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Home / Training / Swim / Swimming with paddles: a training session to develop power

Swimming with paddles: a training session to develop power

Performance coach Richard Smith explains how to use hand paddles correctly in order to give your stroke an early-season power boost

Credit: Rem Whiting

Triathletes love gear! And when it comes to swim paddles many think bigger is better and more powerful. But, if you don’t have sound technique, is just the quickest route to shoulder injuries, and not faster swimming.

While developing your stroke and specific shoulder strength, invest in technique paddles that will enhance biofeedback (feel of the water) when performing technique drills. Attach paddles to your hands loosely and don’t grip them. If they move rather than catch water in certain phases of your stroke, you’ll feel this and can then focus your attention on fixing this part of your stroke to generate more powerful propulsion.

Once you’ve honed your technique you can then start to introduce paddles in conditioning sets in order to develop strength and more power through your stroke. You can also use power sets such as this session that contrast paddle swims with non-paddle swims, which again focus on improving power through key phases of your stroke.

The session


Rest for +15secs after each set. Do poolside dynamic shoulder mobility & band work pre-session.

  • 4 x 100m easy build swim, 1-4 progressive
  • 4 x 25m front sculling*
  • 4 x 25m transition sculling front to back*

*Option to wear finger paddles

Main set

All with +15secs rest, wearing freestyle paddles.

In both these drills, focus on clean smooth entry and a high elbow catch.

  • 4 x 50m as: 25m single-arm drill, focus on catch; 25m swim
  • 4 x 50m as: 25m ‘broken arrow’ drill; 25m swim

Contrast conditioning set

All with +20secs rest.

  • 3 x 100m swim with paddles
  • 100m swim as: 8 strokes fists only; 8 strokes open hand
  • 100m swim with paddles building effort up to threshold
  • 100m swim at threshold
  • 100m easy recovery


  • 4 x 50m as: 25m front crawl into tumble turn; 25m backstroke from turn

Adapt for beginners

Use smaller paddles for the main set until you have sound stroke technique. Reduce the reps in the main conditioning set.

Adapt for Ironman

Progress to bigger paddles when your stroke technique and shoulder strength have developed to encourage greater contrast and develop more power.

3 hand paddle tips

Pick the right paddles

Take qualified advice before buying paddles. Specific technique paddles are more useful and have a lower risk of injury for age-groupers.

Try power paddles

Once you’ve mastered good front crawl technique, you may consider using larger hand paddles in power/speed sets. Expect greater fatigue and stop if you feel shoulder pain.

Add resistance

For progressive power/strength sets, use hand paddles with a resistance parachute, drag shorts or a bungy. But only progress to these once you’ve mastered sound stroke technique.

Profile image of Richard Smith Richard Smith Performance coach


An MSc sports science and coaching post graduate, Richard has over 20 years experience of working and coaching in elite sports programmes, including 10 years heading up England Cricket's sports science and medicine programme and as a conditioning coach, sports scientist and sport and remedial massage therapist. Richard's involvement in triathlon and open-water swimming started as part of a development project over 20 years ago, as the first sighted guide to paralympic/paratriathlon athlete Tim Reddish. Since then he's raced around the world over all distances up to Ironman, and coached/tutored on numerous training camps, coaching workshops and seminars. Based in the South West region for the past 5 years, Richard has helped to establish and coach with two triathlon clubs (Trowbridge Hot Chilli Tri & Frome Tri Club) local to training lake, Vobster Quay. He's also established and event directed a series of high quality open-water swimming and triathlon events at Vobster Quay. Richard coaches across all three disciplines of triathlon (swim, bike and run), and all aspects of open-water swimming from safe introduction to the open-water swimming environment through to advanced training plans, event preparation and 'race craft/strategy'. As a sports scientist, conditioning coach and sports therapist Richard can also offer an 'holistic' package of advice, coaching and support at all levels.