Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hand Paddles for Swimming

The other day I decided to buy my own swim paddles.  Being relatively new to the sport, I had been using paddles from my pool.  One of my colleagues at work suggested paddles would be a good investment, especially when traveling as they pack flat.  I was overwhelmed by the choices that exist: big, small, flat, curved, straps, loops.
I went to the medical and exercise science research for some answers.  Here’s what I learned:
  • The use of hand paddles did not cause significant changes in hand placement and movement
  • Hand paddles increased swim speed, stroke length and stroke time.  These changes increase with bigger paddles
  • Hand paddles decreased stroke rate

I had read that hand paddles were to help with getting a feel for the “catch” and “pull”.  I know that if I don’t enter the water with my paddled hand right, it will get caught in the water and pulled in a funny direction.  However, the research doesn’t seem to support any lasting differences.
So, how can we use paddles more effectively?
One of the ways that I have started to use them is to employ Post-Activation Potentiation, or PAP.  I can best explain PAP like this: stand with your right side against a wall.  Lift your right arm to the side, pushing it against the wall.  Continue pushing against the wall for 20 seconds.  Now step away from the wall, you will feel like your arm is floating into the air by itself.
Using paddles, we can achieve the same effect.  Swim 50m with the large paddles, keeping your stroke rate normal.  By pushing your hands through the water, there is a large, almost isometric force across the arms.
Take a short break after the 50m and take off the paddles.
Start swimming again without the paddles and you will be able to turn over your stroke much faster and each stroke will seem easier.
Based upon this use of hand paddles, I opted for larger ones to get more resistance.  

Gourgoulis V. et al. The influence of hand paddles on the arm coordination in female front crawl swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 May; 23(3):735-40
Gourgoulis V. et al. Hand orientation in hand paddle swimming. Int J Sports Med. 2008 May;29(5):429-34. Epub 2007 Sep 18.
Gourgoulis V. et al. Effect of two different sized hand paddles on the front crawl stroke kinematics. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2006 Jun; 46(2):232-7.
Telles T, et al. Effect of hand paddles and parachute on the index of coordination of competitive crawl-strokers. J Sports Sci. 2011 Feb; 29(4):431-8.

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