Forward stroke

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Forward stroke

Post by SimonMW » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:17 pm

For anyone who might be interested I just wrote this. I rarely come here these days, so luckily I am unlikely to see the inevitable disagreements and bickering! ... you-think/

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Re: Forward stroke

Post by countvoncount » Sat Jun 15, 2019 6:10 pm

Great post, Simon, thanks! When I first started kayaking and people wanted to talk about the forward stroke, I sort of rolled my eyes--I wanted to learn how to do the cool shit. Now, when someone good tells me my forward stroke is "looking pretty decent", I know they are paying me a compliment--and when they tell me how to improve it, I try to listen hard.

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Re: Forward stroke

Post by andypagett » Tue Jun 18, 2019 12:45 pm

Hi Simon, a great write up highlighting some key points of forward paddling that are often missed, for example not lifting water, using the feet to move the boat past the paddle

However I am very interested in two comments, one from your article and one from the linked article, as both contradict the way that I was taught and the way that I coach. I am not saying you are wrong (who I am I to know!), I just want to open the discussion so that I can learn something.

You say that the top hand should never cross the centre line; Eddy's article refers to stacked hands, which requires the top hand to cross the centre line at the very start of the stroke. I have been taught differently to either of those in that the hands are never stacked, but the top hand does cross the centre line during the stroke:

The top 'arm' should be considered a solid object going from opposite shoulder, through same shoulder, through elbow, to hand, in the classic "paddler's box" shape.

At the catch, the torso rotates forward and the bottom arm 'spears' the paddle into the water. At this point the bottom hand is low, on its own side, and the top hand is roughly shoulder to eye level.

During the power phase, the top and bottom arms stay fixed in shape and height, and the torso rotates. The relationship between the shoulders and paddle shaft therefore stays fixed, the angle of the paddle in the water stays fixed(1). The paddle shaft therefore stays at the same angle to the water throughout the stroke, and never goes vertical i.e hands are never 'stacked'(2) In a narrower / racing boat the shaft will be *more* vertical, and in a WW boat less vertical, but never completely vertical(3)

As the torso rotates the top arm (staying fixed in shape) drives forwards and across the body, finishing above the opposite knee, and the feet drive the boat past the paddle.

As the shape of the arms stays fixed the paddle blade in the water actually rather than following a straight line parallel to the centre line of the boat actually more closely follows the line of the boat's bow wave. In WW paddling, the top hand may become lower and therefore the path of the paddle wider to add more turning into the stroke

(1) common mistakes are to drop the top hand or top pull with the bottom hand, both of which lift water

(2) Stacked hands tends to lead the paddler to start with both hands on the same side of the boat (top hand across centre line from the start), and to 'pull back' with both hands rather than rotating the torso.

(3) unless the boat is put on edge e.g. for a boof / flare - note that the relationship between paddle shaft, shoulder and boat stays the same as on the flat.

That is my understanding of the catch / power elements of a power stroke with a leaning towards WW paddling, as hammered out in 5 minutes on my lunchbreak. I'd be interested to read yours and others' thoughts.

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Re: Forward stroke

Post by SimonMW » Tue Jun 18, 2019 1:26 pm

I can't speak for Ed, although one thing that came up during another discussion about my article was that each person will find individual nuances in what they do, and what they find to work.

Regarding the top hand not crossing the centreline of the boat, this is something I do, but was taught not to, in a plastic WW boat at least. This is because most WW boats are wider than, say, a slalom boat or a sprint kayak. You could easily cross your top arm across the centre of those types of boats and still be in a position to 'drop' the existing top hand into becoming the top hand for the next stroke (your finished rotation from the previous stroke is immediately transformed into the wind up for the next one). You can save a lot of time by just dropping the top arm down at the end of a stroke, turning the top hand into the new bottom hand and the bottom hand into the new top hand.

By being able to just drop the paddle into the water for the catch saves you from needing to 'spear' the catch. However, if you cross the centreline of your boat (as I often do, and admittedly top paddlers like Sam Sutton etc do) you have further to move the paddle for the catch and having to 'spear' it more. It's only a slight extra movement, but you can imagine over the course of a day, or over the course of a white water race, it all adds up. But as I say, I'm guilty as charged for not following my own advice a lot of the time.

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Re: Forward stroke

Post by Jim » Tue Jun 18, 2019 2:46 pm

Some good stuff from Simon and Andy, but still some aspects slightly different to my experience and coaching.

Firstly, apart from a few top slalom paddlers, you won't see many in the UK with good forward paddling technique, they have exceptional turning techniques and some amazing explosive acceleration techniques, but with sub 90 second courses now being the norm, very few spend serious amounts of time working on forward paddling. Those that do, are execeptionally good to watch, even if they only manage 5 full power forward strokes in an entire race run. Several slalom paddlers that do have good forward stroke, also have a background in sprint or WWR paddling.

Should the top hand cross or not cross, should you direct the blade in a straight path (hmm, you are trying to say you are drawing the boat past it so why does it have a path at all? I will expand on that!) and do you drive or drop the top hand? All kind of related.

My coach tells me to keep an open shoulder angle between my arms, and try to maintain it through the stroke - the only way to do this is to rotate your body instead of swinging your arms around. A lot of people as they start to pick up on improving their technique, will start to swing their arms from side to side instead of bending them, they are only half way there, when they can manage the same kind of movement but keeping the arms at the same angle and turning the body instead of swinging, they will be on the right track. It is easier to see someone else doing, then to feel yourself doing, so working in a group, with or without a coach is a good idea.

Whether you can get your top hand accross or not will depend on how much rotation you have, and many will need to improve it to be able to get the top hand accross. One thing I was doing for a while, was starting to rotate for about half a stroke, and then swinging my top hand accross ahead of my torso. This is bad/inefficient because I am using my arms not my back muscles to do it, but it seemed like I was doing really well until my coach pointed it out and made me work on it. In WWR I think my top hand probably does cross a little bit, but not enough to get it directly above the bottom hand. That is a relatively skinny boat (seriously my slalom boats feel much wider!).

What is the path of the top hand? Well, it is going to go forwards and most likely dip a bit, but concentrating on the top hand is most likely going to cause you to move it around using your arms, instead of your back. You want to lock your arms at a constant angle - not necessarily straight, slight bend at elbow is good, maybe necessary, but needs to remain constant. Your top hand is there to hold the paddle, you are going to drive the blade down in arc (so forwards above the water, coming vertical as it immerses) using your back muscles to turn your whole body. The power is transferred through the top hand, but you should not be moving it or even thinking about moving it - it is during that phase a solid link in the mechanical system and should only move the same as the shoulder that is driving it. I admit I still think of myself as pushing down with the top hand on the catch, and indeed my adjustable paddle shortened 4mm during each of my race runs in the Pyrenees cup the other week due to the downwards pressure from my top hand, but it is not actually the hand that pushes, it is my torso, the hand just happens to be connected to it and holding the paddle. In truth I was struggling with the course and was only using good forward technique for the first 50m and last 10m, most of the rest of the time my stroke angle was dropped as I dealt with trying to keep my boat on my intended line through the whitewater and not launching it off a rock again. I wonder how much more I could have shortened the paddle if I had been able to sprint the whole course?

So what is the blade path in the water? Do we really manage to keep it still and pull the boat past it, and if so how can it have a path?
If the blade remained completely stationary, you couldn't pull on it. The hydrodynamic force is only generated by movement against the water. If you put the blade in and pull directly back on it so it slips back in straight line it will more than likely flutter a bit, it will move a fair way towards you during the stroke and not actually generate that much lift. If you allow it to slip away from the boat slightly so your forward stroke has a slight sculling component, the blade will grip rather than flutter and you will generate more lift so it will slip back towards you less. If you go the whole hog and use a wing paddle, it may generate enough lift that it actually moves forwards in the water during the stroke, depending on how much you let it slip away. This is a bit contrary to the old idea of keeping the blade close and straight to avoid a yawing moment, but now go back to thinking about your locked arms and body rotation - how can you guide the blade in a straight path if you lower hand is also locked relative to the shoulder and your shoulders are being driven by trunk rotation? There is bound to be some kind of arc around the yaw centre. Now we do reduce this somewhat by not paddling in 2D. Your trunk rotation is not all in plan view, some of it is done vertically so the blade path is not as wide as if you were to just rotate from your waist - you need to do this to perform a sweep stroke, minimising the vertical element.
So unless the blade moves, you can't pull on it, and if you try to make it move straight back, you will have a weak stroke, this is where the complex biomechnics of using your feet and your subconscious are necessary to counter the natural yaw of a powerful stroke.

So having talked about locking arms and not bending elbows, as you reach the end of a stroke, you do need to bend the lower elbow to get the blade out and lift it to top hand position for the next catch, as you do this the new lower blade should automatically move into a good position for the next catch - a good position is above the water with your hand probably around shoulder level. You can pause for a moment here to ensure you are ready for the next stroke, and then smash that blade in using trunk rotation. If you are paddling hard, it will go in with a splash and you will feel it push back at you, especially if you are using a wing paddle. Most of the power in the stroke comes from the catch, the harder you can hit it, the more pull you will be able to get through the whole stroke. Hitting it hard at high reps, takes a lot of work. Personally I can hit it moderately hard at what I call 'classic pace' (referring to WWR classic race which is usually >12 minutes, sometims as much as an hour), at a fairly low cadence but getting a lot from each stroke over a long period. If I hit it really hard at 'sprint pace' (WWR sprint races tend to be 30-90 seconds) I can manage maybe 75-100m before my technique starts to fall apart and I have to lower my cadence slightly to keep it together - that is when training on the flat, I really struggle to hit that cadence at all on WW!

The difference for me between applying good forward technique in WWR, Slalom, Sea or Creek boat is not so much about the width of the boat, I seem to be able to adjust for that naturally and I put as many paddle strikes on my WWR as my slalom or creek boats (really must get round to putting some helicopter tape on my composite boats in the strike areas), but the way the outfitting works. WWR is not as free as a sprint boat, the seat does not rotate (but is shiny and I have started to wear slippery shorts) and the wooden thigh braces are set so that I can lock in on rough water or free my knees a bit on flatter sections to help with rotation. My sea kayak has much more room and I can move my knees around easily, I took the back rest out the other day though and it made a massive improvement to the amount I could rotate. My slalom boat has a shiny seat and no backrest, but I wear grippy shorts, also my knees are very low and fairly wide so I have to adapt my rotation quite a lot for it I don't think I really drop my paddle angle much to compensate, although of course vertical paddle for slalom is important to get though the gates (and nothing to do with forward paddlign!). I hardly paddle my creek boat these days, I just hate it. Again I don't think I drop the paddle significantly but I probably don't tighten the ratchet backrest anywhere near as much as I used to, maybe just above big rapids? Ratheting in with the strap high up your back, feet tight on the bulkhead and knees pressed up hard under the deck gives a feeling of security, but makes it really hard to paddle with full rotation - I think this is something you really have to work on, and I would suggest that to learn to rotate initially, you should probably slacken the outfitting if you can't borrow a more suitable boat to learn in. More core exercise in the house (or gym)! (for me too!)

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