among water aerobics enthusiasts.

Swim gloves aren’t ideal for most swimmers looking to really improve their stroke because you have to spread your fingers to make the gloves effective and it’s essentially a bad habit. But they are good for some swimmers and ideal for use for long periods of time in cold water. They provide a safe level of resistance in the water and are less likely to lead to injury.

Swim gloves’ comfortable fit makes them ideal for long periods of use in the water and they provide safe levels of resistance for long stretches.

Extra Tips:

    • Inclusion of paddles in your workout should really only comprise approximately 25% of your workout. Any more than that, and you risk straining your shoulders. You should also work up to longer distances until you know how your body is going to react. This will help you avoid injury.
    • Many paddles or straps are color-coded by size. Don’t choose a paddle based solely on a color you like because it may not fit properly.
    • Use of paddles should mostly be used under the instruction/supervision of a coach. Another pair of eyes will help you know if you’re using the paddle in a way that will be beneficial to your stroke.
    • When you’re using a paddle, learn how to incorporate your entire arm through the stroke motion in addition to good positioning of the hands, high elbows, and a good point of entry to maximize the catch.
    • Make sure you’re using the paddle properly. When correctly fit and used, it should not slip and slide around in your hand.
    • Make sure swim paddles aren’t something you become dependent on. They aren’t meant to be used forever during the course of training.
    • If used properly and over the right distances, paddle use may result in substantial improvement in power and feel. Used incorrectly and for too long, however, and you may be headed for injury.
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