A few years ago, I noticed that my forward stroke was not efficient on intermediate and advanced trips. After trips, I often felt soreness in my arms and in the neck muscles. I asked my colleagues to observe and critique my stroke. Their comments were that the stroke was too long (exiting behind my hip), there was not enough body rotation (too much arm and shoulder workout), poor blade angle (scooping water on exit), not pushing enough with the legs, and gripping the paddle shaft too tightly. I resolved to work on improving these components of my forward stroke to increase my speed and efficiency.
I decided to focus first on the body rotation, then using the legs, and finally paddle placement. To improve the body rotation, I started with an upright posture. For me, this meant squeezing my shoulder blades together, which forced my chest out and pulled taut my stomach and lower back. Keeping this upright posture allowed me to then work on the body rotation, particularly reaching or stretching as far forward as possible. With the change in posture, I noticed more tension in the legs, so I started pushing harder against the foot pegs to continue the momentum of the stroke.
For blade placement, I started with the hand position. I tried to keep my hands light on the paddle shaft and tried to keep some of fingers pointing upwards when pushing out. I lined up the position of my knuckles to keep them lined up with the top edge of the blade. To shorten the stroke, I used some checkpoints for positioning the blade on entry and exit. Since I often paddle in the Anas Acuta, the target entry point was near the logo in the front or ahead of the first bungee cord across the front deck closest to bow of the boat. On other boats, the target entry point was near the compass mount. For gauging the exit point, I used my knee as the point where I need to begin lifting the blade up for exit. I also tried to keep the blade (power face) perpendicular to the water on entry. On exit, I wanted to also see logo on the blade (power face) facing me. Placing the blade so that I could see the logo required it to be placed as perpendicular as possible on entry and also forced the stroke to be more vertical. The blade placement on exiting the water forced me to slice the blade out of the water, rather than scooping water. In shortening the stroke, I had to increase the cadence.
To integrate these changes, I set off on several practice trips and tried some exercises. The first exercise was to paddle short sprints with the new stroke and focus on one change at a time. Focusing on the change in posture and body rotation and pushing with the legs seemed easier than the blade placement and shortening the stroke. However, this exercise also worked on changing the cadence of the stroke. Another exercise incorporated edging with the changes in the forward stroke. This exercise involved sitting on a 1 or 2 level edge while paddling. I sometimes combined this with a sprint.
With these changes, I have noticed that I can keep pace on intermediate and advanced trips and I feel less soreness in my arms and neck after trips. I have even incorporated the short sprints and edging exercises on several trips. While there is still much room for improvement, I feel that I have made progress on my forward stroke and have received positive feedback from my colleagues on my forward stroke.