Hip rotation conundrum

Hip rotation
A lot of this gets taken out of context.

It’s hard to get a stroke right just by reading or watching a video. It’s a lot like learning how to play golf by talking to people or reading posts on a website.

Much better to ask someone quallified to demonstrate and work with you on the stroke.

I once paddled with someone who explained how they were careful to push with the foot with every stroke. (They were paddling a rudder equipped kayak, and the rudder swung about 40 degrees with every stroke.)

All this info is great, and maybe even accurate, but it brings me to the old story about the definition of a horse being something that was designed by a committee. Best advice is to ask a qualified instructor how to do it.

It just seems that there is not just one way to do this. I have done a fair share of bicycle racing and in training for this i noticed that multi pedal stokes are a valuable thing to have. Toe down, foot flat or neutral and heel down ( especially on long climbs).

This strategy seems to work well for me in kayaking. Sometimes more torso less hand, elbow and shoulder. Sometimes a high stroke and sometimes flat.

Conditions seem to dictate this but it also seems advantageous to mix it up for better endurance.

I have this theory that eventually the kayak teaches me what stroke it wants.

nothing is necessary

– Last Updated: Nov-18-09 11:43 AM EST –

I sometimes liken it to boxing. It looks exciting to the audience to see a lot of arms swinging, but you don't need to extend the arm at all to knock someone out. The arm is just used to direct the power where it needs to go. The flat-footed torso twisting is still better than simply swinging with the arms. But if you want to stop someone in their tracks, you have to get on the balls of your feet, use your legs and rotate your hips. There is so much more power behind a punch that way.

But boxers go through the same thing. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of training, climbing stairs, jumping rope, to be able to stay on the balls of your feet. The later in the rounds it goes, the flatter-footed they often become. They're still throwing punches, but they're using less energy to do it, and the punches don't have nearly as much behind them.

Kayaks have another issue though. The harder you land a punch in boxing, the more damage you do. But there are pretty extreme diminishing returns in sea kayaks. In a race, that last tiny bit of speed you can squeeze out in exchange for pretty drastic increases in energy output becomes worthwhile. But otherwise, it depends a lot upon how energetic of a person you are, what your overall goal is, or what you happen to be enjoying out of your paddle that day.

So I wouldn't say it has much to do with how far you can rotate without budging your hips. I'd say it's about the muscles being utilized. You can still likely improve power without increasing rotation. You simply use your legs and hips and twist your back a little less. This seems like a good thing on multiple levels.

I fully agree with the point of changing things up to stay comfortable. Just a short sprint every once in a while gets blood rushing through and prevents a lot of comfort problems people often try to fix with pads and the like. Improving your posture and engaging your lower torso for a little while can relieve all kinds of back discomfort. If I'm just po-dunkin' along, the energy necessary to travel at 2.5 - 3 knots doesn't necessitate hip rotation anymore than I need to be on the balls of my feet to play patty-cake with my niece. When paddling, it seems to me a lot of pressure must necessarily be delivered to be able to transfer power from my legs to the paddle blade. (Not pressing hard with my leg, but pretty high overall pressure being delivered to the paddle blade by the combination of muscles involved.) At a slower speed, my fast-speed rotation might seem to me like squatting to use my legs to pick a pencil up off of the table. But that doesn't mean I don't find great value in it on other occasions, or even occasionally that day.

I always see the whitewater/sea kayak outfitting thing. It always seems to me that in a whitewater kayak, I can throw my weight around 360 degrees. Experienced playboaters seem to do this effectively. They try to make the stern plunge. They try to make the bow plunge. Every single angle in between they try to exert control upon. You outfit the kayak accordingly. I can only edge my sea kayak left and right. That allows me plenty of leeway to allow for developing a strong, comfortable forward stroke, even in rough conditions, without sacrificing much control. It's still just a personal choice. But there's a legitimate reason that I don't need my sea kayak to respond to my every movement, the biggest being that it simply won't. Like everything, there's a tradeoff, and the tradeoffs are different in whitewater vs sea kayaks.

Useful video clip showing rotation form
In looking for something else I stumbled on a very useful little video clip showing torso rotation on the demo page for the “Sweetstroke”, a kayak simulation egometer at the www.kayakpro.com site (there isn’t a direct hyperlink for the embedded clip – just go to their site and click through to the demo video.) Since it’s a completely open piece of equipment you can see, in slow motion or fast, all of the body mechanics of the guy who is demonstrating it, including his leg flexing and torso position.

No two people are built alike.
When I first started paddling the adage was to look at your PFD zipper and if it’s not moving, rotate more. Large rotation takes large muscles and requires you to be in better shape. I think like a lot of things, it’s good to learn good ways to do things and then adapt them to what feels good and natural to you. I find excessive rotation tires me out and I don’t gain anything from it anyhow.

Remember when Jimmy Connors (famous tennis champion) used the two handed backhand. People were horrified - what a barbarian - no technique etc. Now everyone does that and it’s taught by the “experts”.

Videos galore
Not sure which kayakpro.com video willowleaf means, but there are a bunch at


all of which are also on youtube, like this one of van Koeverden…


Now there’s a guy to copy!

Well I thank you all
for your insight. I don’t think I stated my confusion very well though. It is not that I cannot reproduce the recommended form. It just seems to me to be wasted effort to swish around in the seat trying to get more rotation, when I can adequately reach the recommended exit point and beyond by rotating my upper body. I can keep the paddle vertical. In fact, I can keep it perfectly vertical by reaching my upper arm completely across the bow (also not recommended) to ensure it is straight as a pole during most of the stroke.

But I understand the racing boats do not react as critically as say a hard chined seakayak to the rocking back and forth caused by wiggling around in the seat.

I use the foot pressure to intiate all strokes. I can feel the energy transfer when I do it all correctly.

It just seems to me that sometime, someone, started winning races with this foot pumping thing and that became a mantra of sorts. I find that retracting the non-power side leg like some of these vids to be detrimental to keeping the craft flat and fast. Picking the knee way up like that requires shuffling it back forward and making contact again with your peg or platform. Just seems like a lot of uneeded shuffling to me that upsets boat balance. I suspect I will continue to place well down in the field until I get over my aversion to this “useless” method of wiggling around on my seat to create the “uneeded” extra rotation.

Next year, I will do some closed coarse timing trials to experiment with any gains that might come from sliding all over inside my boat vs hooking up solid to fully transfer my effort to the craft.

At one time, auto racing used to believe in one set of super tough tires to last you the whole race was the fast way around. Remember Firestone 500s? Then somebody tried something different. So, just because that is the way all the fast folks today are doing it, might not mean that is the fastest way. Probably, growing a body like van Houverdon would be much more effective for me than a minor hip rotation.

Oddly you seem to be mired in…

– Last Updated: Nov-04-09 1:14 PM EST –

... duality and missing the Zen on this particular topic.

Done correctly the leg action is not "extra", though a lot of undirected wiggling about certainly can be counter productive, as is pushing any harder on with the feet than what is needed to apply stroke power to the hull. What to take out can be more important that what to put in, just as continually weeding the garden is often more work than the planting and harvesting.

When dialed in it's all one balanced thing that maximizes power to the hull and minimizes waste elsewhere (including roll, pith, and yaw).

As with all practice/attainment - easier said than done (though this too misses the mark).

Speedstroke demo video
The little Speedstroke egometer animation I referred to is weirdly embedded in an obscure place in the kayakpro site – can’t link to it. To access it go to:


Click on the “company” tab at 11:00 on the “dial” with the red kayak pointer. Then click on the “Speedstroke” tab on the next page which takes you to an animation of a guy from the rear view paddling the ergo. Below and to his left is a round “button” taking you to the Speedstroke demo animation. Click on that and it will open the animation, a 3/4 view of the paddler at variable speed, clearly showing the progression of all the parts of his body (a rockin’ body, BTW)

For some reason you can’t access this particular animation anywhere else on the site.

Yeah, I goofed and type “sweetstroke” before. Too distracted by his bod, I guess (plus I’m always typing entries here in stealth mode at work.)

I can feel my enlightenment already.

This hunting season is really killing my boat time. I need to get back to some speed paddling soon.

What I took away from some of the responses and videos that you’re not rotating the torso just to reach the take out point of the paddle, but rather you continue rotating during and after the paddle releases from the water so you can reach ahead as far as possible for your next stroke.

I tried this a little the other day and it will take some getting used to but seems to work. Definitely more reach and power in the forward part of the stroke. It wasn’t something I’d want to do on a leisurely paddle though. Hopefully I’ll get a little more paddling time this weekend, maybe I’ll even take out the fast boat.


rocking the boat
Any boat rock, be it yaw, pitch or role is undesirable. Some is tolerated in a flatwater boat as a trade-off for maximum force application. The flatwater racing boats are actually extremely sensitive to extraneous body movement, that’s why you see the movement that you do in the videos. They are still trying to run as flat as possible. If you put that same stroke in a bigger boat like a surfski or sea kayak, the boat is going to run absolutely flat. The boats look like they’re jumping around when someone like Brabants is racing a hard 1000m because of the force being applied. It is pretty much impossible to paddle without the boat moving (although Nelo made substantial changes between their II and III models because the II pitches too much).

If your stroke is rocking a sea kayak side to side then you are mis-applying something.

Beginners and intermediates tend to rock the boat excessively when trying to rotate because they do all kinds of extra movement of the hip. The most common you’ll see it people “breaking” their hips. This is when the stroke side hip lifts up and the boat tilts away from the stroke side during the power phase. This makes the stern swagger severely. Another common problem is that people push harder with their legs than is appropriate. When you push with the leg on the stroke side, that force should be balanced through your torso and upper body to the paddle and your offside should come forward without extra effort. Most people just end up grinding their backside into the seat as their legs are working but that force isn’t being transfered between the boat and the paddle.


cycling analogy
as another person noted, cyclists use different cadence and form at different points of a race depending on terrain, fatigue, etc. notice the difference between lance armstrong and jan ulrich’s cadence and form. and then watch a pure climber like marco pantani who is out of the saddle all of the time. and all of these guys have different biomechanics from the pursuit riders on the track (would this be the equivalent of k-1 racers).

there seem to be some fundamental principles worth mastering but i can’t imagine that a kayak racer’s form is identical throughout a 2-3 hour race.