As far as pieces of swimming gear go, swim paddles are right at the top of the list when it comes to toys that swimmers like playing with during their swim practices. With glee and eagerness swimmers will jump at the opportunity to train with them.

But at what point do they change from training aid to crutch? Or worse—a piece of training gear that ends up injuring swimmers?

Here’s what swimmers, wannabe swimmers, and everyone in between should consider when training with a set of paddles.

1. Size is everything.

I get it, I really do—the temptation is to grab the biggest, widest swim paddles out of the gear bin. But there are some serious drawbacks to picking paddles that are oversized.

For starters, paddles place additional stress on the ligaments and tendons in your arm and shoulders. You want to add resistance and load, yes, but not so much that it trashes your arms.

Secondly, a massive paddle will drastically slow down your stroke rate. Research on swimmers has shown that when age group athletes wear paddles their stroke tempo plummets.

Pick out a swim paddle that is just a little bit larger than your hands, giving you a balance of strength training while also keeping your stroke rate and tempo in the same ballpark as when you are swimming regularly.

2. If your shoulders are injury-prone, be especially careful.

If you’ve been a swimmer for longer than a hot second you’ve become intimately aware with swimmer’s shoulder. The injury falls upon half of surveyed swimmers from age group to the elite level.

Placing additional load and stress on an aggrivated shoulder or shoulders just opens yourself to further injury.

3. Use the paddle for the job.

Back in the day when I was a wee little age grouper there were two kinds of paddles—large, and larger. Nowadays you got all sorts of paddles for different tasks.

There is the FINIS paddle, which is designed to help you maintain a proper hand entry into the water when swimming (otherwise they will fall right off). You can simulate this with regular paddles by taking off the wrist strap.

4. Paddles will magnify your technique.

One of the perks of adding load, whether it’s a pair of fins, an ankle band, swimming against a stretch chord, or in this particular case, using a set of swim paddles, is that it magnifies the smaller or barely noticeable technique defincies in our stroke.

Paddles will show you how to properly execute the hand entry. Keep a vertical forearm. And keep your palms facing backwards instead of down.

The major downside to this? Swimming with bad technique with paddles will put yourself at risk of getting injured. And let’s be honest, ain’t nobody got time for that.

5. Power development.

Swimming with paddles is one of the ways swimmers can build up strength and power in the water. Becoming a better swimmer is equal parts conditioning and technique, and using a set of paddles will help increase your rate of power development.