Marathon canoe racing question

Question on paddling:

After your initial plant what percentage (just approximate) do you push forward on your upper hand, (the hand on the top ) vs. your pulling back the hand on the shaft.

I have been doing some experimenting lately and wondering if this old dog can learn some new tricks?

Up until now for me it has been mostly about pulling back on the shaft, but yesterday in a 25 miler I tried mostly pushing, and it seems that I would automatically pick up a tenth or two mph.

I would like to hear from some of you racers

Jack L

marathon stroke

– Last Updated: Aug-23-14 5:37 PM EST –

Read this excellent article:

Look at Figure 1 and note the rotation arc of the paddle. I don't perceive much if any forward push with my grip hand, instead I feel a definite downward push with that hand.

The angle of my elbows will be almost fixed during the stroke, top hand elbow bend is open slightly more than 90 degrees, bottom hand elbow is straighter, bent only slightly from being straight. These elbow angles (especially the top elbow) change very little during the stroke, which if you are correctly holding the paddle shaft with both hands over the water, forces you to use torso rotation and strong back muscles. Maybe this is what you perceive as a forward push, but if so it is only to keep that top elbow angle relatively fixed.

Bottom hand fingers actually just loosely cup the shaft, no death grip. Top hand pushes down with the palm and fingers able to relax as needed, except when in rough water or wind.

The only thing I would add to the article is how you plant the catch. Strive for a no-splash silent smooth entry of the blade. If your paddle gurgles during the stroke, you are dragging air at the catch, making your stroke very inefficient. The blade should cleanly slice into the water, and how you do that depends on your forward speed. You want to match the movement of the blade entry during the slice in to the relative motion of the water.

Think of moving through jello, and how you would make a clean slice into it without wedging any jello with the paddle blade as you move forward while the blade plunges into the jello. That should give you a silent efficient catch without dragging air as you begin application of power.

I paddle several marathon races during the year, including many years on the Adirondack 90-miler and the General Clinton 70-miler, plus twice on each of the Yukon YRQ 440 and Y1K 1000 mile races. This is what I observe works for my stroke.

Not a marathon racer, but . . .

– Last Updated: Aug-23-14 8:54 AM EST –

. . . I think an efficient stroke is the same whether you are racing or not. They key is to avoid paddle slippage--to always be levering against "still water"--as that good article points out.

As to the ratio between top hand push and shaft hand pull, my first instructors were some of the top whitewater slalom racers in the country. They all said more top push than bottom pull--about 60% to 40%. Whitewater paddlers use longer paddles and sudden accelerations, so that may influence the ratio.

Using a short bent shaft for 30 years, I think my ratio is about 50/50. My top hand pushes out and DOWN, enhanced by a slight stomach crunch, which the article suggests should be about 10 degrees.

The article is vague about the proper ratio between top push and bottom pull, other than to say that top paddlers can "feel" the optimum ratio by automatically detecting paddle slippage. Here's the money quote from the article:

"During the power phase, it is important to remember the bottom arm is pulling while the top arm is pressing down and slightly forward. Too much or too little power exerted by either arm causes paddle slippage. Thus, there is an optimum ratio of power between the two arms. Over powering the top arm at the beginning and end of the power phase does little to propel the canoe forward and can cause the canoe to porpoise up and down, which further slows forward movement. Nonetheless, the right degree of power is needed so the blade arcs through the largest amount of “still water” possible. The bottom arm can also cause blade slippage in two ways. If you apply too much power in relation to the top arm’s power or if you take too long a stroke (moving the bottom arm beyond the 7:00 position), you will experience stroke inefficiency and blade slippage. The key is to maintain the optimum power ratio between the two arms and shorten the end of your stroke."

More from George Arimond

– Last Updated: Aug-23-14 9:34 AM EST –

In the article cited by yknpdlr, Arimond mentions his work analyzing the stroke of several top-rated marathon canoe racers. That work was actually a graduate research paper he did for Bemidji State University in 1980 and you can read the entire paper here if you wish:

Just use Adobe Reader to open the pdf file.

This 58 page paper is a fair bit to wade through, although if you are interested in breaking down the marathon canoe stroke it is probably worth the time investment. Arimond analyzed the stroke of three experienced male, stern, marathon canoe racers. His work was limited by the analog video and relatively crude (by modern standards) digitizing tablets that were available at that time. The Piragis article is a reasonably good summary of his findings.

Arimond found significant variations in the stroke of these three paddlers but the most consistent finding was the forceful and continuous flexion of the upper arms of the paddlers on the trunk during the power phase of the stroke. What the paddlers did with their forearms was somewhat variable. He found that the paddlers' top (grip hand) forearms were extended to within 25% of full extension at the catch, and that their forearms continued a "very gradual extension" throughout the power phase, but there was significant fluctuation in the extension with no consistent comparative pattern between strokes or subjects.

One of the paddlers flexed his forearm at the elbow during the initial power phase before extending it.

From this it sounds to me as if none of the three paddlers was actively pushing forward with the grip hand.

I am not a marathon canoe racer although I have participated in some 8-12 mile citizen's downriver races in years past. For what it is worth, I do not think about pushing the grip forward during the power phase. Like yknpdlr, I do think about pushing the grip hand down toward the water during the plant and initial portion of the power phase. I imagine I do extend my grip hand forearm somewhat during the power phase, but I think it is simply a natural consequence of the paddle excursion brought about by the flexion of my upper arms on the trunk.

Here is a forward stoke analysis done by a C-1 slalom racer:

Note point 13 which refers to the power phase:

"Upper arm: keep pressing downward while avoiding as much as possible pushing forward with the upper hand (as seen from the side). Keep the upper arm bent and keep the hand in one place, in order to keep the paddle angled forward as long as possible and improve the transmission of power."

as you know

– Last Updated: Aug-23-14 1:16 PM EST –

In a long distance race, other than the most elite paddlers, a comfortable, repeatable stroke is probably the most important part.

If the goal is to get better, than a constant refinement of stroke is always warranted. If I'm really paying attention and concentrating on technique, I sense there is a slight push forward and down.

I gave up on getting better
My goal is to prevent from getting worse !

Jack L

amen to that