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How to Choose Swim Paddles & Gloves

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

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 Paddles

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

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

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 Aids

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.


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2 years ago.
what is a more benefit for swimmer to swim with paddles
high speed short distances or race pace distances ?
3 years ago.
I am 74+ and like to swim 500 - 1000 meters occasionally, often in intervals of 100 or 200 m.. I have had rotator cuff surgery in both shoulders (respectively 10 and 17 years ago) with no problems. An acquaintance recently recommended that I try swim gloves because I only have one leg working due to a neurological condition and thus hardly any kick. Sounds like a good idea but after reading the pros and cons about gloves and paddles, I'm not so sure. Any advice?
3 years ago.
Swim paddles are going to put strain on your shoulders, it would be best to consult your physician before using theses.
3 years ago.
Can kids use paddles or is it too hard on their shoulders?
3 years ago.
Hello Susan,
As long as the swim paddles are correctly sized, they are perfectly fine for kids to use as long as there hasn't been a previous shoulder injury (then you would want to consult your child's physician).
Don Moore
3 years ago.
My comment is actually a question. Hope that is okay. I have a severely dislocated little finger. I have had this since my long ago water polo days in college. My problem is that the finger is no longer effective in helping my pull through the water with that hand. The question is... Will gloves work for me or would a smaller paddle be better? I have tried taping my finger to the one next to it, but haven't been able to make it work very well. Thank you for your time.
3 years ago.
Hi Don, with the info given paddles would be more effective while swimming than gloves.
4 years ago.
How do you correctly measure hand circumference?
4 years ago.
Hi Cindy,
Measure around your hand with a fabric-measuring tape. You will measure across your palm. Hope this helps!
3 years ago.
What is the circumference? The sizing chart is 7"-8". My daughter has very small hands but when I measure all the way around her hand at the widest point it is 8". If I just measure the length of her palm from right to left it is 4". So I'm confused.
3 years ago.
Hello Annette,
Most of the hand paddles measure the width of your palm, not the circumference. You would want to find a paddle to fit a 4" palm width.
5 years ago.
Thankyou very helpful, as we need paddles for training this week.
Ruby Sandy-Mills
6 years ago.
The information was very helpful. Thanks!
6 years ago.
You're welcome Ruby! We're glad this helped you out. Have a great day!
tri jim
8 years ago.
some paddles have strap to keep them on. water and sunlite break them down and the straps are hard to replace.
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