forward stroke help

Put me in a canoe and I can J stroke all day. In my new Kayak however (16.75 ft - soft chine) I get a tightness in the big muscle that connects my neck to my shoulder (trapezius) but only on my left side. It goes away within a couple hours or less when I quit paddling and it’s only a problem on my left (non-dominant side).

I’m attempting a high angle stroke and using a Werner Shuna carbon blade. I’ve had the same problem with a Werner Skagit.

I’m signed up for lessons in May, but if there’s something I can work on in the mean time (to address this) I’d be very happy to get you’re input. Thanks,


I hurt that muscle years back and there were stretches my doctor had me do that helped a lot. Look them up online, I’m sure it will help.

Why don’t you video your stroke and then we can diagnose. Hard to tell if the problem is something inherent in your shoulder or if you are doing something different on your left side vs your right.

Dr. it hurts when I do this…
Could be a lot of things.

Holding the paddle to tightly. Try relaxing your grip.

Using too much arm and shoulder, not enough core. Focus on torso rotation.

Too long a stroke. Stop around the hip (don’t let the “top” hand pass the center-line of the boat).

Try a shallower angle stroke.

Hard to diagnose without seeing your stroke.

I would guess…
that your rotation is less robust to your left than to your right, so you are finishing the stroke on the left with more shoulder than on your right. Or you are just more vulnerable to strain on your left due to an old injury or similar.

It can be harder to rotate fully in a kayak depending on how you are fit in there. Do you use pedaling, pushing against the footpegs (or bulkhead if no pegs) to really get your hips involved in the rotation?

You may want to try making your strokes shorter and very even on both sides for a bit at the start of the paddle, to see if there is a diff side to side.

exact same problem
But mine is on right side. Comes and goes some days no pain somedays lots of pain. I take a few advil before going long distances. Plus the longer I paddle it seems to go away. I have had surgery on that shoulder I always assumed it was just a nerve issue. Good luck.

Ryan L.

I’ve learned a lot from pain
For me, pain in my shoulders or right below my neck I learned was caused in large part by paddling with my shoulders. It really hit home on a few long paddles where rear quartering winds and seas were causing me to use frequent quick stern draws at the end of strokes for directional control. I was really pushing that last bit of extension towards the stern with my shoulder alone without my entire torso rotating. For myself, I finally figured out that if I keep my shoulders in that safer forward position, and rotate all the way down through my hips, it solved the problem.

I have no idea if this is it for you. Next time it gets sore, try relaxing it some, and try a few strokes without pulling back with your arms or shoulders at all, strictly what you can do with rotation. Take your time. If you haven’t done it, it will feel incredibly awkward. If the pain seems alleviated to some degree, keep working at it, and you may have a good solution.

If, and only if
If the muscle that is hurting is indeed the trapezius, particularly the upper division (and it sounds from your description like it is), then this action may be the culprit.

That portion of the trapezius elevates, and slightly rotates, the scapula. In my coaching experience, a rather common flaw in uncoached “high angle” forward stroke is the apparent need to elevate the scapula to lift the paddle into position. Think “trying to put your shoulder into your ear”. This is incorrect- the scapula should be depressed (sorry, technical term, but very correct). To experience this, put your hand against a wall, arm fully extended, and push. Notice that the scapula will likely squeeze down and forward. That is what one should be feeling during the reach of the top hand.

However, just as likely is the same scapular elevation on the lower arm during the power phase. This is possible, especially if there is a lack of torso rotation combined with an excessive pulling back of the humerus (upper arm). To check this, first think of paddling with a large piece of wallboard stapled to your back. Go paddle, and observe if the humerus of the lower hand position,during the power phase, goes past this imaginary wallboard. If so, it is very likely that, to keep the paddle in the water, the scapula again goes through an elevation- think shoulder shrug. If this is happening, no wonder your traps hurt afterwards! To correct, think about squeezing your scapula downwards during the power phase.

And look for a good coach to re-define “torso rotation”. Left on our own, anything we do that is different than a purely static body, we allow ourselves to define as torso rotation. Some hints- most poorly self defined torso rotation is actually thoracic rotation-upper body/shoulder. The lumbar spine, in comparison to the thoracic spine, has very little capacity for twist. If the thoracic area is not enough, and the lumbar area cannot…that leaves the hips as the source.

Have fun, and remember that the greatest benefit to a technically good forward stroke is found over distance and/or greater speed, but also potentially less overuse injuries. And remember what Yoda said, that sometimes you “must unlearn what you have learned”.

And from left field, do you sleep on
your side? Mostly on your left side? (Left side sleeping helps control reflux, so some people may favor left-sided sleeping.) There’s a slight chance that predominantly left-sided sleeping would affect the left trapezius so that it tends to cramp when paddling.

Otherwise, forget I said anything.

more details and thanks
Floating Phil - I’ll try the stretches.

Suzanneh - I’ll see if I can get someone to Vid me and if I’m capable of up loading it.

Mint Julep - What a euphonius apellation - seriously I think you’ve found a couple things here.

I mentioned my boat’s soft chines. It seems very wind sensitive and I’ doing a lot longer corrective strokes to keep on a heading.

My attempt to get/make torso rotation has been to use a relatively unbent upper arm, and have my top hand come across the centerline of the boat. After reading the advice offered here I’m guessing that I’m (no pun) missing the boat on rotation.

Celia - I’m definately not using my legs enough- great point. I guess I’ll watch more videos on how to do this.

As far as stroke length I think you’re right here too because I find myself falling back to canoe habits and correcting my direction with a lot of stern ruddering vs. sweeping, but I sweep a lot too and that is a longer stroke.

Radiomix - no surgery here or injuries I used to be a long distance swimmer and I was hoping more skills would transfer but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Cape fear - I think you may have the nut of it. As I said above I’m doing a lot of sweeping to maintain direction.

More in a bit but thanks to all mentioned above.

Edge the boat
but not your shoulders as much as you can to maintain a course. It becomes unconscious once you get the hang of it. You’re probably sweeping more than you need to.

And I agree with the other bits of advice you got, too.

Shoulder to the ear
Otterslide - great technical advice.

I’m definitely uncoached.

I think in my misguided attempt at rotation I’ve been sticking my shoulder into my ear.

By and large I’m going to have digest your info and try to apply it.

I live in the frozen north and the first class I could get in doesn’t start until May 15th.

I just like being on the water too much to idly wait for the class.

So armed with my farmer john I’m going to be out there

paddling and trying to employ your excellent advice.

Thank you.

Left side sleeping
G2D - Could be, don’t think I’ll be able to change that @ 59 though.

Thank you.

Wayne - This probably a good suggestion.

I’ve toyed with edging the boat.

The first time I had it out I dumped it practicing getting on edge - my fault no paddle in the water.

Did I mention I live in WI.

I’ve been careful with my edging since then but I will give this more of a try.


shoulder pain
I experienced shoulder pain in my kayak, and switched to a canoe paddle. You might try that. It worked for me.

my mantra
When the shoulder pain sets in i have to force my elbows down. They want to ride up off to my sides chicken wing style. That fights gravity more than the muscles want to cope with over a long haul.

With the elbows down to my sides it takes a lot of stress off the shoulder.

Add another thing to practice
Last summer I received in-depth, detailed critique of my forward stroke (many thanks to John Carmody, of Sea Cliff Kayakers). In working to improve it after that, I discovered that practicing to improve stern rudders also (which I had done poorly) helped me hone in on torso rotation.

Although I was advised to practice the stern rudder on one side at a time, practicing them on both sides per session worked better for me. I’d practice a few minutes on one side, then switch to the other side, back and forth like that. Then I would paddle a few forward strokes, do a stern rudder on one side, paddle the same number of forward strokes again, do a stern rudder on the other side, etc. My goal was to keep the kayak gliding straight ahead the whole time with as little nonproductive movement as possible (for example, yawing or edge-dipping). In both cases, full torso rotation–not shoulder twisting–was critical to achieve this.

What was emphasized for forward stroke dovetailed beautifully with what was emphasized for stern rudder AND simply felt better. Wrists do not kink, upper hand does not fight lower hand, shoulders don’t get put into weak positions, posture remains upright, and torso rotation provides a stable, strong basis for everything else. The catch is that there appears to be variation in how stern rudders are taught. Years earlier I had been taught three different ways, of which the first was flat-out wrong.

Lessons with a good instructor are well worth the bucks. But that’s just the beginning. You’ll need to figure out some things for yourself, too, and then practice them, always analyzing what’s going on. Your body will help you if you listen to it.

Slack, how long is / was your paddle(s)?

Slack, how long is / was your paddle(s)?

paddle length