How to use swimming paddles

John Wood explains how to use, and train with, swimming paddles and how your swim technique can benefit from them

Paddles will help build strength through the arms and shoulders, but only if used correctly. © ÖTILLÖ Jakob Edholm

Paddles are often misused, and as a result can cause shoulder issues and injury. Having said this, when operated properly, they are a very useful tool and can be worth the small financial (and larger effort) investment.


Below, we’re going to explain how they help and how to use them, but if you’re in the market for some, check out our list of the best swim hand paddles.

How do swimming hand paddles help?

Hand paddles are primarily seen as a way of building pull strength in your arms, shoulders, and lats. This happens because you’re theoretically working with a bigger surface area than you would ordinarily pull with. 

However, it only holds true if you’re forming a connection with the water, engaging with your hands and pressing it back. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing you might drag your hand back flat, or push it through the water sideways – at which point a paddle won’t make any difference, other than putting more pressure on your shoulder stability.

How to swim with hand paddles

To make the most out of using paddles, you want to make sure they’re helping you to establish a good technique under the water. My recommendation is always to use the paddles without the wrist strap or side straps, and only use the main finger holds in the middle, regardless of the brand.

This set-up will force you to place your hand in the water smoothly and press backward throughout the stroke. Hopefully, it will result in you using your hands and arms as levers and connecting with the water, rather than spinning them over hoping to go somewhere! If you find that the paddle keeps coming away from your hands, slow things down as you may find that your hands are twisting under the water and allowing the paddles to pull away.

What size swim hand paddle should I use?

To get a good fit, paddles should be just larger than your hand. Any more than that could be too much on the large side and cause injury if you’re not able to control them. 

Remember, your cadence will be slower with paddles on, as you should be pushing a larger volume of water – but hopefully your pace will go up, similar to riding in a bigger gear on your bike.