Paddling using torso/abs

I’m a new boater, and I’m having a pretty mild but consistent shoulder problem. I am not certain it’s related to my paddling technique, but it probably is. The discomfort associated doesn’t remind me of muscle fatigue or wear, it reminds me of joint wear (more like my knee when I hike too far/too fast).

I’m not really clear on people’s instruction to use my torso and abdominals to pull my paddle along. Am I supposed to be pivoting my body side to side a little so that I get my trunk out of position and pull it back (then stretch it out the other side)?

I’m doing whitewater kayaking, if it makes a difference.

Thanks for any help you can give me visualizing this motion.

Forward Stroke
This is what should look like:

and here some reading:

Don’t forget that at least 8 out 10 paddlers out there will use a rather poor forward stroke, so it is better to look at the elite in order to not to learn bad things from the beginning.



I was taught this drill
Hold your paddle straight armed in front of you and paddle without bending your arms. This gives the feeling of torso rotation.


when in doubt
take a lesson.

Done properly it can be a very counter-intuitive sport.

good EDU and coaching is always in order.


Good torso rotation video.
Keep in mind that he is using a wing paddle. In WW, with a euro paddle, you wouldn’t have the big slice away from the hull at the end of the stroke. The torso rotation is basically the same regardless of euro, wing or GP though. You wind up the torso, storing that energy to be released after the catch phase. You should be feeling the torque in your waist.


It is highly likely
that your discomfort is related to lack of rotation. If you need a mental picture, at the catch (paddle in the water near the toes) your shoulders should be at about 45 degrees to the length of the boat and your upper body directly over the center of the boat. End the stroke with your other shoulder at about 45 degrees (and don’t continue back with your arms) and repeat on that side. In practice it is easier to accomplish by pushing your left shoulder forward when you are paddling on the right, and vice versa. Once you get that motion down then start tightening your abs on every stroke and relaxing them at the end of the stroke. Support yourself with the foot that is on the side of the paddle. And finally move the paddle through the water without making a lot of bubbles (usually more slowly than you think). Forcing the paddle through the water with lots of disturbance is hard on both your arms and shoulders. If you need to temporarily go fast, shorten your stroke and increase your stroke rate.

As good guide to know or keep in mind
when your not paddling correctly is when and I just recently read this is, ALWAYS ALWAYS keep your elbo in front of your shoulders and below yours shoulders. If your elbo is going beyond your shoulder at the finish of your stroke its likely because your coming to far back or your arms aren;t stiff enough and your not twisting your torso. Possibly your paddle is to high or straight up and down rather than more angled and below your chin. Although white water stroke may not come into play.

Just some thoughts to thunk about



Not necessarily that much shoulder

– Last Updated: Jun-21-05 4:31 PM EST –

That video shows a ton of shoulder movement, in addition to hip and torso rotation. In other words, that guy is using every muscle at his disposal. He's probably even using his biceps a little and maybe even his wrists!

That's OK for all-out racing, but not what you want for everyday touring. Unless we are sprinting, us normal folks want to use almost exclusively hip and torso rotation, and just let the shoulders transmit the power, but without adding much, if any, power themselves.

And, that's what the original question was about, right... avoiding strain on the shoulders due to powering with them.

What works for me is to paddle from the hips -- wind the hips up quite a lot, as the racer is doing, and then send a signal only to the hips to exert power, not to the shoulders and certainly not to the arms. The shoulders and arms just come along for the ride (and to position the paddle)

Anyway, paddling from the hips that way rotates the torso, engages the abs, pushes on the footpegs and pumps the legs. But I dont have to think about four separate things, just one -- the hips. It also spares my bum shoulder.


The axis stays put
the elbows don’t bend much but the shoulders move about the vertical axis. When you get it you will feel like your are hanging by your paddle fron your abdominal muscles.

The arms form a U and seem to stay that way thru the stroke. To make sure you are rotating, try looking at back of boat after each stroke as a drill. Pull with the bottom hand and do not push with the top because it is too far from the body to be safe and efficent. Maybe a smaller paddle.

A good article …
… right here on

I also used to get shoulder discomfort
even with good torso rotation. The difference for me was good posture. Sitting up straight and pulling my shoulders back and down (think of pinching your wings together), just like my mother always told me to, eliminated the discomfort. Even now, if I begin to feel fatigue in my shoulders, this eliminates it. It can be counter intuitive to sit forward, reach forward with your paddle, AND pull your shoulders back, but that’s what you need to do. After a while it, like torso rotation, becomes automatic.

Shoulder and biceps???

– Last Updated: Jun-21-05 6:23 PM EST –

Sorry, but what are you talking about?

Do you know who is that guy?

Shoulders – why not?

– Last Updated: Jun-21-05 8:16 PM EST –

No, who?

IAC, I didn't mean it as criticism. Quite the contrary. I assume a top racer will use whatever muscles s/he can efficiently bring into play.

OK... after watching that clip about 25 times, I am convinced that the racer is definitely getting significant shoulder power, certainly at the beginning of the pull phase. Biceps... well, maybe a little. Wrists... totally kidding.

Nothing wrong with that it you're racing and have the strength and endurance for it... more power to ya.

But not if you're a normal paddler on a day trip, and have a bum shoulder to boot.

As I understand it, the idea for normal, non-racing touring is to use the big muscles of the abs and lower back almost exclusively, because they will take us the farthest with the most long-term speed and least fatigue.

So that's my point. What you see in this video, while amazing and utterly correct in many aspects, is also incorrect in some ways for the guy who asked the question. Do you dispute that?


He’s a sprinter!

– Last Updated: Jun-21-05 8:17 PM EST –

Aha, I see who he is... an Olympic sprinter... as I figured from his technique. You want the fellow with the bad shoulder to paddle like a sprinter?!

It can be really difficult to
watch a video and improve your own stroke (unless you video yourself too, for comparison). I suggest taking a lesson, or hanging out with some very good paddlers, in order to identify specific errors you are making in your stroke that you are not aware of.


Totaly confused

What part of Verekei’s stroke do you find less than optimal for use as a touring stroke?

I see minimal use of anything other than torso. Arm movement is minimal, elbows aren’t engaged until after the power stops. stroke is a work of art.

This guy’s stroke is a work of art.



Others have posted good stuff to look at…here’s $.01 more…: After making sure the shaft’s length is right for you…take a look at the size of your paddle’s blade. Sometime, simply try something with less overall area in the blade, or experiment with a different shaped blade, more narrow…for example.

Sprinter’s stroke for touring

– Last Updated: Jun-22-05 4:44 AM EST –

OK, maybe I am the confused one. Are you saying in general a sprinter's stroke is also ideal for touring (apart from intensity and wing paddle)?

I don't really have the tools on my system to do this properly, but here are two snapshots that seem to show what I am saying.

Between those two, it looks to me like

* the paddle is in the water, though not all the way at the begnining, and thus providing power

* both the water side shoulder and elbow move significantly between the two snaps, indicating that there is powering from those two joint/muscle systems. In fact, the elbow is bent almost 90 degrees in the second one. At the same time, the air hand moves very little, just enough to put the paddle into the water.

The thing I am not sure of from these snaps is whether the paddle movement is more than the lower body rotation between them, that is, is the bending of the shoulder and elbow really providing paddle movement. I tend to think so because in snap #1 the paddle is quite far forward -- as it should be -- though it doesn't look that way at first glance because of perspective.

~After~ this point in the video clip, however, the body is all that is moving to power the paddle, so that's not an issue. But what's hapopening here?


The drill I was taught recently
Was to twist the torso and follow the blade with your head and eyes and then same to the other side, the head and body should follow together.

Drills of this type promote good torso rotation.

Do as I say not as what I am very good at :slight_smile: