With the triathlon season giving way to the season of overindulgence, it’s easy to think of excuses to keep you out of the water and in your warm bed. But, as many a triathlon coach will tell you, there is no better time to focus on your swim form than in the off season. Swimming is a non-impact activity (except for those occasional wall collisions during backstroke) that will keep your cardiovascular system humming well into those base load weeks of early spring.

Focusing on your swim stroke can be tedious, but the payoffs are always worth it. Before you start jumping in a Masters workout and trying to windmill yourself through a few thousand yards, invest in a few key pieces of swim equipment to help you hone in on your weak areas.

I’ve been swimming for quite a long time, but even still I find myself ever so often dealing with a bad swim form habit that has seemingly popped up out of nowhere. My latest issue involves breathing too late on one side and therefore overreaching my glide and entering the water at a too-steep angle on the other. It’s a small tweak, but when it comes to body mechanics, the smallest tweaks are often the hardest to fix.

I had seen the FINIS agility paddles around, but they seemed like something that would just frustrate the hell out of me by coming off every two seconds. When I finally got to try a pair, I discovered I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The agility paddles feature a strapless, contoured paddle with a thumb hole, and really nothing else. But the contour of the paddle places your hand in a correct, natural position and angle, helping you catch at the optimum moment and position. And with just a little concentration, you can easily keep them still while you feel your hand hitting the water at just the right moment to produce the most power.

If you can hit the water at the right angle and with the correct hand position, the rest of your stroke falls into place like dominoes. After a few hundred yards wearing these paddles, I could feel my triceps burning in just the right place, letting me know I was getting that golden high elbow every time.

One of my favorite things about these paddles is that they can be used for every stroke. I knocked out several IM’s in them and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of power I could produce by just cupping my hands gently around the paddle. With strap-on paddles, I often had trouble with breast stroke and would get sore fingers during an especially long pull set, but with no straps digging into my digits, I could pull comfortably for a lot longer distance.

After using them steadily for the past 10 days, I would have to advise anyone who uses them to remember not to try and grab onto the paddle with your thumb, as this will defeat the purpose of wearing them. Keep your hand relaxed and in a natural position, and after a few uses you will really start to feel your stroke change even when you don’t have them on.

The other piece of advice I have is to make sure you get the right size paddle. The agility paddles recently came out with three sizes (S, M, L), and getting too-big a size could put additional strain on your shoulder. Look at the FINIS website for guidelines on how to properly measure the circumference of your hand before selecting a size.

I’ve still got all winter to improve my swim stroke, but I can guarantee you these paddles are going to play a very large role in that process.