Do you pull your paddle back or boat forward?

This is a very good question and a very important one for all paddlers.

First, keep in mind that you are looking to move your boat (you) forward up to your paddle, not pulling the paddle back. The simple difference between pulling the paddle back and pulling the boat forward require completely different sequences of muscular action.

So, think “I am pulling the boat forward”, or “I am pulling the boat up to the exit”, or “I am pushing my heels (i.e. your feet in the foot wells of the
ski) away from the paddle” are your cue words to think about.

The power you generate from your paddling movement is proportional to your speed. Power is a function of force per paddle stroke and stroke frequency/rate.

Assuming your technical efficiency and effectiveness remains the same you have two choices to increase speed; A increase force per stroke B increase stroke rate

However, too much force reduces your stroke rate to the point you loose power, and too high a stroke rate reduces your force per stroke to the point you loose power. An additional too low a stroke rate (high force stroke) will adversely affect your balance and put you at risk of injuring your joints. Too high a stroke rate runs the risk of compromised technique and reduced aerobic endurance (high rate uses fast twitch muscle fibers which have less endurance).

If you take a page from rowers, speed skaters, swimmers and x-c skiers, they start the season focusing on covering the most distance per stroke/stride possible. This emphasizes force per stroke/stride using good technique. They then slowly increase the rate as they approach competition season while maintaining a good force and technical efficiency.

In the real surfski world, most non-elite paddlers use mid-size to smaller blades depending on their size/strength and select a pull force to give a 60-70 strokes per minute cadence. Much slower and you risk loosing balance in rough / sloppy water and you loose speed (or long term injuries). Much faster and technique suffers and you loose speed (or fatigue earlier).

Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services

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