The forward stroke is essential to paddling. While its the first thing you learn kayaking, it's the last thing you should stop working on years down the road.
A few years ago I developed tendonitis in both my elbows to the point where I could barely turn the steering wheel in my car. In order to continue paddling, I realized I needed to adjust my forward stroke to decrease my pain. Four years later, using these tips, I am tendonitis free and continue to develop my forward stroke every year.
1. Hold your paddle properly:
Place your hands shoulder width apart on the paddle shaft. Maintain a firm grip on your paddle shaft, however, don't clench your paddle. Clenching can lead to sore tendons, and less than efficient paddle strokes.
2. Maintain Proper Posture:
Throughout your paddle stroke, try to maintain a vertical posture. Sit up straight, and keep your head stable, resisting the temptation to move it side to side as well as forward and back. Proper posture will allow you to stay centered in your kayak as well as allow you to use your torso to paddle efficiently.
3. Use your Torso:
When paddling, keep your arms in a slightly bent, stationary position, and focus on using your upper back and torso rather than your arms. By "stationary," that's not to say your arms don't move when you paddle. Instead, consider each arm to be a connector between your back and paddle. Now, rotate your torso to generate power. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together, and using your core to bring your arms through the paddling motion (Picture squeezing an orange between your shoulder blades). At the end of the day, your upper back and torso should feel the work, not your arms.
4. Look where you want to go:
Just like when your driving, skiing, or mountain biking, look where you want to go, and your boat will tend to naturally follow.
Please feel free to share your tips and tricks to an efficient forward stroke!
See you on the Rio!