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Paddle Shape and Design

Different paddles can help improve your technique

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Masters swimmers have many more types of paddles available to them today as compared to our age grouper days. Styles, shapes, and sizes vary dramatically depending on the brand and purpose. The once traditional “garbage can lid” paddles, which can cause injury and a loss of feel for the water, remain popular with many swimmers. However, there are modern paddles coming onto the market that focus more on improving swimming technique. Although some swimmers are traditionalists when it comes to their training equipment, new, innovative paddle designs have a place in swim training.

After seeing how many categories and types of paddles are out there, it is easy to see why finding the right paddle for our stroke can be overwhelming. In a perfect world, we would all have at least four types of paddles in our gear bags to work on different things in a workout. Barring that, below is a “cliff notes” description of various different paddles to help you select the right type for your needs:

Finger or sculling paddles are generally smaller paddles that do not cover the entire hand, but rather stop just before the palm of the hand. They are great tools for swimmers who need to gain a “feel” for the water­—perfect for sculling and drills­—and work on technique before upgrading to larger paddles to crank out yardage.

Then there are technique paddles, which are also not intended for tight-interval and pulling main sets. Technique paddles can come in various shapes and sizes. Some extend further down the wrist to encourage the forearm pull, while others are more triangular or curved to improve the catch and ensure that the hand enters the water correctly.

Strengthening paddles are what we like to use to on the sets where we need more power to make the interval and build the shoulder muscles. While they do a good job of making us strong, incorrect use and poor technique prevent these paddles from being universal. Usually, a paddle maker will produce various sizes of strengthening paddles, and the individual swimmer’s strength will dictate the correct size for that swimmer to use.

Finally, there are “non-paddles” that do not conform to the traditional look of swimming paddles. Sometimes dubbed “anti-paddles,” these paddles are usually used strictly to improve technique. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and both are highly effective when used by tired swimmers at the end of workout when technique tends to become sloppy.

FINIS makes two unique paddles that add to the broad array on the market:

  • FINIS Agility Paddles, which don’t have any straps. The paddles help the wearer remain “palm positive” throughout the pull. If, at any point, the swimmer loses pressure on the hand during the catch, the paddle will wobble and slide off of the palm. Not only is this instant feedback great for learning proper technique, but it also allows more experienced swimmers to play with their recovery and early catch position. Coaches love these paddles because they’re extremely easy to throw on and off during tight interval training sets.
  • FINIS Freestyler Hand Paddles, made specifically for freestyle, help to increase distance per stroke. Surfboards inspired the long shape and unique skeg design. Because the paddle is narrow, it reduces shoulder strain dramatically and allows for the swimmer to fully extend through each stroke cycle. About.com awarded the Freestyler its Reader’s Choice Best Hand Paddle in 2012.

Although not a traditional hand paddle, the FINIS Forearm Fulcrum helps keep the wrist rigid throughout the pulling motion. They were developed to encourage swimmers to practice the early vertical forearm position critical in all the strokes. By keeping the forearm, wrist, and hand in one plane, the pulling surface grows dramatically and forces the wearer to hold a high elbow position through the pull. This “non-paddle” makes it almost impossible for a swimmer to swim with poor technique even when tired.

Understanding what the different types of paddles accomplish is important. Do your research in order to avoid injury and to ensure that you have the best possible experience every time you jump into the water.

FINIS Inc. has been on the forefront of many of these great advances in technical training equipment. You can find all of these paddles and more on the FINIS website. We are proud to represent products that work as hard at being the best as our Masters swimmers do!

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