Swimming with paddles: a training session to develop power

How to use hand paddles correctly, 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.


How to use swimming paddles

What’s the difference between finger paddles and hand paddles?

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


All +15secs rest 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)


All +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


+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 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.