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Sun 26th Jan 2020
Open water training with hand paddles
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Saturday 20th July 2013

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There is little as enjoyable as a nice open water training session on a sunny day - and thankfully we've had a few of those recently. However, are you really training, or just going through the motions while in open water? "Two laps today" is a pretty common session for many in our experience, with no particular time, distance or intensity objectives. Keep that going for too long, and you'll be losing rather than gaining fitness.

We've focussed on this particular issue previously, and in this new feature Lee Stanbury from Fit4Swimming ( suggests that you can spice up your open water swim training by using hand paddles and outlines some sessions and approaches to incorporating them into your sessions.

Open Water Swim Training With Hand Paddles

The Open Water and Triathlon Season is well under way and many swimmers are now taking their swim training out into open water, which is great, but do you ever wonder if the standard "mile across the bay or lake" is really improving your fitness to compete at the level you desire?

In the pool it's easier to hit your targets with the aid of a pace clock on the wall and the mere fact that you have a fixed distance, typically a 25-50m pool, to swim up and down in. During your open water swim training it's not quite as easy; many swimmers just swim a set distance and may well just swim at a fixed pace and this may not necessarily get you race fit, if that is what your goal is. What about something different...

Using Hand Paddles during your Open Water Session

Try spicing up your session by using hand paddles. Providing the wind is light so there is limited chop, hand paddles can really spice up your session. Using them for short sets rather than a non-stop mile swim could be the best approach. For some variety and training benefiit, try these simple but stimulating open water swim sets using your hand paddles.

As always just before swimming off with hand paddles on you may wish to consider some mobility on the shore line, 6-8 minutes should be enough to warm you up. Also try free swimming (without the use of hand paddles) of around 8-10 minutes as this will prepare your arms and shoulders reducing the risk of injury.

Hand paddles

(These sets are dependant on ability and fitness)

1) Point to Point Swim.

Try swimming to a fixed point of your chosen distance, rest for 1-2 minutes then return.

2) Interval sets.

Use the same point-to-points (e.g. marker buoys) but set yourself a target time. Try an output of around 80-90% effort; once you know how long it takes you to get to your point you can then use that as a holding time, add 60 seconds on top of that and then you have your off time.

For example, six point-to-point swim leaving off of three minutes. You will of course need a waterproof watch for this...

3) Fartlek -'Speed Play'

Another set you may wish to try could be a steady swim of 15 min during which you could simply aim for 12 strokes easy then 12 strokes fast, keep this going for the full 15 mins before resting.

4) Basic Sprint sets with Paddles

Try 20 strokes at 90% effort, then rest before repeating. An example set could be 12 sets of 20 strokes with 30 seconds rest. To start you may wish to do a few strokes easy and build up into the sprint strokes.

Hand paddles


However you decide to integrate hand paddles into your open water swim sessions remember these basic tips;

  • If you are new to hand paddles, do some work with them in a more controlled environment like the pool first before hitting the open water.
  • Don’t over do it - some small weekly sets are best, if your are in a pre competition phase you may overload too much with the over use of hand paddles.
  • If the wind is up and its choppy take additional care.

Lee Stanbury is a Head Swim Coach who runs Fit4Swimming (www.fit4swimming,com).

The BECO Power Paddle Hand Paddle is currently available from with a 12% discount - enter 'BECO12' at the checkout if ordering online.

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