Swim paddles and gloves are worn during swim practice — often in conjunction with a pull buoy — to help swimmers improve arm and shoulder strength, as well as stroke technique. A very popular piece of swimming gear, they are used by everyone from recreational lap swimmers to Olympians. Much like the swimmers who use them, not all swim paddles are created equal. Depending on your skill level and favorite form of water exercise, some paddles and gloves will be more appropriate for you than others. This guide will help you find the gloves/paddles that are perfect for your needs.
Swim paddles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from large to small, and from flat to curved. Traditional paddles are made of stiff plastic and have a circumference slightly larger than your hand. The size of the paddle determines the amount of resistance: The bigger the paddle, the more effort it will take to move it through the water.
Paddles with holes allow water to flow freely through the paddle, reducing the resistance to allow a natural stroke pattern. As a rule, swimmers should start with a paddle that is only slightly larger than their hand and slowly build up to bigger paddles with more resistance.
Flat Swim Paddles
Serious lap swimmers love these classic pieces of training equipment. Flat swim paddles come in many shapes and sizes; from triangular, to rectangular, to roughly hand-shaped. Some come with holes that allow water to flow through the blade, while others are solid. Flat swim paddles are good for all lap swimmers, although beginning lap swimmers should be careful and maintain focus technique when using them.
Ergonomic swim paddles reflect advances in design and comfort. With curves that mimic the natural shape of your hand when pulling underwater, and silhouettes that closely mirror the outline of your hands, these paddles allow swimmers to get the benefit of resistance training without disrupting technique. Like their flat counterparts, these paddles come in designs with both holes and without, and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Larger, solid paddles (no holes) provide more resistance. Ergonomic paddles are excellent for beginning lap swimmers and advanced swimmers alike.
Specific-use paddles are designed for use only during a single stroke or technique. There are several freestyle-only paddles. These usually feature a triangular design. There are also "catch" paddles, intended to help develop the catch of the stroke, rather than the entire underwater pull. Catch paddles are generally smaller, and worn just under the fingertips.
Since these types of paddles have such specialized uses, they will be used less frequently than regular paddles, but can help areas of stroke weakness. Specific-use paddles are appropriate for advanced swimmers, or when training with a coach or instructor.
Swim gloves are soft neoprene gloves with webbed fingers that, when spread wide, give athletes a little extra resistance in the water. While lap swimmers can use swim gloves, gloves require spread fingers to create resistance, a habit that is counterproductive for swimmers. Some open water swimmers may prefer to use these for occasional training in lakes and oceans for their ease of use and extra insulation, but aqua joggers and water aerobics enthusiasts make up the bulk of swim glove users. Swim gloves' comfortable fit makes them ideal for long periods of use in the water, and they provide safe levels of resistance in the water.
Anti-swim training aids do the opposite of swim paddles; they decrease resistance in the water, forcing swimmers to use their forearms, kick, and body position to generate momentum instead.
Fulcrum or anti-swim paddles are the opposite of all other paddles listed above, in that they decrease your hands' resistance in the water. They feature a curved or pointed surface — rather than a flat one — and helps swimmers develop a more efficient stroke. Anti-swim aids are not used quite as widely as traditional paddles, and will not improve shoulder strength and pull in the same ways.
Anti-swim gloves force the hands into a fist, thereby reducing your effectiveness while pulling. They are not very common as a training aid, and are usually only used for short periods of time in the water.
Consider buying a pull buoy to use with your paddles or gloves. Removing the need to kick further isolates your stroke, allowing you to concentrate on technique and build greater endurance.
Also remember that swim paddles place a lot of strain on your shoulders. Start out with small paddles (ones just slightly larger than your hands) and use them for short distances. This will help you avoid injures while you work your way up to larger paddles.
Also important to note: Many paddles are color-coded by size, so don't just choose one based on a color you like, as you may end up with a larger or smaller paddle than you want. Also, be wary of paddles with protruding surfaces — these will change the path of your hand underwater and the style of your stroke. These are best used under the supervision of a coach who can evaluate your technique as you swim.