Technique: Improve Your Forward Stroke | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
A sea kayaker paddles into strong current as he prepares to ferry across. Photo: Doug Alderson

Use these 5 tips to develop a powerful and efficient forward kayak stoke.

With a cadence of 50 full stroke cycles each minute, a paddler makes 3,000 strokes every hour. that means that small improvements in technique add up to large improvements in overall progress.

Stroke technique isn’t just about going faster. A more efficient stroke might propel you at the same speed, but it will get you to the beach with less fatigue, muscle strain and joint pain, saving energy for those times when you need to paddle faster or longer. Here are fi ve tips that will improve the power and efficiency of your stroke.


1. Listen to your mother

 Sitting up with a straight back is the key to unlocking the power of your body. With a very good sitting posture you can better use the larger muscle groups of your torso and legs. Within the kayak a good seat and some support for legs and feet provide the foundation necessary for sitting up comfortably. Once that foundation is established you can work on improving the mechanics of your forward stroke.


2. Begin at the end

 Think about setting up the forward stroke by lifting the paddle blade out of the water, instead of thinking of this as the end of the stroke. Like a circle, there is actually no beginning or end in the cycle of repeated forward strokes. The moments before the power phase are critical. The blade must be positioned to correctly enter the water and the body must be in a physical posture that allows it to deliver the necessary power.


3. Rotate in the set-up

 Torso rotation is often cited as the hallmark of an efficient forward stroke, but it’s difficult to learn to unwind the torso during the power phase of the stroke. It’s easier to learn consistent torso rotation by thinking about winding up your torso during the set-up. To do this, lift your blade out of the water at the end of your stroke, then bring the forward blade far forward by twisting the shoulders and reaching ahead with the shoulder, elbow and hand on the paddling side. Now you are well rotated and will naturally unwind and use torso rotation during the power phase of your stroke.


4. Lift your elbows

Whether you use a high- or low-angled stroke style, it is important to keep the elbow almost level with the wrist as if punching a bag. It is very common for paddlers to raise the aft blade out of the water by lifting the hand while leaving the elbow low, but this posture with a low elbow and high hand is very weak and cannot produce any effective power. Instead, think about lifting the paddle blade out of the water by raising the elbow and hand simultaneously— lift your wing. With this combination of a well-rotated shoulder girdle, the leading shoulder positioned well forward, and the aft forearm approximately level, your torso can rotate to generate power and your arms are ready to efficiently deliver power to the paddle.


5. Pick up the pace

  Now think about keeping up your speed. While the paddle blades are out of the water, the kayak slows down. It’s easier to keep the kayak moving forward at a consistent speed than it is to repeatedly slow down and regain lost speed with each stroke. It is most efficient to have the blade in the water as often as possible and easier on your body to make many gentle repetitions than a smaller number of very heavy strokes. Make your strokes quick, short, and frequent; think of the smaller strides you take when running up a hill. A cadence of about 25 stokes per minute on one side is comfortable and effective.

 Doug Alderson is a senior instructor trainer for Paddle Canada and the author of several books about kayaking.

This article originally appeared in Adventure Kayak magazine, Early Summer 2008. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read the full article here.

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