Swimrun: Training with Hand Paddles

Swimrun Strength Endurance

Markus from the mighty ‘German Sparkle Party’ racing Breca Buttermere 2016 & showing us how its done!!

Strength Endurance pretty succinctly summarise what swimrun swimming is all about. Dragging yourself in your wetsuit, race bib, pull buoy, shoes and socks through large expanses of open water for stints that can stretch to well over a kilometre. And if you are looking to go fast you will almost certainly want to use hand-paddles. All of these factors lead to a massively increased load on the shoulders during swimrun swimming when you compare it to normal laps in the pool. So Strength endurance is key.

How to Build Up to Race Day

Hand Paddle Selection

Like with so many things in life, start small and work your way upwards, Rome was not built in a day and your upperbody strength wont be either. To much to soon = sore shoulders, injury and set back. If you have some experience using hand paddles then by all means use the ones you have, provided they are not to big. If not, i suggest starting with finger paddles. Here are some you can easily get online: http://www.wiggle.co.uk/speedo-biofuse-finger-paddle/  As you can see by following the link, hand paddles are pretty cheap so growing into larger sizes is not going to break the bank.

Swim Technique

If you are new to swimrun and are using hand paddles for the first time you may find the hand paddles slipping off while swimming. If this is the case there is a strong possibility that you have an issue with your swim technique. One very common thing  is dropping the elbow during the catch part of the stroke. If this happens the paddle can start to slip off meaning you will really struggle. If this is happening its time to get some help as you need to have a half decent stoke to use hand paddles. A good test for this is to use a hand paddle that has no straps. This means you must keep pressure on the paddle in the right direction during the stroke, if you don’t they will slip off. These particular paddles are great for technique and come in different sizes:  http://www.wiggle.co.uk/finis-agility-paddle/

Building Up Over Time.

Now (January) is the best possible time to start building up swimrun strength endurance. Start incorporating the hand paddle swimming into your sessions now and build up that strength endurance. Like anything your body and muscles will adapt, but it takes time. Gradually  you will be able to increase the load and duration, so by the time the season comes around you will be ready for the open water sessions in a wet suit….. and Shoes!!

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

If you have ever raced or seen a race over in Sweden (the home of swimrun) you can’t help but notice some Swedish thoroughbreds using bloody great dinner plates they call hand paddles. Yes this might work for them, but everyone knows a tiny chassis cant support a huge engine. If you weight 50 kilos then dare i say monstrous sized hand paddles are not going to do you any favours. Use the pre-season to find your suitable hand paddle size. You must be able to maintain technique, keep a decent stroke turnover and most importantly not overload your shoulders. If in doubt stick with the smaller paddles for this season and re asses next year.

Ankle Bands & Drag Pants.

As your swimrun training progresses its worth incorporating some kind of drag into your training. This will go some way to simulate what it is like to swim with your trainers on. Start off with a pull buoy and strapping on an ankle band (simply ties your ankles together to stop you kicking, very easy to home make) and doing some lengths like this. If this becomes easy you can try removing your pull buoy which will cause your feet to start to sink, increasing drag. Another option to use drag is ‘drag pants’ which catch the water as you swim. A cheaper alternative to buying drag pants is just to swim with baggy board shorts on!! Either way it makes life harder and increases the load.

Resistance Work

Finally doing some on land strength work is going to really help set you up for getting the best from hand paddles. Press ups and wide arm pull ups are a great start to building up some upper body. Then if you want to add in a little more; some triceps dips along with some resistance band work will really help, especially if you have limited  pool time. Check out this specific band work out article:  9 Stretch Cord Exercises To Improve Swim Strength And Technique


Constancy, perseverance and discipline. Want to improve rapidly and successfully then stick to the plan. Don’t skip sessions, keep working at it. There is so much literature out there pointing to success coming from dedication to training/practice more than any other factor.  The most ‘talented’ performers are simply the most dedicated trainers. Building up your strength endurance ready for the swimrun season requires focused training and consistency. Start this week and build to the summer!





Winter Long Runs: Build a Solid Training Base


Winter Training

As the early season training starts to take shape locking in some good long runs is really important. Long runs don’t have to be fast because its simply about getting in some long and steady endurance as a solid foundation on which more training can be built on. In many ways winter long runs are like laying the foundations of a building, if you go straight into building the house with out the foundations things will go wrong. This can be similar for running, going to hard and fast too early can cause injuries.

Top Tips for Your Long Runs:

Run with Friends:

Find a friend or a group of friends to do the runs with. If you lack motivation lock in some accountability. If your going with friends then you have to do the run! Furthermore what better chance to catch up and talk rubbish, these runs are intended to be at a conversational pace.

Reward Yourself Post Run:

Finish up with lunch or breakfast afterwards. Again there is less chance you will bail out on the run if you are heading to a pub or restaurant for some food and drink afterwards.

Discover Some New Long Run Routes:

If you are going to run with friends then take turns to work out new and interesting routes for the day. My group of friends and i hunt out trail runs within a trains ride from London. Our most recent and favourite was Box Hill to Oxted running along the North Downs Way. Its a point to point run with a pub finish at the train station. A spot of food and drink to finish before we jump on the train home. Winter trail runs are great fun and there was plenty of variety on this run: hills, mud, ice and lots of woolly cows!

Try Some Off Road WinterTrails:

 Its now been proven that you are going to be reducing injury and strengthening your legs by mixing up the terrain you run on. So why not hunt out some trail runs. Here is the link to our latest one if you are based anywhere near London. Its a great mix of hills, off road, some technical stuff and lots of mud….. Great days!!!   https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/17047010





Have Fun With It

Most important out of all of this is to enjoy your running. Long runs can be tough, hard to get up for and boring and so they are all to often omitted by folk who just don’t get round to implementing them. If you follow some of the steps above the chances are you’ll be heading out the door come rain or shine. If the opportunity of training doesn’t motivate you FOMO will!!