Using hand paddles during swimming is a common practice in the sport. Although many swim coaches use hand paddles for training, do they consider how swimming hand paddle training influences swimming biomechanics? Utilizing paddles during training likely will alter biomechanics, but how does the paddle size change biomechanics? Shouldn't this be a consideration considering the arms produce approximately 85% of the propulsion in front-crawl stroke?
In a recent study, twenty swimmers (10 men and 10 women), members of the same squad, participated in this study. They were matched in pairs according to 50-m freestyle performance in the previous season and gender, and were randomly assigned to either control (CON, 22.4 ± 2.3 years; 70.5 ± 10.5 kg; 1.72 ± 0.08 m; hand area: 156 ± 20 cm2 ; short-course 50 m freestyle: 31.08 ± 4.73 s) or hand paddles (HPD, = 21.8 ± 1.9 years; 65.5 ± 12.8 kg; 1.70 ± 0.11 m; hand area: 149 ± 25 cm2 ; short-course 50 m freestyle: 30.17 ± 4.63 s) groups.
After two introductory weeks (weeks 1 and 2) of low-to-moderate training sessions (same for both groups), the 6-week monitored training period started. During the first 4 weeks (weeks 3–6), both groups performed the same in-water training (5 days per week, i.e., Mon–Fri, 1 training session/day, 10,758 ± 1,172 m/week, distance distribution across low, moderate and high-intensity zones according to the coach’s intended prescription: 69 ± 6%, 22 ± 4% and 8 ± 3%, respectively) and an additional experimental sprint training set, which consisted of 10 × 10 strokes (i.e., five complete cycles) at maximal intensity from a push-off start, with 1-min rest. CON performed the experimental set without paddles, whereas HPD used commercially available hand paddles (Stroke Maker, Pro Swim®).
A 2-week taper period was conducted in the weeks 7 and 8, when the dry-land training was ceased, and the in-water training volume was progressively reduced (Week 7 = 7,300 m and Week 8 = 6,250 m) while intensity was maintained.
Swimming Hand Paddle Training Doesn't Change Biomechanics
The results demonstrated that this implement failed to induce changes in swimming performance, clean swimming speed, stroke rate, stroke length and tethered force after a 4-week intervention period.
Questions and Concerns
Clearly, doing 10 strokes isn't the most common form of training with hand paddles. Also, using one type of hand paddle size isn't the common means of hand paddle training. Another difference is swimmers are not just utilizing hand paddles training for 4-weeks.
These results are slightly different than previous studies, as the researcher's note in this study:
"[P]revious studies investigated diﬀerent implements (elastic tube, bowl, parachute and push-oﬀ points), training frequencies (3 to 4 times per week), sets (1 to 3 sets per session) and durations (from 3 to 12 weeks). They all reported that the improvements in competitive performances were greater in the intervention groups than in the control groups (Girold et al., 2006; Gourgoulis et al., 2019; Mavridis et al., 2006; Toussaint & Vervoorn, 1990), and this may be of great practical relevance. While some source of errors can be raised (e.g., biological maturity, unmatched number of participants in the groups, and adherence to the training programme), their results indicate that the in-water resistance training can be eﬀective to improve swimming performance."
However, if a swimmer is utilizing hand paddles for 4-weeks of sprint swimming, then it is unlikely to alter your swimming biomechanics.
- Barbosa A.C, Leis L.V, Ferreira T.H.N, Gourgoulis V, Barroso R. Does a 4-week training period with hand paddles affect front-crawl swimming performance? Journal of sports sciences. 2020;(2020). doi:10.1080/02640414.2019.1710382