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!





Bruderwunderz Origins – Breca Buttermere #RaceReport

The story of the Bruderwunderz began in the Lake District in 2015 at the first ever Swimrun in the UK – the inaugural edition of the British classic Breca Buttermere. The founding Bruders Alan Scott and Hamish Cropper won the race, also defeating Knut, who on this occasion was competing under the colours of the The German Sparkle Party.

The pure and honest nature of the Cumbrian fells makes the race a one of a kind in the Swimrun scene and one of our personal favourites. We have returned to Buttermere for every edition of the race and Alan currently stands with a track record of three wins. At the 2017 edition, Alan and Knut competed together for the first time and Max made his debut Swimrun appearance at the sprint race.

One of the peculiarities about the previous editions of the race, was all teams being accommodated at the Buttermere YHA. Bunkbeds and packed rooms added a special kick, creating kind of a school trip feeling. Unfortunately, housing in Buttermere is scarce and the increasing number of teams racing called for an update of the housing concept forcing a relocation to Keswick.

For this year’s race, the start was moved west to Fangs Brow and the finish line was placed at the edge of Derwent Water in Keswick, making it a point to point race. But much of the course is still on the same trails, just now and again running in the opposite direction to previous years.

However tough this race was before, the new course for sure stepped it up a notch. Whereas the incredible scenery and unpredictable weather conditions have remained untouched, the new course have introduced some interesting changes. One of the biggest being the extension of the run section from Buttermere up to Dale Head by another ~5k (now total 14,4k). Thereby also adding more trails and more elevation. The extended trails and upped ascent at this point being a key feature of which the Bruderwunderz failed to take note prior to the race.

The new route somehow gave the race completely new dynamics. On the old course, an early swim as well as technical trails and heavy climbing in the early stages separated the teams early on. Already on the first kilometres, the field was fairly well sorted. This time, slightly longer and easier runs made the first sections very fast. We kept ourselves in the front of the race trying not to invest too much energy early on. After all, we were (to some extent) aware of what was to come further down the road. However, pacing yourself is a challenge when the distance back to the chasing teams is short. Sub 4min k’s on the first runs only goes to prove that there is still some room for improvement.
By the time we hit the big climbs, our advantage on second place was less than 5 minutes and the lead felt far from safe. The relief of seeing the distance increase going up the hills made the suffering significantly more enjoyable. On the other hand, realizing that the hardest run section was now even harder than expected, caused some additional mental provocations.

By the time we hit the finish line, we had worked up a good 20 minute lead and fortunately did not have to worry about a photo finish. All in all a happy coincidence since we also outdid the estimated “fastest finish” time and the photographers were not yet around 🙂

The point-to-point course added some new features to this unique competition. Combined with the additional sprint race (yes, 18k is a sprint), we expect to see more teams from outside the UK on the start line next season. In any case, one thing is for sure: The Bruderwunderz will attempt a fourth strike!

2017 Breca Buttermere Race Video

Pics by Paul Mitchell