PaddleWise Discussion Teaching the forward stroke

From: "James Tibensky"
Date: Thu, 20 May 2004
Subject: [Paddlewise] Forward Stroke

This article from a couple of years ago is offered for what it's worth,
not as the final word:


This is a new method to use for teaching the forward stroke.  I have only
employed it a few times, so there may be (probably are!) bugs in it that
I have not yet stumbled across.  Feedback is welcome.  Jim Tibensky     


The purpose of the forward stroke is to move the boat efficiently.  The more muscles
that can be involved in performing the stroke, the less strain on any one
set of muscles.  A clean, efficient stroke will allow the paddler to have
power when needed and to go long distances when necessary.

After the students have been given the fundamental principles of a good
forward stroke, such as length, placement of blade, cadence and so on,
the concept of using the whole body can be introduced.

The most common way to teach torso involvement in the forward stroke has
been to have the students paddle with their elbows locked straight,
forcing the students to rely on their arms less and the rest of their
upper body and waist more.  This is clumsy, at best, and is not a
real-world technique that most paddlers use when doing a .normal. stroke.

The forward sweep stroke, properly done, involves the legs, waist and
back muscles more than does the forward stroke when the forward stroke is
done without torso involvement.  The goal of this lesson is to have the
students learn to use the muscles that are involved in the forward sweep
to perform the forward stroke.


Start with a lesson on the forward sweep.  Be sure the students are
getting their legs and
lower body into the strokes. ( I like to do this without explaining that
the goal is torso rotation so that there is the element of surprise when
the students later realize the purpose of the forward sweep lesson.)

Once everyone has a solid sweep, move on to the forward stroke.  Explain
the basic components of a good stroke, including using as many torso
muscles and leg muscles as possible.  Have the students practice and
demonstrate and critique each other.s stroke.

Assuming that none of them are using good torso rotation, ask them to
paddle for a minute or so using the forward stroke, only this time, ask
them to pay close attention to what muscles they feel working the most. 
After they have done this, they will probably say that they have used
their arms the most, with waist and legs as possibilities as well.

Now have them go back to the forward sweep, again paying close attention
to what muscles they feel working the most.  They should now say that
they feel their legs, waist and back working more than in the forward

Introduce the next part as being the solution to using those sweep
muscles in the forward stroke.


Demonstrate and then have the students practice blending a forward sweep
into a forward stroke.  Start by doing five or six sweeps on each side:
left - right - left - right, etc.  The boat will S-turn its way along. 
After five or six sweeps, start bringing the lower hand (the one whose
blade is in the water) closer to the hull.  Do this gradually, moving in
a few inches at a time.  At the same time have the upper arm start to
punch gradually higher above the hull instead of just crossing it along
the deck.  After ten strokes or so, there should be a very torso-involved
forward stroke.  There is almost no change in arm motion from the sweep
to the forward stroke, it.s only a matter of shaft angles and blade
distance from the hull.

Remind the students to drop back into this sweep-blended-into-forward
stroke practice technique any time they want to work on torso rotation.