Swimming… for some triathletes it’s natural and easy (i.e., those with a competitive swimming background). For the rest of us, it can be a huge challenge to learn the skills required for fast swimming, as adults. We end up learning as a hodgepodge of master’s sessions, advice from friends, advice from our coaches, and self-teaching. Self-teaching is the most effective method of learning (because even when a coach tells you something, you’re the one who has to master it, alone, during solo drill sessions). To make this easier, it’s a good idea to take advantage of tools that can help the process.
Balance is obviously the most important aspect of swimming to learn, as it forms the dividing line between “drowning” and “not-drowning.” But if you want to go fast, you also need to develop an effective and efficient pull phase. This is where the Finis PT Paddles come in. I’ve long been intrigued by these interesting, potato-shaped, paddles, so I ordered a pair from Aquagear Swim Shop.
The basic idea of PT Paddles is that they eliminate your hand from the swimming stroke. Swimming with PT Paddles feels similar to swimming with a closed fist, but it’s more effective than a closed fist at “eliminating your hand” for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s easy to “cheat” during fist swimming by opening your hand a little bit too much. 2) PT Paddles slip through the water easier than a fist, so they do an even better job of eliminating your hand than a closed fist does. Why is it good to eliminate your hands? Well… you can use PT Paddles to your advantage in a couple of ways….
During normal swimming (i.e. without PT Paddles), an early vertical forearm is a crucial component of the catch, and is vital to going fast. PT Paddles are a great tool for teaching the early vertical forearm. Here’s why… When your hands are eliminated, you need to find other anchoring surfaces to hold the water as you propel your body through the pool. Without hands, the most obvious surfaces are your forearms. But, the only way your forearms work as anchor points is if they’re vertical (perpendicular to your direction of motion). The PT Paddles encourage you to get an early vertical forearm, because you won’t go anywhere if you don’t get a vertical forearm with PT Paddles on. Using PT Paddles on both hands, while doing an otherwise regular swim stroke, is a great way to learn the movement patterns necessary for an early vertical forearm.
Another, less obvious use, is teaching yourself a finish. You can do one-arm swimming to work on your finish, and that’s good as basic drill work, but it’s lacking because it doesn’t simulate a natural swim stroke. Fortunately, the PT Paddles allow you to do one-arm swimming within the flow of a normal swim stroke. How? Put a PT Paddle on one hand, and a “regular” paddle on your other hand. All of a sudden, you’ve got one arm giving you a ton of propulsion (with the regular paddle), and one arm giving you almost no propulsion (with the PT Paddle). You learn very quickly to pull all the way through to the finish with your “regular” paddle hand. This is a drill I’ve been doing a TON lately, after video analysis showed that the finish on my pull is almost non-existent.
PT Paddles are a great tool, and I highly recommend including them in your swim gear bag. There are more drills you can do with these paddles, I just listed the two that I use most frequently. I have almost all of my athletes doing extensive PT Paddle drill sets at least 2-3 times per month. You wouldn’t necessarily use them for any “all out” sets, but they are extremely useful during warm-ups, and during “technical focus” workouts. But remember to check your ego at the door when you’re using PT Paddles, because when they’re on, expect to move through the water slowwwwwwwwwwly… haha! (although, that’s kind of the point, right?)
Until next time… keep training hard, and resting harder!