Advice From the Hammock No. 3

In the last edition, I talked about the middle part, or power phase, of the standup paddle stroke, discussing the importance of keeping an efficient rhythm when paddling to maximize your effort. (If you missed it, you can check it out on our website here:


In this edition, I want to talk about the middle part of the kayak stroke. One of the most common things we hear from people who haven’t kayaked is “I don’t have the arm strength for that.” The idea that you primarily use your arms to kayak is a common, and understandable, misconception. After all, the paddle is what moves you through the water, and your arms are what hold the paddle.


The problem is that out of all the muscle groups in your body, your arms are among the weakest. When kayaking, we want to try to incorporate our larger muscle groups into the stroke- namely our back, shoulders, and core. In order to do this, we utilize the idea of “The Paddler’s Box”.


Before we talk about The Paddler’s Box, let’s look at what new paddlers often think is a proper stroke. They reach by extending their paddling side arm forward, putting the blade in the water, and then pulling with their paddling side arm to bring the blade back to their hip. The problem with this is that it uses mostly the biceps, which provide very little power and fatigue more easily than other muscle groups.


To correct this, the Paddler’s Box helps you visualize proper body mechanics during the stroke. Holding the paddle in front of you with your arms slightly bent, your torso, paddle, and arms form a rectangle, or box. The goal is to maintain this rectangle throughout the stroke. With this in mind, rather than reaching forward with your arm to take a stroke, use your core muscles to rotate your paddling side hips and shoulders forward, while the opposite side moves backward. This naturally extends your paddle forward while winding up your core. After planting the blade in the water, you can use this stored energy to unwind your body, driving yourself and the kayak  past your submerged paddle blade. (This is a subtle but important detail, which I’ll discuss in a later newsletter. During an efficient stroke, though it looks like the paddle is moving through the water, it is actually secured in the water while your kayak, paddleboard, or canoe slides past it.) Doing this ensures that you use your larger muscle groups while paddling, enabling you to paddle longer with less fatigue.


In addition to improving efficiency, The Paddler’s Box also keeps your shoulders protected while paddling. By keeping your hands aligned in front of your shoulders, you avoid potential injury to your shoulders, which could occur if you force them to do work when rotated out of alignment.


It’s important to keep in mind that though you should strive to maintain this position while paddling, you should avoid being rigid. It’s also important to remember that, while your arms aren’t providing the bulk of the power, they are still doing some work. In order to maintain the box, you must apply pressure with your top arm as your body rotates. Note that “pressure” is not the same thing as “pushing”. Pushing is when your top arm extends from the elbow to power your stroke. Pressure is when your top arm simply transmits the power generated in your core, shoulders, and back to keep the paddle moving at the same speed as your torso. It’s helpful to keep your shoulders pulled lightly back and picture your upper torso moving as a unit.


I hope you found this tip helpful! And remember, while paddling tips are great, a private or group lesson is a great way to get more in-depth explanation and real time feedback on your technique. You can always sign up for lessons on our website,, or give us a call or email. We also have a few spots left in our five week Kayak Foundations class starting in June; spots are first come first serve, so sign up today if interested!

Aaron Mearns