The expedition stroke: the scoop on stroke technique for long paddles.
My guess is, that a paddler who launches themselves off on a relaxed, long distance expedition for several days, will have a different looking stroke than someone who's seeking a maximal effort over a shorter period of time. That's a logical assumption. The shorter distance paddler is willing to "push-through" a little more physical "in your face" kind of effort, than the long distance paddler, because he/she has a specific Short Term goal in mind. The trade-off of a little discomfort for a lot of efficiency is well worth it. The question that comes to my mind for the expedition paddler is "is how much "Trade-Off" is okay"? Let's face it, this paddler wants an efficient stroke to cover all those miles too.
So much of kayaking is a "feel-thing". In the Video, DVD and On The Water, I explain the basics of how to call on the large muscle groups of the Abdomen and Back to move the boat across the water. That does not mean that every single movement that Brent does, needs to be exactly the same as you do. We are all built differently. We all paddle in different conditions. We all feel comfortable carrying out the movements in our own unique way, and, we all have different goals. My position is, that as long as we understand what the highest level of efficiency feels like, it's okay to adapt these fundamentals to each of our individual styles.
Our sport is all about individuality! Heck, that's why we love it, right? "We don't need no stink'n boat trailers to get to the water"! "We don't need no stink'n gasoline or dock in order to have fun!" We can go do our own thing, whenever, and wherever, we want. Well, the Forward Stoke is an individual thing too….to a point!
Dropping your elbows of the pushing arm is probably the first thing that will change for long distance work. I understand why paddlers like to lower their arms a bit for long distance paddling as it can be thought of as too much "extra" work. I caution that while it's fine to lower them if you feel like you need to, don't let them drop so low, forcing you to revert back to being an Arm Paddler. ("Ahhh, a fate worse than death!") If your elbows are low, you will not be as connected to the torso as with them up around shoulder level. The less locked to the torso you are, the less power you will derive from the rotational power generated from the larger muscle groups of the Ab’s and Back.
I guess I'd just ask myself this question: “Okay, I feel like I am doing less work now with my elbows, arms and hands down low, but what's happening with the boat ?" In other words, whatever the Trade-Off is as it relates to lowering your arms, it needs to still "feel" like the boat is running properly. More importantly, you need to make sure that your Stroke Rate has not been forced upward to compensate for a shorter stroke. At that point, you are simply “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Remember, we are shooting for covering the same amount of distance while using FEWER strokes, not more.
Once again, it's about Balance. Balance between how you are feeling, and how the boat is running. I urge each of us to Study the basic foundation of the Forward Stroke FIRST! Practice it and Learn it . Then, and only then, begin to experiment with specific changes for specific reasons. I personally use the same Forward Stroke for long paddles as for short ones. I may drop my pushing arms and elbows slightly for the longer distance; however, the significant change I make is to Stroke Rate, not Stroke Technique.
Have a BIG adventure.