Proper Kayak Paddling Technique

June 29, 2016
Coordinator Business

Efficiency is one of the primary keys to winning Wildwater races. And the way to develop efficiency and be fast on race day comes from four primary areas: the aerobic component, strength, mental toughness and technique.

Strength, aerobic capacity and mental apects of racing can take years to develop. But changes in your technique can happen today. So why not spend a relatively short period of time to realize significant performance gains? It only makes sense to tackle the one that you can deal with the quickest, and the others will come with proper trainingngg and race experience.

During my years of informal coaching with the U.S. Wildwater Team and instruction in my kayak school, I have focused on five primary areas where most developing racers need improvement to build efficiency. They are rotation, a proper elbow lift with the top arm, the catch, pushing with a bent elbow through the power phase, and the exit.

Rotation is the single most important component to building a powerful and efficient stroke, but is the one that is most underutilized by paddlers. The concept is to use the large muscle groups of the back and abdomen to power the boat forward rather than the small muscle groups such as the biceps and triceps.

People who have heard that rotation is important may feel like they have taken steps to use good rotation, but are still usually only rotating their upper torso rather than twisting from the base of the spine. One way to overcome this is to try to exaggerate your rotation on dry land.

Try to imagine a steel rod that runs through the top of your head to the base of the spine. Sitting on dry land in an upright position, try rotating back and forth along the length of your spine with your paddle resting on your shoulders. You should feel that same pull at the base of your spine when you are paddling. This is the only way you will employ the larger muscle groups during the stroke. You must be able to power the boat from the rotation of the hips as well as the back! It will also give you an idea of some of the muscle groups that are important to address when stretching before and after a workout.

Try to exaggerate rotation, and reach with a relaxed front shoulder and arm. Feel the potential energy getting ready to explode from the abdomen. Note how the back arm is already in line with the wrist and shoulder (the chicken wing described below).

When you are learning to rotate, watch out for an exaggerated side-to-side rocking motion in your boat, which actually slows you down by making the boat bob up and down. If this is happening, you need to "quiet" your lower body.

The Elbow lift (chicken wing)

With your top arm, raise the elbow and wrist up as one horizontal unit, rather than leading with the wrist and letting the elbow following at a lower plane. Imagine a chicken raising a wing as a single unit. The key to the "chicken wing" is to align the joints of the shoulder, elbow and wrist so that they are ergonomically sound, as well as to lock in and transmit the rotational power from the torso to the paddle blade.

Imagine throwing a punch. To knock down the other guy, you would line up your elbow with your fist and shoulder to get the best horizontal power, whereas throwing a punch with the elbow lower than the wrist and shoulder would be little more effective than a slap to your opponent. You wouldn't do'd lose the fight! So don't do it when you paddle. Many paddlers who suffer from wrist tendonitis may be able to fix their problem by making sure their joints are aligned horizontally.

The Catch

This is the place where people lose the most efficiency. The kayak stroke is usually only about three feet long, and the key problem to overcome is to not allow your body to unrotate until the blade is completely buried in the water.

If you start to unwind AS you plant the blade, rather than before the blade is fully buried beneath the surface, you will unnecessarily lose several inches in the stroke length and lose a lot of power stored up in your rotation. These inches can add up to as much as an 18% loss in efficiency over the course of a race.

Timing during the catch is also very important. If you can pause just a millisecond and allow the paddle to be fully submerged before you pull on it with your lower hand, you will have much more power at the front one-third of the length of your stroke. The pause should be very short, yet fluid with the rest of your stroke.

Spearing the salmon: Transfer the consciousness of power from the bottom hand to the top, and slide the paddle in beside your toes. Pulling too early with the lower hand can mean critical inches lost in the stroke's length.
How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak
How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak
Kayak Draw Stroke - In Water Recovery - How to Paddle Series
Kayak Draw Stroke - In Water Recovery - How to Paddle Series
Kayaking Technique - Draw Strokes
Kayaking Technique - Draw Strokes
Share this Post