Ask any triathlete what their biggest fear of race day is, and undoubtedly you will hear them lament the open water swim. Whether it’s fear of getting kicked, punched or freaking out in open water, triathletes as a large majority aren’t digging the swim. It’s almost viewed as a necessary evil to get to the bike and run.
There are TIPS on how to survive the swim during the actual event, but there’s more that can be done before a triathlete ever dips their toe in the open water to be prepared.
It’s a well known fact that if triathletes want to be better at swimming, they need to practice swimming. There are many ways to improve in the pool. Triathletes can just swim freestyle for 2000 yards, do drills or swim with masters swim groups. All are solid options to gain that experience and capacity to survive the swim. When thinking of drills, images of kickboards, swim buoys, stopwatches and laminated swim plans by poolside dance in triathletes’ heads.
Any pool worth their salt (or chlorine) should have kickboards available, and most have pull buoys of some fashion. One of the more difficult items to find is the swim paddle. It should be a key item in any swimming session, yet it often gets overlooked. It can be a key for strength training in the pool to compensate for the extra effort open water swimming will demand over pool swimming. Utilize it, but don’t abuse it.
Kiefer swim gear claims that their Ergo Hand Paddles improve swim stroke and increase upper body strength with a comfortable fit and hole pattern along fingers and palm gives swimmer a dynamic feel of pool water as it passes through the hand paddle.
Are they comfortable? Do the do the job? Will they survive over long workouts and over many workouts through time? Below are the findings about the Ergo Kiefer Hand Paddles after laps and laps in the pool.
Fit & Form
There are a wide variety of paddles out there. Flat, skinny, wide, small, oversized, contoured and they come in any color that swimmers would want. Ergo Kiefer paddles come contoured are generally not oversized based on the two sizes they come in. They offer a men’s and women’s/kid’s size, so there’s not a whole lot of consternation involved in pondering what size to get. If the Ergo paddles don’t fit, then Kiefer offers a wide variety of other styles to accommodate any triathlete looking for hand paddle.
For this review, the Ergo paddles were the only paddles used. The Ergo paddles come contoured to conform to the natural inclination of the palm of the hand and feel very natural when wearing. The straps that hold the paddle to the hand are solid. There’s no fear of a tiny tube busting during a tough 500 meter pull set.
Color coordination of the swim jammer of the day and the Ergo paddle is a little hard to come by. The Ergo paddle only comes in blue. For those triathletes worried about fashion, this may cause a hiccup.
The paddles have holes to allow water to pass through at each finger location and the palm. This allows for water to moderate pass through the paddle to avoid 100 percent resistance when swimming with the paddles.
The paddles have a large knock-down gritty (think knock-down drywall ceilings) texture that provide tactile feedback, but don’t cause discomfort. Slick paddles tend to be more difficult to apply pressure to for hard sets and allow finger slippage and at times allows the hands to slip out from underneath the paddle straps.
Overall the straps and form of the paddles are very intuitive and don’t feel unnatural when wearing. It is a small struggle to get them on at first with the thick straps, and they will need to be re-adjusted before each swim as they tend to slip a little through the strap holes, either resulting in too loose of a fit or too tight.
The middle finger can get uncomfortably tight in it’s loop on long sets of 400 yards or more. While swimming, the straps tend to slip to allow the other fingers more room and the slack comes from the middle finger loop. Be sure to give the middle loop extra slack before swimming in anticipation of the tightening and some minor pinching.
Obviously the reason to have the paddles is strength drills in the pool. By integrating paddles sets in pool training sessions, triathletes can build strength and endurance to withstand open water brutality. They are not the best tool for speed work, but that’s not their purpose. Drills on time splits, freestyle on distance or time and any other drill someone can think of with paddles the Kiefer Ergo paddles handled. It performed up to the standards of any other paddle out there. The form of the paddles allow for natural water entry and force swimmers to learn how to enter the water correctly to limit resistance and killing momentum in the water. On the pull, the paddles catch the sweet spot of water to make lats work and force the correct pull path through the water. Veer off the correct hand position and the paddle waivers in the water and stability is lost, which squashes forward momentum.
How many triathletes have turned laps out at the gym only to knock hands on the bottom of the too shallow lap pool? Don’t worry about the Ergo paddles. After several scrapes on shallow pool floors and smacks into the pool wall on turns, the paddles took all the punishment dished out. There will be some minor scratches on the edge and maybe a remnants of plastic shavings hanging on that will need to be ripped off, but the paddles remain fully functional after thousands of yards of scraping and brutality.
The straps remain fully functional. Some straps tend to decay or become brittle after hours and hours of chlorine treatment, but not the Kiefer Ergo paddle straps. There were no issues after 2 months of around 2000 meters of drills a week. The straps have not cracked and are fully flexible.
Sadly most swim paddles are a vital part of swim training, but get stuffed into dark and nasty gym bags. They tend to get crammed into any crevice they fit in and expected to perform at a moments notice. Most are plastic after all, and even the most sturdy plastic devices will break under enough pressure, such as a gym backpack stuffed to the gills with running shoes, biking shoes, shower gear, warm clothing, hot weather clothing, swim jammers and anything else a triathlete thinks they need. This reviewer is no different and these Keifer paddles were constantly crammed into any small spot they fit in the bag and every time, they came out without complaining. They did not crack or break when treated with the civility similar to the likes of South Korea from Kim Jong Un.
Any google search will turn up swim paddles from $9 to $17 without tax and shipping. The Kiefer Ergo Paddles sell for $10.95 on their direct sale website. When shopping for paddles, also realize that the contoured paddles tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum, and the Kiefer Ergo paddles tend to be more cost effective on the contoured scale.
The Kiefer Ergo Hand Paddles performed flawlessly. They are durable and functional with the only real issue being some minor pinching if the straps are not prepared accordingly. Triathletes wanting to match their paddles to their jammers may be warded off, but of they want a quality swim training product, then the Kiefer paddles are up there with the best on the market.
* Writer’s note - Kiefer supplied the Ergo Hand Paddles for this review and in no way influenced the review.
Ryan Falkenrath is a married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. He writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, Endurance Sports Examiner and runs the Man Vs Triathlon project while participating in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans (soon to be Ironman distance in 2013). Contact Ryan at: email@example.com or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.