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Core rotation ~ ©Dustin Sousley
Here you can see a paddler who has fully rotated her hips in preparation for her next stroke.

Paddle Further, with Less Effort:
A Basic Primer on Endurance Technique


by Graham Ulmer, Race Team Coach


ALL IMAGES ©DUSTIN SOUSLEY - dustinsousley.com

Part I: Core, Legs, and Hips

As the sun begins to cast its warm glow over the waters of your respective region of the world, you may feel the same pangs I do to hit the water. To me, nothing is as tranquil and relaxing as feeling the smooth glide of my Epic pacing through the crystalline waters of the Puget Sound.

I also like to cover a ton of ground in my boat and find that fatigue sets in when conditions get rough, or when I'm simply not in shape. Therefore, I try to remember all the skills and drills we teach our own paddlers here in Gig Harbor. Here are some pointers I think will help you paddle longer distances this summer, with less effort.

1. Active Core

Of course you've heard this phrase if you've paddled for any considerable amount of time, but it's importance cannot be understated. The "core" actually does not refer strictly to the abdominal muscles, but, rather, the primary muscles involved in performing a particular sporting activity.

In the case of kayaking, the core would refer to the abdominals, hips, lower back, and gluteal muscles. Keeping these muscles firm and active throughout your stroke is absolutely vital for conserving energy, as well as connecting the power driven from the legs to the trunk and arms. Collapse your core region in any way, and I assure you, you'll be going home quicker than you had hoped. You will also risk injuring your lower back and shoulders with a weak core region.

Mental Cues: "Use your core", "Solid core", and "Hard Core" are my favorite cues to yell when coaching young paddlers... anything to help them firm up their gut, and not slouch.

2. Break Your Footboard

Alan Anderson ~ ©Dustin Sousley
3 x USA Canoe/Kayak Coach of the year, Alan Anderson,
encouraging his Athletes

Contrary to popular belief, the arms do little to propel the boat forward in comparison to the legs, hips and core. The stroke is initiated with a powerful driving of the onside (the side you're paddling on) leg against the footboard.

As you drive your leg against the footboard, this energy is transferred through your hips, which naturally begin to rotate, through your core muscles, and up to your trunk and arms where you should finish with a powerful and snappy exit.

Mental Cue: "Break your footboard". This will help ensure you are getting the most out of your legs with each stroke.

3. Active Hips

In my opinion, hip rotation is a natural product of a powerful driving of the legs, although some coaches believe that hip rotation initiates the stroke.

Regardless, if you drive your legs hard with each stroke and maintain a solid core, hip rotation should naturally follow. However, it does help to think about aggressively rotating your hips with each stroke, especially bringing the offside (the nonoke side) forward. This will help you think about not pulling backwards with your stroke, but, rather, rotating forward as you cover more ground.

Butt Races ~ ©Dustin Sousley
'Butt racing' teaches the importance of mobilizing
the hips while paddling.

The legendary Gig Harbor Canoe & Kayak Team coach, Alan Anderson, always yells, "Reach with your onside hip". This cue will help you get more length out of your stroke through hip rotation, rather than lurching forward from the waist. The latter creates a "rocking" effect in the boat that will slow you down and expend valuable energy.

There is even a fun drill we do with our younger athletes, notoriously known as "butt races."

Each athlete lines up on the lawn, pretending as if she were about to engage in a sprint race. When the coach says, "go", the athlete must inch her way forward about 10m or so using only hip rotation (No hands and no dragging your butt!!!).

This helps reinforce the concept of keeping the hips very mobile throughout the stroke and strengthens the hip flexors.

If you want to have fun with some friends in the park, improve your kayak stroke, and look ridiculous at the same time, I highly recommend this one. This is also a great confidence builder for young female athletes, as they tend to have more flexible hips than boys, and end up dominating these races.

Graham UlmerSummary

-Keep your core firm and engaged throughout the stroke
-Break your footboard with powerful leg drive
-Reach with your onside hip.

Focusing on these big core muscles of the lower body will surely have you paddling longer distances with less fatigue this summer. Stay tuned for Part II regarding the role of posture, setup, trunk, the arms and blade mechanics.

About the author: Graham is a writer, coach, and paddler. One of his greatest joys in life is paddling long distances in his home waters of the Puget Sound. He also enjoys traveling and scoping out new and undiscovered paddling locations around the world. Graham is a member of The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team.

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