Do you want to learn the multisport forward stroke technique? Want to feel confident you are focussing on the right things?
In this article, you’ll learn the details of a good multisport forward stroke technique with a wing paddle.
When it comes to the forward stroke technique, one crucial element to pay attention to is the angle of your blade.
The power face of your paddle refers to the side you pull through the water, which has a scoop shape to it. It's essential to ensure that the power face is pointing directly backward from your line of travel. This alignment allows for a stable grip on the water and maximises the lift that the wing can provide.
Many beginners tend to have an "open" blade face, where the power face points away from the kayak too much. To rectify this, I recommend changing your grip or rolling your wrists back slightly, to set the blade angle more closed. I find it beneficial for beginners to start with a slightly closed blade angle, approximately 10 degrees angled towards the kayak.
By angling the power face slightly inwards, you'll experience the full effect of the wing when pulling on your stroke. This adjustment ensures a secure grip and delivers power through the paddle into the water in a stable manner.
Finding the optimal blade angle may take some practice, but paying attention to this aspect will significantly improve your forward stroke technique.
The catch refers to the initial phase of the stroke, where you place the paddle in the water before commencing the pull. This phase sets the foundation for a powerful and efficient stroke, making it essential to pay attention to the quality of your catch.
When executing the catch, it is vital to ensure that the entire blade enters the water right from the start. This requires you to make a deliberate motion of "stabbing" the water with the paddle. By immersing the entire blade, you maximise the surface area in contact with the water, enabling you to generate more power.
By getting the whole blade in the water early on, you can capitalise on the full potential of your stroke, optimising power transfer from paddle to water.
Achieving an optimal catch location will greatly enhance the effectiveness of your stroke.
To begin, ensure that you are reaching the paddle blade as far forward as possible without compromising your posture. Maintain an upright sitting position, leaning slightly forward, but avoid hunching or leaning over the spray skirt. By sitting tall, you maintain a strong physical foundation for the stroke.
Reaching the blade forward accomplishes two important objectives. Firstly, it extends your lower arm, allowing for greater power potential. Secondly, it promotes torso rotation, which further amplifies the strength behind your stroke. This combination of extended lower arm and rotational force positions you for a powerful pull.
By reaching the blade all the way forward, you achieve a longer and more impactful stroke. This lengthier stroke produces more significant results with each repetition. Conversely, if you fail to reach forward, your stroke will be shorter, resulting in reduced efficiency and effectiveness. To compensate, you may end up pulling the stroke too far back, which compromises your stability and strength.
In addition to reaching forward, focus on keeping the catch close to the kayak. Emphasise proximity to the boat, even to the point of occasionally making contact. When I instruct my clients I sometimes ask them to intentionally hit their kayak with their paddle, as it ensures they are getting the catch as close as possible.
To summarise, achieving an ideal catch location involves reaching the blade forward and placing the paddle in the water in close proximity to the boat.
Leg Drive and Torso Rotation
Once you have set your blade in the water, the next crucial step is to initiate the pull. How you execute this phase is of utmost importance. While arm strength plays a role, the primary source of power comes from rotation. Understanding the significance of leg drive and torso rotation in the forward stroke technique is key to generating efficient power.
When you take a stroke, try to engage your entire body. Start by pushing against your footplate with the foot on the same side as the stroke you are taking. For example, if you are performing a left stroke, push against the left footplate. By doing so, you straighten your left leg and push your left hip back in your seat.
As your hips turn in your seat, it becomes easier to rotate your torso. Remember, your arms are connected to your torso, and by moving your torso, you are effectively moving the paddle. This integration of leg drive, hip rotation, and torso rotation allows for a more powerful stroke, utilising larger muscle groups rather than relying solely on the smaller muscles in your arms.
Twisting through your torso requires some flexibility. The more you can rotate through your waist, the greater energy you can deliver into the paddle without solely relying on your arm muscles. However, it's important to acknowledge that not everyone has the same level of flexibility or body type, and attempting to rotate excessively can be frustrating or even impossible for some.
Instead of solely focusing on rotating more, I find it more effective to concentrate on timing your rotation correctly. Especially if you have limited rotational flexibility, ensuring you initiate rotation at the right moment becomes crucial. This moment occurs just after you have completed the catch phase of the stroke. Once you have achieved the correct blade angle, a full catch close to the boat, and well forward, you can then activate your legs, hips, waist, and shoulders. This coordinated rotation and engagement should occur only after the blade is fully immersed in the water.
Many paddlers become fixated on rotating more without considering the timing of their rotation. It is more important to avoid prematurely rotating before the blade is in the water. Focus on synchronising your rotation with the catch, optimising the transfer of energy from your body to the paddle.
Hand and Arm Movement
Imagine you are an archer about to shoot a bow and arrow. The pushing hand for your forward stroke should start in a position similar to the hand holding your imaginary bowstring taught.
Adjust your hands slightly from the bow and arrow position by setting your pushing hand at about forehead height, with about a 90-degree bend in that same elbow. While this is no longer the perfect position for aiming your bow and arrow, it’s a great position for pushing forward into your paddle shaft with your chest muscles.
As you take your stroke your pushing hand should extend forward as you straighten your elbow. Your pushing hand should remain high throughout the stroke, moving from forehead height to chin height by the end. Due to your hip and torso rotation, your pushing arm should travel across the centre line of your boat.
The hand of your pulling arm should start close to the boat and move outward away from the kayak throughout the stroke as you pull the boat past the blade in the water.
Both hands should move together. When teaching the forward stroke, I often utilise a front-facing camera angle to assess hand movement. When I analyse this footage with my clients, I like to draw the hand path on the screen. When the technique is correct, we see two parallel lines, parallel to the water’s surface.
Focus on maintaining a parallel path of your hands while keep the pushing hand high and travelling across in front of your eyes.
At this point, it's beneficial to find a position where you have fully unwound your torso in the direction of the stroke.
Ensure that your pushing hand has remained high. When you look straight ahead while paddling, your pushing hand should finish just below eye level, aligning with the horizon.
To release the paddle from the water, raise it only enough to remove the blade. Lifting it excessively high is unnecessary. Give your arm a brief moment of rest before engaging it for the next stroke.
As for the position of your arms, the lower arm that just finished pulling on the stroke should have a slight bend of approximately 45 degrees at the elbow. The pushing arm in front of you should be nearly straight, although not locked at the elbow.
By focusing on achieving a proper release position, you optimise the efficiency of your stroke while creating a smooth transition between strokes.
Listen to the Podcast Episode
To hear my in-depth discussion on the forward stroke technique, including my advice on how to practice and improve your own stroke, then listen to The Canterbury Kayaking Podcast Episode 8 below or watch it on YouTube