Thursday, December 13, 2012

FINIS Agility Paddle Review

As much as I like to make fun of the people who swim wearing fins, a snorkel, a pull buoy, and paddles all at once, extra swim gear does have a limited place in a quality swim training program.  Most of your swim training should be done without fins, paddles, and the like, since, well, that’s how you race. But integration of some training aids can help correct stroke errors and assist in muscle strengthening to improve one’s swimming overall. This is why I periodically break out the fins or the hand paddles for focused work during a swim workout, but not so often that I become dependent on them.

Hand paddles in particular can be helpful in correcting stroke errors, as they exaggerate any weaknesses in the catch or pull. One drill that is particularly effective for doing this is swimming with hand paddles WITHOUT the finger straps attached. Thus, hydrostatic pressure is the only way to keep the paddle from flying off the hand, so any point in the catch or pull with insufficient grab will immediately become apparent.

This drill, however, is impractical for longer sets, since, well, hand paddles go flying. FINIS, a swim gear manufacturer, solved this issue with the Agility Paddles, which are designed without straps in the first place. So when FINIS asked me if I’d like to review some of their gear, my soft spot for strapless paddle work led me right to these neat yellow paddles.

While the Agility Paddles don’t use straps, they do have neat little thumbholes to keep the paddles from flying away when the user fails to catch the water properly. 

As an added bonus, this means that it’s easy to release the paddle from your palm mid-set to adjust your goggles or grab your water bottle, which is a major annoyance associated with doing long sets with traditional hand paddles. And while that’s certainly a convenient feature, I was more interested in evaluating how the Agility Paddles stacked up against what FINIS promised.

The ergonomically advanced design of the Agility Paddles helps teach swimmers the correct palm positive hand position. Due to the paddles strapless design, incorrect technique will cause the paddle to fall off the swimmer’s hand. The Agility Paddles’ convex design also promotes an early catch and reminds the swimmer to maintain an early vertical forearm position. This versatile paddle works for all four strokes and accommodates most hand sizes.

All four strokes? Let’s see:

  • Freestyle: I started out testing the paddles with some easy freestyle, since I’d been feeling a dead spot in my left-hand catch for a few weeks. Sure enough, the paddle flicked away from my palm just where I thought it would, and about 100 meters later, I was consistently maintaining grab on the water throughout the stroke. That said, I had to slow down quite a bit to make this stroke correction, but this is typical for correction of any poor technique habits.
  • Butterfly: This stroke is conventionally considered a no-no with hand paddles because of the extensive shoulder strain it would cause. However, these paddles are designed to promote correct hand and forearm position, NOT to increase the force required with each pull. I was excited to try this stroke with paddles for a change, and found that it was, in fact, possible to do this without tearing up my shoulders. That said, I didn’t notice any benefit of doing so, possibly because I’ve always had a strong catch in my butterfly.

(Note: This is not me. This is a dude. Swimming butterfly with the Agility Paddles.)

  • Backstroke: My stroke. Hours upon hours every week went into making my backstroke stronger and more efficient, since the 100 and 200 back were some of my best events in college. This periodically involved using traditional hand paddles for workouts, so unlike my butterfly experience, this wasn’t anything new. However, since my stroke is pretty well refined, I didn’t notice any particular corrections to make when using the paddles, but somebody who has an improper hand entry probably would.
  • Breaststroke: As an occasional individual medley swimmer, I spent some time in my past life as a real swimmer making my breaststroke passable enough to get me between backstroke and freestyle. Some focused work on basic mechanics made this possible, and one of my major improvements involved narrowing my pull to maximize the effectiveness. With the Agility Paddles on, I found incredibly strong reinforcement of this key stroke technique, as improper widening of the pull was incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

In summary, the paddles do, in fact, work for all four strokes, and I can see how, for each stroke, they would promote effective technique while in use. I personally had a difficult time swimming at higher effort levels with them, since I found that I needed to focus on my technique. However, I’ve also found that after using them for a few hundred meters during warm ups, I self-correct the dead spot in the catch with my left hand. That’s a pretty easy technique improvement approach, and one that I plan to continue to use for a long time. These paddles have a permanent place in my swim bag now.


  1. I desperately need to work on refining my catch. I know they gave the paddles to you, but would you recommend the investment even if you had to buy them yourself? Are they that good?

    1. Absolutely. They're less than $20, which is a GREAT deal for potential stroke improvement.

  2. Thanks for the review! I'm still in the "newbie" stages of using swim aids like kickboards and sometimes fins. Sounds like a great product, though!

  3. I always wondered what paddles did/were supposed to do. I'm so new to any sort of technique work that I think I'd be terrified to use these now (for fear they'd float right off and whack my lane partner, because my stroke is so blech), but it does make me want to grab the paddles with straps at my pool and just see what it's like.

  4. That is so interesting about the paddles!

    When I swim my laps I do 90% of it without any gear. The other 10% I use the kickboard, buoy and hand paddles. Mostly to mix things up and make it interesting.

    Whenever I see people swimming with snorkels and stuff I want to tell them they are doing a disservice to themselves because they aren't building up their LUNG capacity! When I first picked up swimming after a decade off, I was amazed at how out of shape I was and not just because I was 100 pounds overweight. The breathing was SO hard when I swam! But practice made it so much easier and my lung capacity is amazing. I can run and bike and hike and I have NO issue with ever running out breath and I know that's entirely due to my swimming.

    1. As a swimmer (over 20 years worth including a big D1 program in college and all American awards)... it's actually not a disservice to use snorkels. As long as you use a snorkel meant for swimming laps. In college our coach put duct tape over the opening with a small slit so we could barely breathe. If you don't do that you are not necessarily working your lungs the same as no snorkel, but it's not that easy. Most importantly, using a snorkel can be one of the best ways to work on stroke technique. Too many swimmers lose all technique when they go to breathe and this allows you to do many stroke specific drills without worrying about proper breathing. I still use my snorkel occasionally, and seeing as I can do an open water 1500 in under 19 min at the start of a triathlon, I don't think it's causing any disservice to me.

    2. I agree that snorkels *do* have a place in swim training - as you note, to work on stroke technique in the absence of head turns to breathe. However, some people use them WAY too much, though clearly you aren't one of them.

  5. I still don't know how to use my hand paddles and are they are still in thier packaging. But these look cool. I must go out and buy this and add it to the gear collection.