Swim paddles are an excellent tool for getting stronger in the water and improving technique. Here’s a breakdown of the best paddles for swimmers.
From beginner to elite, swim paddles are among the favorite pieces of equipment on the pool deck.
The reason is simple: Similar to using fins or flippers on our feet can help develop strength and power in our lower body, strapping on a set of paddles along with our favorite pull buoy can give our upper body a power-based pounding, helping strengthen our stroke and pulling motion.
For a few fleeting moments we get to experience increased levels of speed, while also doing swim-specific strength building.
Based on my nearly three decades in and around the pool here are is my list of the best swim paddles out there for the chlorinated athlete.
1. Speedo Power Plus Paddles
The Speedo Power Plus hand paddles are my favorite go-to pool paddle for developing a stronger pull in the water.
I have a black set currently in my mesh swim bag and have been using them regularly over the past three years. The straps on them have not disintegrated whatsoever, which is remarkable given their daily use and my complete lack of care (you should rinse your swim gear from time to time) for them.
Nearly daily I use them for pull work (I eat up paddle/band/pull buoy sets like dessert). These hand paddles have served me well over the years and will continue to do so.
The Speedo Power Plus Paddles come in four different color combinations and four different sizes, from small to X-Large, and retail for around $20.
2. FINIS Agility Paddles
While Speedo is the big name in swimming equipment, whether it’s with swim caps, goggles, or swimsuits, FINIS has quietly become the pioneering swim brand. From their swimmer’s snorkel, to the Tempo Trainer Pro, to their Monofin, FINIS produces a line of bad-ass swim gear developed for high performance in the water.
The FINIS agility paddle is no exception. The first time you look at them you can be forgiven for being confused—they look more like a pair of plastic plates than paddles. No straps? No holes to pass water?
The Agility paddles’ biggest feature is that they come without straps to keep the paddles attached to your hand. Instead, there is just a small hole to slide your thumb. This unique design promotes great technique in the water, as the moment your hand entry starts to get sloppy, the paddle will slide off.
Although I always get some furrowed brows when I show these paddles to swimmers, they are an excellent and hand paddle that can be used with all four strokes in the water.
3. MP Michael Phelps Strength Paddle
When Michael Phelps and Speedo parted ways in 2014, we all knew that Phelps would come out with a line of gear of his own. Since then there have been the MP Michael Phelps Xceed goggles, his Xpresso tech suit, and of course, a set of swim paddles.
Designed with the help of Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman, the MP Strength Paddle mimics the structure of the human hand, has an elevated palm for better ergonomics, and vents that simulate water rushing between your fingers to make the added propulsion as natural as possible.
The MP Michael Phelps Strength Paddles come with finger and wrist straps (the latter of which you can easily remove if you want to place more emphasis on a clean hand entry) that can be adjusted to the size of your hand. , and are available in three different sizes. While you might not be able to swim like the greatest swimmer of all time, you can rock out in the pool and develop a stronger pull with his hand paddles.
4. Arena Flex Paddles
Departing from the usual plastic dinner plates that swimmers strap to their hands is the Arena Flex paddle, which is a mesh paddle that doesn’t provide the same amount of propulsion, but they are also not as hard on the shoulders as your traditional plastic paddle.
The Arena Flex Hand Paddles have a flexible surface that is made of mesh that flexes to the unique grooves and contours of your palm and fingers, giving you an enhanced feel for the water and a more comfortable fit on your hand.
These swim paddles are more for technique improvement, as the added resistance of the mesh and the fact that water flows through the mesh will really force you to focus on achieving a better early vertical forearm. The Arena Flex paddles can be interchanged with your regular plastic paddles which are more suited for power and strength development.
The Arena Flex comes in three different color combinations and retails for around $20, making it an awesome and cost-effective tool for working your stroke and strengthening your pull at the pool.
5. FINIS Freestyler Paddles
As you can probably guesstimate by the name of the paddle this one is made for you freestylers out there (present company included). I’ve found that they are especially popular with triathletes, who train a majority of freestyle in the pool.
The Freestyler is designed in such a way that it encourages a longer stroke and proper hand entry. Because there are no wrist straps, a poor hand entry will leave the paddle twisted on your hand. The shape of the paddle also pushes you to really reach at the beginning of your stroke, extending distance per stroke.
The Freestyler paddles are a great beginner hand paddle for newer swimmers who are more focused on fine-tuning their technique and learning the most efficient ways to move through the water. Also, because the paddles don’t have a frisbee amount of surface area, they are easier on your shoulders and elbows compared to some of the bigger, more strength-oriented pool paddles on the market.
Fun facts about the FINIS Freestyler paddles:
- They have adjustable rubber straps for your fingers.
- They come in only the standard FINIS-yellow (seriously, all of FINIS swim gear is made in this same shade of yellow).
6. Arena Elite Fingertip Paddles
Lastly, we have a specialized paddle that won’t really give you the standard benefits of using paddles (building strength and swimming really, really fast).
The purpose of finger paddles is to help you power up the farthest reaches of your stroke—the point where your fingertips begin the pull. The very top and beginning of the stroke. The small surface area of the paddles highlights the “feel for the water” in your fingers.
Fingertip paddles will also help you emphasize a “fingers down” pulling motion and help you avoid pushing down on the water, and instead of pulling it back. Fingertip paddles are also ideal for doing sculling work.
The Arena Fingertip Swim Paddles are my favorite of this sub-niche of pool paddles, as the dual straps help to keep the paddles in place (even when your technique falters and the paddle tries to slide off). Arena offers them in three different colors, including lime green and pink, for around $14.
7. Strokemaker Hand Paddles for Swimming
These paddles have been around pool decks for a long time. I remember them filling up our equipment bin during my age group swimming days–we’d scramble through the bin to find matching sets before those dark early morning swim practices more times than I can count.
The Strokemakers are old school paddle that has taken up a couple of updates over the years, and this recent edition is their most durable Strokemaker Paddle to date.
Designed by longtime swim coaches, the Strokemaker features vents to allow a slight amount of water to pass through and give you a more natural feel for the water. The paddles–especially when you take the wrist strap off–will coach you to not finish your arm pull too soon.
The Strokemakers come in a huge variety of sizes, and are right up there when it comes to the biggest swim paddles on the market. Strokemaker has a handy sizing chart that provides recommendations on paddle size depending on your age and experience level, with the size 0 paddles being best suited for swimmers aged 5-10 with the size 5 paddles being for the strongest swimmers in the pool.
Available in a wide range of colors, the Strokemaker Swim Paddles are long-lasting, designed for improving swim performance, and will help you exaggerate (and correct!) some of the more classic stroke errors in the water.
How to Choose the Right Paddles for Lap Swimming
Paddles are a great tool for building strength in the water. They over-exaggerate the amount of water you are pulling. Paddles help you to “catch” more water.
The result of using paddles in the pool is that you develop more power and strength through your catch and pull.
Paddles help you develop upper body strength, from your forearms to your back and chest, and of course, your shoulders.
They are also very handy as a technique-correction tool.
Removing the wrist strap when using them (and just using the small finger strap on your middle finger) reinforces the importance of entering the water cleanly with your hand.
And paddles, with the added surface area, encourage a more efficient pulling pattern by developing awareness of the pulling motion.
Here is what you need to know about choosing the right paddles for you and your swimming.
🔑 Paddle size.
Select paddles that are just larger than your hands. I know the temptation to get the biggest possible paddles is real—bigger paddles mean more power and more speed—but your priority with paddles is to progressively build strength, not blow your shoulders out.
Just like when you are choosing a pair of swim fins for training, the larger the tool, the slower your stroke tempo will be in the water. You want a paddle that balances power development with a stroke rate that is similar to your regular swimming to get the maximum benefit from them.
Paddles come in a variety of depths, shapes, and with or without vents to replicate the experience of swimming without paddles.
Speedo’s old-school paddles were a simple rectangular shape, but paddles have since transitioned into hand-like shapes that mimic our natural hand and finger positions in the water.
Some pool paddles are also raised and contoured in the middle to match your palm, but for the most part, swim paddles are flat.
🔑 Straps vs No straps.
Paddles are kept on the hand (usually) with a pair of rubber straps. A smaller one for the knuckle of your middle finger, and a second larger strap that goes around your wrist. Beginners to pool paddles will want to use both straps to get used to the feeling of swimming with them.
As you get comfortable, you can try removing the wrist strap to get the technique benefits of using hand paddles. Without the wrist strap you will have to really focus on putting full pressure on the water through the full stroking motion.
Lastly, there are some specialty paddles (the Agility Paddles) that are strapless and best suited for experienced swimmers.
The Final Lap
Swim paddles are one of my all-time favorite tools for mixing things up in the water.
Whether it’s doing a swim set with them (20×100 free with paddles is a favorite) or a pull buoy and paddles set (try this 500-400-300-200-100 set that US Olympic coach Gregg Troy loves), paddles are an excellent tool for faster swimming.
To recap our breakdown of the top paddles on the market:
⭐ Most swimmers will love the Speedo Power Plus Paddles, which come in a bunch of different colors and sizes. These paddles give you tons of flexibility with straps and they have vents to mimic the feeling of your natural swim stroke.
⭐ For a simple, old-school paddle, the Strokemakers Hand Paddles are an excellent option for younger swimmers (they have youth swim paddle sizes) and experienced swimmers alike.
⭐ More experienced swimmers will want to give the FINIS Agility swim paddles a try. With a strapless design, these paddles place an emphasis on helping you develop power while maintaining excellent technique in the water.
Whatever your goals are in the pool, the right set of swim paddles will help you get there. Choose the right paddles for you and get to paddlin’!
More Swim Gear Guides:
The 7 Best Goggles for Swimming. Confused about what kind of goggles to get? Here’s a breakdown on the best swimming goggles for fast swimming.
The Best 6 Swim Fins for Swimmers. Looking to get a new set of fins? Here are reviews of the best swim fins available for competitive swimmers.