by Rich Strauss
I’m not big on triathletes and learned-to-swim-as-adult swimmers using paddles. I think it’s another symptom of the gear-geek mentality of triathletes: buying any tools you think you need vs learning the basics first and asking advice from smart people .
Paddles are made for guys like (the old, young, competitive swimmer) me: back in the day, the ability to put power to the water (vs technique, which was good) was an actual limiter. So paddles were invented as a form of very sport-specific resistance training. Paddles came in bigger and bigger sizes (more resistance). Then we’d add a wheelbarrow wheel innertube twisted around our ankles (more drag), then a drag suit (even more drag).
However, we had the technique first and, more importantly, years and years of swimming mileage in our shoulders, so more able to handle the strain that paddles put on our shoulders and therefore much lower risk of becoming injured.
- Don’t have that shoulder durability yet. Using paddles is a good way to injure yourself before you get that durability.
- The ability to apply power to the water is not yet a limiter. That is, body position, rotation and balance are the first things you need to address. Next comes putting power to the water through proper technique, ie, an effective catch and pull. Very last on the list is applying power to the water by being able to generate more power. I feel that by the time you’re at this place where the technique fundamentals of body position, rotation, balance and effective pull are dialed in, and the ability to generate more power is the last remaining limiter…you’re more than fast enough for a triathlete.
However, for triathletes, paddles can be a good tool to help you learn proper catch and pulling technique. The much greater surface area provides a LOT of feedback on the (in)effectiveness of your pull.
- Green Belt: pull with paddles, with the strap on your wrist, loop around your middle finger. Focus on a fast catch and facing the paddle straight back to the rear as quickly as possible, and maintain that rearward orientation throughout the pull.
- Brown Belt: only use the finger loop, no wrist strap. If your catch isn’t good, the paddle will slide around on your hand. Try to not have to grab it with thumb and pinky to keep it steady.
- Black Belt: no loop or strap, just hold the paddle. Grab it as your hand exits the water, release it after you initiate the catch, keep it pressed to your hand only with the force of your pull and the water.
Sets using brown and black technique should be performed like drill sets: 50-200yds at a time with lots of rest so you can focus on technique and process the feedback the paddle is giving you.