I’m sure you’ve heard of or swam with swim fins before, but not as many have heard of or tried swimming with the hand equivalent: swim gloves and paddles.
Between these two, swim gloves are lesser known but work similarly to paddles: they increase your hands’ surface area to increase the water resistance, allowing you to pull more water and get a better upper body workout.
The main differences between swim gloves and paddles are that swim gloves feel more natural because they can adhere to the natural curvature of your fingers. Swim gloves also increase the surface area of your hands via webbed fingers. That said, they can also promote a bad habit of swimming with your hands wide open which is not an issue that swim paddles suffer from. Between these two, swim paddles are considered the superior option.
In this article, I want to discuss these two swimming aids and how they can help you improve your swimming ability. Between swim gloves or paddles, which one should you get?
What do swim gloves and swim paddles do?
As mentioned, the general concept is that both of these training aids will increase the surface area of your hands which increases water resistance.
If you are a shorter swimmer and want to generate the same kind of thrust that a taller swimmer with bigger hands can, then training with these tools is a great way to accomplish that.
Swim gloves are similar to regular gloves in that there are open finger versions and closed finger versions.
Where they differ from regular gloves is that they have webbing between the fingers and they are made from neoprene – the classic wetsuit, dive glove, and dive hood material.
Being made from neoprene, swim gloves are excellent insulators and will keep your hands warmer. That said, that’s not what they are used for – you can just wear dive gloves for that.
Swim gloves increase the resistance of your hands underwater which allows you to pull more water with each stroke. The increased resistance will also give your arms and shoulder muscles quite the workout.
Unlike swim paddles, for you to experience this increased resistance, you must keep your fingers wide open for the webbing to stretch out and increase drag.
This design is also the swim gloves’ major downside: it promotes the bad habit of swimming with your fingers wide open. If you take the gloves off and try swimming like that, you will find it extremely ineffective.
The basic design of a swim paddle is so straightforward it’s almost comical. It’s literally a flat piece of plastic you strap to the palm of your hand to increase water resistance.
The most old school design is a rectangular piece of plastic with straps on it. Nowadays, the design may have more curves and other interesting shapes to them.
Additionally, modern swim paddle design sometimes removes the need for straps as this can get in the way of your training.
However, if you’re just starting out and struggling to keep the swim paddles on your hands, then get a set with a finger and removable wrist strap so you can adjust it as needed.
Swim paddles are more heavily favored than swim gloves because you can practice your swim techniques with your hands positioned as you normally would without gloves or paddles on, so it doesn’t reinforce any bad techniques.
Should a beginner wear swim gloves or swim paddles?
The consensus among the swimming community is that swim paddles are better than swim gloves as a training aid.
If your goal is to improve your swim technique and not just to have fun in the water, then a swim paddle can do both.
Here’s how. First, if you are not swimming with the correct technique, it is harder to keep the swim paddles on your hands even if you have straps on.
This sounds like a downside, but in practice, it reinforces better arm and hand movement patterns that can benefit you even when you take them off.
Compare this to swim resistance gloves that not only forces you to spread your fingers out (a bad technique in itself), but you don’t really think about how your hand enters the water because you don’t get any negative feedback.
A lot of beginners prefer to wear swim gloves because it conforms to the shape of their hand and feels more natural. Swim paddles are very stiff and unforgiving, but that’s also what makes them effective as a training aid.
Do swim gloves or swim paddles help you swim faster?
Swim gloves and swim paddles can help you swim faster as you’re wearing them, but can also improve your speed after you take them off.
The reason is that once you get used to swimming against the increased water resistance with them on, the normal resistance of the water will feel much easier to overcome after taking them off.
Suddenly, you will feel like you can effortlessly glide through the water. This is beneficial both mentally and physically. If you feel like you’re gliding through the water, it can lead to better swimming performance.
But what you’re experiencing isn’t just in your head. By training with swim gloves or swim paddles, you are building muscle and strength as you overcome the increased resistance that they cause.
Training purposes aside, you can also just wear them for recreation to see how fast you can swim. You can also see how fast you can swim a mile with them on or some other fun challenge like that.
Can you build muscles with swim gloves and swim paddles?
Yes, because wearing these training aids can help satisfy one of the most basic requirements of building bigger and stronger muscles: putting your muscles against greater resistance.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but the increased resistance provided by the gloves/paddles are so beneficial.
The increased resistance is what helps you swim faster with the paddles on. It’s also what allows you to build your muscles so you can pull water even harder and faster after you’ve taken them off.
Between these two training aids, swim paddles will create a higher level of water resistance due to its rigidity.
How to choose the right swim paddle size
I’ve already established that swim paddles are the preferred training aid in the swimming community, so this advice applies to swim paddles only.
The size of the paddle is arguably the most important consideration when choosing one.
Too big, and it may introduce too much water resistance for you to handle, causing unnecessary strain on your shoulders. This can lead to injury which is what we want to avoid at all costs.
Too small, and it won’t increase the water resistance much at all. It would give you barely any advantage compared to just swimming without them.
The sweet spot for swim paddle size is around 20-25% larger than the size of your hand.
Before buying a swim paddle, measure out your hand when it’s relaxed. Keep these dimensions in mind and buy a swim paddle 20-25% larger than your hand dimensions. Properly sized swim paddles should extend further than your middle finger.
Does the paddle shape matter?
Nowadays, there are many paddle shapes and designs. They each have their own advantages which I cover below.
- Rectangular paddles: The most popular, basic type of swim paddle. It has a large surface area and increases the resistance the most.
- Power paddles: These paddles are designed to mimic the shape of your hands and increase their surface area. They have vents to allow water to flow through them (which naturally happens when hands pull the water).
- Finger-tip paddles: These smaller paddles increase the surface area around your fingertips. This helps train your sculling technique to teach you how to pull more water with your bare hands.
- Freestyler paddles: This paddle is designed to help you train for swimming freestyle; it has an arrow shape that cuts down resistance but increases distance to the hand entry and encourages a cleaner pull backward.
- Anti-paddles: Using these paddles feels like you’re closing your hand around a baseball while trying to pull through the water. Swimming with them forces you to use your forearms to generate propulsion instead of your hands.
Photo Credit: Aleksander Durkiewicz, CC BY-SA 4.0