Moving your knees

I saw a video of I think Greg Barton showing how to paddle in a cut out boat and his knees came above the cockpit rim each time. I’ve been told to push with my legs and have done it in the SOT with good results but in my SINK there is no room to move my legs up at all. Should I cut out the thigh braces? My boat doesn’t seem a lot lower decked than other boats. I’m 5’10" weigh 220 and have size 12 feet if that helps.

Cannot wear shoes in the boat either but I have a friend who wears size 14 shoes inside his Capella. What gives?

different styles
Racers (usually in surf skis) paddle with their knees just about together and put a lot of effort into getting power out of their legs to add to their power from their core.

More casual paddlers (most of us here)paddle boats that are made for us to have our knees separated. So we don’t get the same benefit from the leg pushing. But our boats are made such that we aren’t really supposed to. Nor are our bodies trained to be the same motor that someone like Greg Barton is.

Peter, the boats are not “made” for

– Last Updated: Apr-13-10 5:07 AM EST –

you to paddle with your legs splayed out via turned out hips, wound up knees and funkily cocked ankles and feet.

Would you purposely walk, run, jump or set up one of your bikes like that ? Not what humans are "supposed" to do. This is why people often cannot get the benefit of using their legs with stock, way-too-small footpegs ... Its too painful over the day.

The effort is not "put into" using ones legs. Focus and training enable one to maximize the potential of this but everyone can benefit from using ones legs efficiently to connect things together as natural as walking.

You don't have to be Greg on a Ski / K-1 or Lance ( on anything ) to get the most from good postioning. Casual or not.

To say one cannot due to the boat or fitness level is short sighted.

You don’t have to bring each knee
way up.

Just push off the peg with each stroke.



yep, what he said
I think use of the legs can be visually very subtle for us touring kayakers. Even just thinking about putting pressure on the on-side toe through the stroke will get you using your legs and torso a little more.

I think the less you keep you knees tensed outwards, the more natural it will be to use your legs. That might mean moving your footboard forward an inch, and padding the outside of your boat a bit along outside of your knees, to allow boat contact, without keeping your knees so far out.

I’ll give one plug for Ocean Cockpits here too. As aware as I am of the inconvenience of getting in and out of the small OC, I’ve really grown to like the leg positions it allows. You can keep very relaxed leg positions - from splayed out, to completely straight legs - and regardless of where your legs are, there is always something to brace up against if you suddenly need it. This makes leg engagement a little easier IMO, because the legs can remain more relaxed even in bumpy water.


use of foam BH
has enabled me to be more efficient and comfortable in my one and only sea kayak (Valley Q). My size 13’s and knees are on centerline allowing good push and rotation. My knees just miss the coaming and barely press against skirt. I can brace to good degree with forward foot pressure on fwd BH and spine to shaped foam block. Rough water or rolling requires I splay knees for full thigh contact.

Those boats
you are seeing in the videos are racing type craft. They most often do not even have thigh braces, thus adding clearance for leg drive. The cockpits are opened up some too compared to typical sea kayaks that are rather small openings to allow small tight skirts. They don’t generally run the K1s in the conditions most of us rec paddlers or ocean paddlers do, except for surf skiis which are open anyway. Those folks have slippery seats or rotating seats that benefit from the added rotation. Their hip bones are actually sliding around on the seat, thus the added knee bend. They are champions and I am not, but I can achieve leg drive and rotation more than enough to exit the paddle at the proper point. I really don’t agree with all they do, but they are champions. Sometimes, someone tries something and wins and it becomes the new mantra. I often wonder if this is not the case with all this leg wiggling. They say to pull the paddle out at the hips and not take it too far back. If you rotate the hips way round you are disturbing the boat balance and causeing wiggle. I can rotate fully, provide leg drive with minor leg movement and exit properly. I will never be a champion, but that is what they all do until someone wins doing something different. Don’t worry about it so much unless your boat is a K1 or ski. I would not remove my thigh pads on any of my boats to achieve this. A couple of pounds pressure on the floor plate or pegs is all that is required for most of us. My seat in fact grips your butt on purpose. So, there are things you can take away from the vids and use, but for the most part recognized it is a specialized and optimized racing form.


– Last Updated: Apr-13-10 10:45 AM EST –

The technique and boats used are optimized for each other. You can't simply apply the same techniques to a different type of boat with a different seating/bracing arrangement. Pushing as hard on the foot pegs in a typical touring boat as racers do in race boats will result in nothing more than sore feet, a sore back and fatiguing your legs for no gain. Unless your hips can move in your seat, you don't gain anything by pushing harder than is necessary to resist the paddle stroke. Beyond that, all you're doing is wedging yourself tighter between the foot pegs and the back band. It's the equivalent of sitting in your car and pushing hard against the floor board. Yeah, you can get some leg exercise that way, but it doesn't make the car go faster. ;-)

Ocean cockpits are great

– Last Updated: Apr-13-10 10:43 AM EST –

Unfortunately, the perception is that they're confining and/or uncomfortable, so few people even try them. Consequently, boat manufacturers don't make them. It's a vicious circle that results in few people ever experiencing the advantages of a small cockpit, which are exactly as you explained them.

No, you can't just plop yourself in the boat butt first, but it's not hard to learn to use an OC. Besides, how much time do you spend entering and exiting your boat compared to paddling it? Doesn't it make sense to optimize the cockpit for what you're doing 99.9% of the time?

Tiny footpegs that don’t even reach
across your feet ++ They are angled BACK towards you due to the shape of the boat is like walking with a stone inside your shoe. Point loading X spot in your feet all day is not good. A podiatrist customer told me 3 out of 5 people are prone to foot injury from pushing on these small surfaces.

You gotta work into using your legs in conjunction with the rest of your body. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction sort of thing … Just hopping in the boat and forcing the leg pushing is doing nothing but wearing you out.

“but in my SINK there is no room to move my legs up at all”

I’m curious just what you mean by this. Do you have an ocean cockpit or keyhole? If keyhole, can you move your knees out of the braces into the open space of the keyhole?

Personally I like to put my knees together out of the braces when the ocean is calm and I either want to make good time or just change positions to avoid fatigue. Then when it gets rougher or I just want yet another change in position I put them under the braces (though even then I may have my knees close to center or spread wide).

Sea kayaks are typically dealing with a wider range of conditions than a race boat and so ideally your boat allows various options.

I had a chance to paddle some racing boats last summer and get a little instruction. Now I find myself moving my feet and knees to the center of the boat where I have room for my knees to move up and down. If conditions warrant or I just need to change positions I stick my knees back under the braces.

btw, I don’t move my knees really
I still mostly just apply force to each foot, but my knees generally don’t move up and down more than maybe a fraction of an inch. It just feels like I get a bit better leverage with my knees together. Mostly I do it for the change in position for comfort.

If your butt isn’t moving in that seat, that leg pumping is doing nothing.

Can’t move my legs
Means just that. They are locked in place. I can move my feet a little but I really can’t move my legs up or down at all. Just side to side as the boat seems much wider than my two thighs, but not much taller than them.

I’m really trying to decise between ditching this boat and getting a Cobra expedition or keeping this boat and making it more comfortable.

If I had to do a marathon I’d use the Solstice gts, but if I had to paddle 20 miles two days in a row I’d use the Tarpon 160.

yeah, need a different boat

– Last Updated: Apr-13-10 7:26 PM EST –

efficiency and such aside I think you need a bit more "wiggle room" just for comfort. Also I would think such a tight fit would make rolling a bit harder though still doable.

Would it be practical to lower your seat? I'm assuming your thighs aren't actually the same diameter as your deck height (12" or so?) but rather the height or your seat plus your thigh diameter equals your deck height. Or is the real problem that your foot pegs are too close thus cramping your leg into a smaller space and forcing the knee to the top of the kayak all the time.

Solstice GTS?
Is that pretty similar to the Solstice GT? I recall the GT having a fair bit of room under the deck.

Perhaps the foot pegs are too close, or perhaps flexibility is an issue. I think that someone who can’t keep his or her legs flat on the floor when sitting with their back straight and feet together, might have more trouble keeping thier legs comfortable in a kayak cockpits.

So, I wonder if a little yoga or regular stretching might be beneficial, and make longer days more tolerable. Just a thought.

Look at the Brent Reitz video instead
And pay attention to what Jackl said. Pushing off with the same side foot and rotating with the pivot point at the bottom of your spine rather than at the mid point of your torso make all the difference in the world no matter what kind of cockpit you have.

It boils down to :

– Last Updated: Apr-15-10 10:37 AM EST –

1. If you just want to lilly dip and nature watch and or cruise, you can put your legs and knees any place you want.
2. If you want to go fairly fast, you need to put some pressure on each peg with the leg on the side that you are bringing the paddle blade back on
3. If you want to race, you need to actually push off which entails a bit of bending the knee.
4. if you want to be competitive all of this will come naturally as long as you train