Swim paddles (in my opinion) are useful for developing swim-specific strength, especially in the shoulders and lats. I prefer Strokemakers:
Strokemakers are the classic paddle for competitive swimmers. At various points in my swimming career I’ve used Green #1s, Yellow #2s, Red #3s, and Blue #4s. As a Masters swimmer, I use Reds. As an open-water and marathon swimmer, I feel that the strength I develop with these paddles (which some have derogatorily described as “dinner plates”) helps me power through waves and chop in rough-water conditions.
(Note: I have no financial relationship with the company that makes Strokemakers. Every one of their products I own, I’ve paid for. I just like their paddles.)
There’s a catch, though: It’s probably a bad idea to use these paddles as a beginning (or even intermediate-level) swimmer. You can hurt yourself! Certain stroke flaws (thumb-first entry, crossing over the mid-line, dropping your elbows on the catch), combined with paddles, can lead to rotator cuff injuries.
How do you know if your technique is good enough to start using “power paddles” such as Strokemakers?
I’d like to suggest a simple rule of thumb: If you can swim with the FINIS Agility paddles without struggling to keep them on your hands, your technique is probably good enough for power paddles.
Karen has a nice description of how the Agility paddles “test” your technique.
Important caveat: If at any point you develop shoulder pain while using paddles, stop using them immediately!
I received a complimentary pair of Agility paddles from FINIS at Jamie’s swim camp a few months ago. I have no trouble keeping them on, but I still use them occasionally because of how well I can feel the initial “catch” of my stroke. I think of the Agility paddles as feel for the water paddles, in contrast to the Strokemaker power paddles.
I was happy to hear recently that FINIS is now selling three sizes of Agility paddles – small and large, in addition to the original size (now called “medium”). I always felt the original Agility paddles were a bit too small for my hands, so if I were in the market for new ones, I’d get the Large.
One final note: as usual, I find Terry Laughlin’s perspective on this to be overly simplistic and dogmatic.