Stroke Rate, Distance Per Stoke and Paddling Efficiency

I have been training with my Speed Coach for several months now and I have to say, I like it… a lot. There are some things I wish it had (like a download capability and maybe an ice cream dispenser), but overall I am pretty stoked on it. What I like the most are the many display options and measurement of several key metrics that can be used to improve my paddling. The top two read-outs are set: I always see my Stroke Rate (spm) and Speed. I like to set my bottom displays to Distance per Stroke (think: glide) and Overall Distance. Here is why and what I use it for.


When I was a rower in college we used stroke rate as one of our main metrics. Stroke Rate in rowing is a huge deal. The basic theory is that
Stroke Rate x Power Output=Speed

I order to go faster you needed to either A) increase the stroke rate while maintaining the same power output, B) maintain the same stroke rate while increasing the power output in each stroke, or C) both increase stroke rate and power. For some reason my coach always, um, “encouraged us” to do C…but that is a different story. Coach was a really nice guy…when he was off the water.

What isn’t shown in the simple math equation above is how EFFICIENCY plays into speed and how to improve paddling efficiency. We can all pull harder or paddle a higher stroke rate. But HOW does that relate to speed? When I train for efficiency what I am really looking at is how my Stroke Rate and Distance per Stroke is affecting my OVERALL Distance. For example, in a workout in consistent conditions, I know that if I am paddling at 60 strokes per minute (spm) and my distance per stroke is 8 feet per stroke, I am covering 480 feet per minute. I am going to call that my baseline for this workout.

60 spm x 8 ft = 480 ft/min

My goal is to maintain or increase my overall feet per minute while decreasing my stroke rate and/or increasing my distance per stroke. If I can paddle at the same 60 spm and increase my glide to 8.25 feet per stroke, JUST 3 INCHES OF GLIDE PER STROKE, I am now covering 15 feet more per minute…one board length in a race. That’s increasing speed.

Better yet, what if I can lower my stroke rate and still maintain 480 ft/min? If I am still covering 8.25 feet per stoke, I work to lower my stroke rate to 58 spm and maintain that overall distance of 480 feet/min. Two strokes per minute may not seem much, but in a one hour race that is 120 strokes. Go do 120 strokes at race pace and tell me it is no big deal. For those of us training for ultra-distance races like SEA Paddle NYC or Chattajack, getting your stroke rate down while maintaining your distance per stroke will be a major advantage when you are 3 hours into a 5 hour race.

So how do I increase my distance per stroke? I am glad you asked. That is why clinics are offered at races, paddling coaches exist, or why your workout partner is so important. The Feet per Stroke display on my Speed Coach is not improving my technique; it is offering me raw feedback. What improves my technique is getting a full blade of water at the catch, paddle shaft vertical during the entire stroke, stacking my shoulders, head up, firing with my hips, punching the top hand, setting the board, clean release at my feet, etc, etc, etc…Personally and what I encourage those I paddle with is to take ONE THING to work on each practice to improve efficiency. Today I am working on firing my hips in the power phase of the stroke. So I take my stroke rate at 60 spm and 8 feet of glide and I try to get it to 8.25 feet at 60 spm, then 8.25 feet at 59, then 58 working ONLY on firing my hips better. My old rowing coach used to say/yell “Fix one thing, fix it perfectly, and then move on.”


Steve Dullack is a team rider for King’s Paddlesports and the owner of the Virginia Beach Paddleboard Company.