Paddling faster isn’t just for racers; every paddler benefits from being able to step it up a bit when they need to. So is it something you need to learn how to do, or is it something that you just do? It seems kinda intuitive – you just, well, paddle faster, right? But what does that look like in practice? For most people, trying to ‘paddle faster’ actually tends to end up as ‘paddling a whole lot more inefficiently, with a bunch of splashing and loads of effort’, with only a very slight change in speed achieved. Or it manifests as a crazy high-tempo paddling style with a huge number of inefficient short little strokes per minute, which very quickly has your heart-rate at red-lining levels, and is utterly unsustainable for anything other than short bursts.
So how do you go faster, in a sustainable, efficient fashion? In this video, we’ll go through the various factors one by one and help you understand what’s going on, so that you can go out and experiment for yourself on what works best for you. Because that’s the first important point right there, and one we’re constantly banging on about – there is no one right way to paddle. The best approach for you to go faster may be totally different to the best approach for your mate.
There are essentially three things you can do to paddle faster:
- Improve your efficiency – so for the same amount of effort you’re actually achieving more speed
- Do more strokes per minute
- Get more power out of each existing stroke
Or indeed, any combination of these three; they’re not mutually exclusive. However, to properly understand each factor and how to apply it, it really helps to consider them in isolation. So let’s do that.
Improving your efficiency
The important point here is that you’re not putting any more petrol into the engine; you’re working on getting more out of each stroke. And this is absolutely where any quest for more speed needs to start, because if your existing paddling style is inefficient, then any attempt to increase your workrate, and put more energy into the system is just going to magnify that inefficiency. This is a really important point to grasp. Improving your technique is ALWAYS the bottom line. Indeed, when I start coaching paddlers, we spend a long time working at very low speeds before we go anywhere near stepping it up.
Good paddle technique starts with how you place the paddle blade into the water. If your catch isn’t near-perfect, the rest of your stroke can never achieve a high level of efficiency. We have already covered this vital aspect of technique in great detail in our ‘how to improve your stand up paddleboard technique’ video. As you’ll see from the comments on the video, it has really helped a lot of people already, so we’d strongly recommend watching it if you haven’t already. In this vid we’ll take it as read that you’re already working on your catch. Next up is how you maximise efficiency during the power phase, which is influenced very much by the angle of your blade. The trick is to keep this at positive or neutral angle for as long as possible through the stroke. Finally, however you choose to take your paddle out of the water, it is critical that you don’t inadvertently apply the brakes at this stage, which is what happens if you splash or lift water, or even just let the paddle track backwards after the stroke instead of instantly reaching forward again.
Increasing your cadence
Doing more strokes per minute seems an obvious way to increase your speed, but it’s actually beset with potential pitfalls. It all depends on what bits of your existing stroke are actually providing the power – and this varies hugely from person to person. The mistake far too many people make is that by trying to do more strokes, they end up cutting off the efficient bits of their existing stroke, but increasing the number of inefficient splashy bits – end result, vastly more effort outlay, for very little (if any) return.
Fortunately, there are two quite different ways of increasing your stroke rate, and one of them can easily be done without any risk of reducing the quality of your existing stroke. As we explain in the video, rather than paddling like a metronome; tick-tock-tick-tock, the trick is to cut down on the return time when the paddle is out of the water. Reducing this allows you to do more strokes per minute, while not changing any other aspect of your existing stroke. The paddle stays in the water for exactly the same amount of time, and your catch, power and release phases are completely unchanged. You’re simply speeding up the bit in between the strokes.
This is where anyone wanting to increase their cadence should start. The alternative is actually getting into messing with the mechanics of your existing stroke, and that’s a whole different can of worms, as we explain in the video. It can certainly be done, but it’s incredibly hard to do properly and effectively on your own; it really needs to be done in conjunction with a skilled coach who really understands this stuff. And they’re pretty thin on the ground. (Ideally you need good technology too, in order to fully analyse the output curve of your existing stroke).
Increasing your power
Increasing your cadence is not for everyone. It feels like a considerable increase in effort (even though it’s generally quite an efficient technique in terms of how your body functions; in most sports the actual effort increase is considerably less than the perceived effort increase when you raise your cadence, whether it’s running, cycling, XC skiing or any other activity that relies on rhythmic repetitive motion.). So the alternative is, rather than doing more strokes per minute, is to crank more power out of each stroke. This approach suits a lot of paddlers, particularly the more mature paddlers for whom all that high-cadence stuff seems like much too much hard work, whereas grinding it out at lower revs seems much more natural. So if you’re the sort of person who prefers to power uphill on your bike at low revs rather than spinning those pedals in a higher gear, then this will be the option for you.
Again the important thing about increasing your power is that you don’t reduce or stop doing any of the existing good stuff. Your technique must remain solid in all respects. You’re just pushing harder, driving the paddle down a bit deeper, twisting a bit more, thrusting a bit more, depending on your particular style of paddling.
Of course, the increasing cadence vs increasing power options is not actually an either/or thing at all – you can do both, and most paddlers generally do. But if you learn to do both in isolation, then you can switch between them as necessary, and when you combine them together, well, that’s hitting the turbo-boost button right there!
Please do note that I’m most certainly not advocating that everyone paddles like I do in these vids – my stroke style is mainly compression-based, because that suits my body shape and composition, age and injury history. If your stroke is more twist-based or thrust-based because that is what works best for you because of your body shape, composition, age etc, then great. (Whereas if your stroke is more twist based, thrust based or indeed compression based simply because that’s how someone else (live or on the web) has told you to paddle then maybe not so great. It may not be the right style of stroke for you at all, but that’s a whole different discussion.)
Another important consideration is that this video is about the actual technique of how to paddle faster, but there are other important factors to consider, such as environment, equipment and fitness. Check out our video on 4 ways to improve your paddling for a whole lot more discussion of these.
We really hope that you find the video informative and useful. Don’t forget to LIKE the video and subscribe to our channel, and please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments with any questions. We love to hear from you!
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