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Tips and Techniques - The Forward Stroke

The Forward Stroke 

Want to make an improvement in your paddling that will pay back in a big way? Then follow (and practice) these pointers for a new and improved forward stroke.

Key points on the forward stroke are: 


The paddle shaft should be totally vertical as seen from the front of the boat. Why is this so critical? Because any sideways deviation, no matter how small, introduces a degree of “sweep” into the stroke. This sweeping motion will eat into the forward power of the stroke by deflecting the boat from a straight path. A vertical shaft directs all of the power into forward momentum.

When extending the paddle forward to initiate the stroke, keep your top arm bent. Your forearm or wrist can come all the way back to the forehead. Combine this with a fully-extended lower arm (and torso rotation) and you’ll achieve maximum reach with the blade. This extra reach will keep all of the power up front where it belongs—giving you a longer power phase during the stroke.

Once you reach maximum extension, pause for a microsecond before planting the tip of the blade. Then plant the blade in a smooth motion, don’t lunge or stab it in the water. As the blade submerges, apply full power to the stroke. Use the return rotation of your torso to provide the power. Keep the bottom arm straight, which will force you to rely on the rotation. Resist the temptation to pull back with the arms or to jerk your whole body backwards. These are common mistakes and they rob you of power—not to mention tiring you out much faster.

Stop the power phase of the stroke at your knee. This is really important so I’ll say it again—stop all power at the knee! Every bit of power that is applied past the knee will have to be countered by a correction. And those seemingly small corrections add up fast. When the power is truly stopped at the knee, very little correction is needed. Keep reminding yourself that correction costs you speed and robs your of energy. Why lose it if you don’t have to?

Stroke recovery and correction are done from the knee to the hip. Remember, there should be no forward power applied during this phase! Don’t let your correction drift too far past your hips, as there’s no power back there (see the tip on Linkage).

And last but not least, there should be no forward lean during the stroke. Many paddlers confuse torso rotation with leaning forward—they are not the same thing! Keep your back as vertical as possible. Imagine an unbendable rod running straight down your spine. Torso rotation uses this axis point to give you extended reach and tap into the power of your strong abdominal muscles. A forward lean, while seeming to lengthen your reach, actually weakens the stroke. It also introduces a “bobbing” motion to the boat, which reduces forward momentum.

The best place to practice these techniques is on flat water without the distractions of moving water. Go through the sequence in slow motion and concentrate on each point. Gradually increase your stroke rate as the new pattern sets in. As with all practice, it’s quality not quantity that you should be striving for.  

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