Forward stroke: muscle vs. speed

I am a beginner working on my forward stroke (and I think I will be the rest of my life). I am wondering what the best technique would be for times when I really want the most speed from my stroke. Should I concentrate on torso rotation force (i.e. muscle), giving each stroke all the power I can in the longest possible stroke? Or should I instead try to take shorter, faster strokes that have less sheer strength involved and at a higher rate? I expect the answer might be “both”, but I just would like to know other’s opinions.

I use a Euro style paddle, but I noticed once when using a Greenland style paddle that the brute-force-muscle thing seemed less effective.

Related to the first question, I wonder if there is a maximum speed a paddle (of any type) can have before there are diminishing returns on power output. Can a paddle that is pulled through the water too quickly actually be wasting the energy the body puts into it by creating huge eddys and other water disturbances? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


and I’m no expert. I tend to go back and forth from one stroke to another as needed. I use only a Greenland paddle. Tremendous push and force in a sliding stroke. Slower. Abdominal crunch. Fast non-sliding stroke works best with that paddle type by progressively getting the paddle deeper. I strongly suspect that the resistance of starting a new eddy area at the tip gives increasing resistance as the abdominal rotation comes in. Then relax, the blade pops up, and the other blade goes in. Plenty of arm swing, little elbow move. At a goodly amoung of power input I can go back and forth between the two and don’t notice much speed difference. The sliding stroke is excellent against wind and wave. The low torso twist stroke for calm and complex conditions.

But I don’t know how this works with a Euro type paddle. I haven’t used one of those for a very long time.

There is a Brent Reitz "Forward Stroke"
training video available which will answer your questions very nicely. Maybe someone here knows an on-line source.

right here on p-net!

I second the choice for the Brent Reitz
video. Although I am a relative beginner, I think this video has given me a forward stroke superior (forgive the immodesty) to those of more advanced paddlers.

Small blade and short fast strokes
are used by all the fastest speed paddlers that use both double or single blade paddles.


Kayak stroke

– Last Updated: Jun-30-05 3:31 AM EST –

An accomplished paddler might really help with your paddle geometry and make sure you're not over or undergeared (paddle length). Try for Brent Reitz or for Barton/Chalupsky tapes. Try to get help before you develope bad habits. When I first began marathon racing, I went for several years before getting a look at my stroke. I wasn't doing many things well!

I'm not an expert, but maybe this will help until find a coach or tape. Possibly "Iceman" could post a video link.

You want to get the blade in as far forward as possible, without bouncing the boat, while keeping your arm straight (not locked). Your torso & shoulder shouldn't begin to unwind until the blade is completley in the water. Otherwise your back & shoulders won't be in position for a powerful pull.

When the blade is immersed you can start the straight arm pull. Try to use the footbar or rest and recrut the stronger trunk area. Flexing or cycling the legs will help you rotate.

You will want to accelerate the paddle during the power phase or speed will be lost.

Around the knee is where you should begin to remove the blade to be clear at the hip.

Try to remove it fast or speed will be lost. DO NOT flip out with the wrist, lift with the shoulder. The exit finishes when the paddle is parallel to the water & about eye level, with your lead arm fully extended for the next stroke.

When your paddle clears the water for the next stroke, try to rotate the trunk and not just your shoulder. Shoulder & arm should be forward with arm extended at eye level. Your arm, wrist & hand should be a straight line. Stay relaxed, as a death grip makes for a bad forward reach. Good luck!

My take
First you will get more speed out of a wing paddle.

Second you need to learn technique. Just watch Greg Barton. He is fluid in motion.

With all that said: I have beaten three paddlers out in the last hundred yards in my last three races this year with pure all out muscle, (while telling myself to maintain form), but there is no way I could have muscled the yak for much more than that distance.



Forward Stroke

– Last Updated: Jun-30-05 12:43 PM EST –

First neither muscle nor speed, but proper form. At the beginning, it is all about to have a good form. Later, you might want to start thinking about speed and/or power. Only to have a good form might take several years.

Greg Barton and Brent Reitz forward stroke videos are a must.
Brent explains quite well the forward stroke mechanic even better than Barton does, but during the video, he is using a Euro most of the time, so his form is not as good as when he is using a wing. For that reason, I would compliment his video with the Barton's one. Barton examples of a good forward stroke are quite better.

A second must, filmed yourself paddling in order to compare your forward stroke with the one from the Elite, so see yourself and be critical.

As an start look at this:


PS: Don't forget to use a paddle that match your fitness level. This is not an easy task...

I hope a lot of folks look at that. It shows the leg muscles being used.

I picked up the fact that I might be dropping my shoulders.

Thanks for posting it.


Great video clip… watch his hips
Thanks! I saw it once but did not know where to find it again.

What I find interesting in that clip is the degree to which the paddler winds up his hips. It’s really extreme. I’d say the hips are essentially locked at each end of that stroke, being as far as they could physically rotate. It’s from unwinding that extreme hip windup that so-called torso rotation arises.


Thanks for the input
DPGreen wrote: “Try to get help before you develope bad habits. When I first began marathon racing [snip] I wasn’t doing many things well!”

I should have … at day 1. I paddled as much as I could starting last summer, but now I have a new kayak and just resolve myself to work on the forward stroke. It definitely seems like the forward stroke is easy to learn, and difficult to master. I will likely have to unlearn some things, but that is OK as long as my instructor is patient.

When I am paddling slowly, it feels like I am doing at least some things right. I feel power from my stroke, yet the stroke seems effortless. For some reason, I cannot be satisfied with a slow easy stroke, but rather want to go faster. When I do start to paddle faster, it starts to not feel as smooth, definitely feels less efficient, and sometimes downright sloppy.

Iceman wrote: “First neither muscle nor speed, but proper form. At the beginning, it is all about to have a good form. Later, you might want to start thinking about speed and/or power. Only to have a good form might take several years.”

I now am starting to believe that. Fortunately, I look forward to working years on this - it is actually fun for me. You are right. I need to concentrate on and appreciate form over all the other things like speed and efficiency. I learned this when I was a student in karate and even when I was an instructor: Work on the basics, trying to master them. The little known secret is the basics are the ONLY thing you ever need to master.

I will definitely check out the videos you all recommended, and thanks to Iceman for the link to the nice forward stroke video.


Lets consider the word “cadence” here
You have gotten good advice on paddling fast fron folks who paddle faster than me. But lets call stroke rate “cadence” and boat speed “speed” so we can talk with clarity. Expecially for new folks decent terminology is good.

No matter what you call it I’m glad to paddle.

The video shows
Grayson Bourne, former world 10,000 meter champion, Nelo distributor, designer of the SpeedStroke device that he’s paddling there, the designer of a new line of racing kayaks, made in China… and a very nice guy.

The type of rotation he’s showing is how an Olympic sprint boat is paddled. Hard to duplicate that level of rotation in any sea kayak or even a surf ski. The video sure makes it obvious why back bands impede performance!


Sanjay makes a good point about backbands. Any restrtiction at the hips or lower back will impede the ability to rotate and gain power in the stroke. When I first started kayaking, I came from a white water experience. I had the boat padded out for my hip and was truly locked in. This made rolling easier, but a good forward stroke much worse. On long distance I would often end up with pain at the base of my neck and no understanding as to why.

Having switched to surfskis and racing kayaks, I’ve removed all backbands and padding. Surprisingly, I feel totally locked into the boat with minimal contact by keeping my hips loose and moving with the boat as opposed to forcing the boat to my tightness. I’m not an expert, just something I’ve noticed change over the years. I no longer have that nagging neck tightness and often paddle well over ten miles at at time.

Gray Bourne?

– Last Updated: Jul-01-05 12:18 PM EST –

I have met Gray last year when he personally brought to me a part I needed for my SpeedStroke, and the paddler in that movie does not look like him. I know that a computer geek might do wounder with a PC, but I don't think he could have been changed so much :D
Anyway, Gray is a pleasure to deal with.

To master the art of the forward stroke is a life time commitment, and the type of rotation shown in the video is the one most people should pursue even though difficult to achieve, why to settle for less? "shoot for the moon even if you miss, you'll land among stars." Once one said...


Dropping shoulders

One of the reasons, I am so obsess in been filmed while paddling is because I want to know if I am dropping my shoulders. If one were training with a coach, he/she will perceive that right away.



It is a good question…
I have been wondering the same. I have watched and absorbed Brent’s video. He does not really address the question being asked here. I have also read a lot of Barton’s advice. Barton makes some comments in another video that I have where he talks aboout imagining that the paddle is a pole in the water and you need to pull yourself toward it. When I concentrate on this I generally end up with a lower cadence stroke, concentrating on getting as much power as possible from every stroke. This results in a powerful stoke, but one that is at a low cadence.

I also have wondered whether it may be better instead to concentrate on a higher cadence stroke, putting less emphasis on the power from each.

For me I tend to gravitate toward a lower cadence, more powerful stroke because I use a vey large blade paddle. This gives me maximum power from each stroke, but I cannot provide a high cadence. I paddle a Werner Ikelos in a 210 length. I am thinking of getter a Werner Shuna which will allow me to use a higher cadence due to its lower resistance in the water.


putting the paddle in the right place
I’m not anywhere near the average weekend warrior for high hp applications but I did take a stroke clinic from a racer. He said that the “average” paddler needs to spend more time placing the paddle with the right posture than thinking of speed or effort. I’m assuming that effort and cadence will naturally follow from that. But focusing on effort and cadence instead of form will provide opportunities to carry inefficiency to another level of effort.

That’s what I’ve tried to emphasize in instruction. Pause just a fraction of a second before planting the blade so each and every stroke is good,thereafter get into a cadence but not until the stroke is clean.

Different paddle styles
I am so much a newbie. What is the difference between a Euro paddle and a Greenland paddle.