My pool bag now includes the silly total of
five four five six five different types of paddles!
(Update 2013: I added another paddle and removed one, so I’m refreshing this review).
(Update March 2014: Added another paddle, subsequently removed yet another paddle. See below for comparison of PT Paddle and Complete Fitness Coaching Palm Paddle)
Warning: overdoing paddle work is a mistake easily made. I was already doing a lot of metres when I increased my paddle work, and I had shoulders able to take that increase, but overdoing paddle work, especially power paddles, can lead to real shoulder injury. Start very, very, very easy, with no more than 200 metres total, if you are not already using paddles.
1. I started years ago with Speedo Tech Paddles, medium size. Tech or technique paddles are designed mainly for aiding water-feel. They are to aid catch, early vertical forearm (EVF), strength and pull. A bit of a Jack-of-all-trades. They are good as first paddles. Useful for getting adding extra metres pulling to build up shoulder strength. Instead of putting the whole hand in the straps, once you adapt to using them, just use the middle finger loop to detect imbalances in stroke and catch. The rubber straps didn’t last well didn’t last and had to be replaced by bits of rubber tubing. I never use these any more and they are long gone.
2. My next and main paddles for a few years were Speedo Power Paddles. In 2009, Eilís has us doing a lot of paddle work in Channel training. Early on I was still using the tech paddles and hating them and paddle work in general. After one session with Rob Bohane, where I was killed, I decided to change my approach. So every day for the next month, I used the Power Paddles for warm-up After that I had no more problems. These are brutal on your shoulders if you are not used to them, injuries will result if you overdo them. You can also lose your feel for the water with these. Note: All the straps on this are only one piece of surgical tubing. When I use these I only use them with the middle finger loop. However I just left the rest of the tubing attached.
Speedo StrokeMakers are reported to be excellent and widely used by experienced swimmers in the US but aren’t available in Europe. SwimOutlet link.
3. Forearm Paddles. My forearm paddles were a cheap €1.50 generic version and consequently aren’t terribly comfortable but perfectly adequate. These ones on Amazon US are identical in shape and may be the only time in my life I’ve seen something more expensive in the US. Finis forearm bolsters should be more comfortable, as are
all some of their non-electronic products. The purpose of these is to work EVF and maximise catch and forearm pull. I often do 400m with these, combined with 400m fist drill or anti-paddles, as part of my warm up.
4. Speedo Finger Paddles. I got these on the recommendation of Channel swimmers and coaches Jen Schumacher and Nuala Muir-Cochrane. They allow you to focus on your catch and your pull and vertical forearm. I have also found they are good for lengthening your stroke and overall keeping good focus throughout most phases of the stroke. They are also great for backstroke catch and technique. Lower strap removed as these are purely for technique. These are still great paddles that I regularly use and remain my favourites.
5. Finis PT paddles, PT stands for “perfect technique”. These are also known as Anti-Paddles. Unlike all previous paddles which in some way enhance the arm or hand, these remove the hand completely from your stroke. Therefore they operate the same as fist drill . Your stroke becomes all about felling the water and Early Vertical Forearm, EVF, i.e. the pull from your forearms. They are also very effective in engaging your core and driving your balance. The first couple of lengths swimming with these is like swimming with a live weasel in each hand. I’ve seen a lighter hollow version somewhere, but these are heavy and solid, which is what drives you to engage your core to counter-balance them. And unlike fist drill, there’s no cheating with these. Your first few lengths after using them will give you a great feeling of power throughout your catch and pull. After about a year of year the external plastic casing on one cracked but they don’t seem to have deteriorated any further for the past two years.
Two years on and I’ve grown to really dislike the PT Paddle. The plastic case split more, and the internal foam structures absorbed far more water than I’d realised until I took them home for this update. Each PT paddle (with water) weighs about 350 grams, 3/4 of a pound. maybe 25% of that weight is absorbed water. Unlike most other paddles, all three “loops” in the tubing are needed to go on thumb and fingers to hold the paddle on while swimming, partially because of the weight, partially because of the design.
The weight is increasingly uncomfortable due to water absorption and the durability is typical of so many Finis products, who seem incapable of grasping late-20th Century Qualify Manufacturing tools. I would love to know that their DPPMs (defect parts per million) are on their various products. I had a look on Finis’ website (just trying to find things on their utterly crap flash website can give you a headache), and can’t find the PT Paddle anymore. I suspect it’s another product that’s been removed due to, well, being so badly made.
6. Finis Agility paddles. After being introduced in 2102, I first got a chance to use these in early 2013 and immediately bought a pair and have been using them very regularly since. These are now my favourite paddle and I regularly use them in conjunction with the finger paddles. Finis Agility paddles have no strap and fit on each hand using a simple thumb hole. In order to keep them on your hands during the stroke you must keep a good catch and pull through on every stroke. (Since using these I have also reduced my use of power paddles). Everyone who has tried this has felt the immediate technique feedback. These may be the best paddles on the market. And if you want just one paddle, I’d recommend these. They can also be used for all strokes.
Coach Martin Hill contacted me a few months ago to ask if I wanted to try out his new Palm Paddle, versus the PT Paddle.
I’ve had the PT Paddles for a couple of years and as I updated above, increasingly came to dislike them. All fist drill type products aren’t particularly fun to swim with, eliminating, as is their purpose, the propulsive effect of the hand to develop catch, EVF and forearm pull.
The Palm Paddle in the antithesis of the PT Paddle. A hollow single-part blown-plastic paddle, with a single tube loop for the centre finger. It weighs one-tenth of the PT paddle. It is also significantly narrower, only about two-thirds of the width.
I have small to medium-sized hands (no sniggering there) and the PT paddle completely fills the hand, whereas the Palm Paddle sits more in the centre with the hand protruding to either side, and the curve of the paddle is less than the PT. This means it doesn’t slip as easily, i.e. it does catch the water a little more than the PT.
Apart from the weight, I like that it only requires a single finger, as this is how most paddles are better used. Also the light weight provides stroke feedback that the PT paddle doesn’t, which is that it can slip sideways on your hand, particularly at the end of the pull (for me) if the pitch of the hand is wrong. That said, I found a slight uncomfortable tensing of my hand because of the width toward the end of a 400 metre drill because I was cupping my hand.
I compared my normal stroke without paddles, to wearing Palm Paddles, to wearing PT Paddle in swim speed terms (while maintaining a moderate pace). Palm Paddles added about 10 seconds per 50m, whereas the PT added double that. Since fist drills are not about speed but about learning to maximise the catch, that means the PT paddle is more effective at eliminating any propulsion from the hand. However I also think it adds too much body rotation as because of the weight and they are not pleasant to wear and regularly slip.
While the PT paddles are better at eliminating the hand to focus on EVF, the fact the Palm Paddles are more comfortable to swim with, while still performing the same task, means you will use them more regularly than the PT Paddles. I’ve now removed the PT Paddles from my pool gear bag.
So on the face of it, having
five four five six five pairs of paddles seems like overkill. But each performs a specific useful technique and training task.