Just wondering if anybody has been injured while trying to maximize their power generation via torso rotation. Seems to me it could result in injuries but I’ve never heard of it. I’m guessing that the footpegs would be broken off first, or maybe something in the arms or shoulders would give way first since they are smaller than either leg or abs/back muscles.
Since one generates a lot of power with torso/legs, the wrists may not be up to it, especially over longer distances and with poor posture/alignment. Don't ask how I know - took my wrists several months to get back to normal after just a few hours on the water pushing it too much...
And I've had a couple of occurences where too much rotation in the hips caused rather unpleasant rubbing issues in my rear and sides. Proper seat and clothes typically take care of that...
Technique should balance power
Imbalance = Injury
Practice = Prevention
Pressure on pegs (and other contact points combined) should match pressure on blade. No more no less (blade locks in, lever off blade with body, drive boat forward through foot/butt contact points). Often requires some attention, unlearning, and lightening up to get more out of it (and take less out of you).
I can believe that
I have very small wrists and sometimes wonder at what point am I overloading them vs. strengthening them. Haven’t had chronic pain but they’ve acted up at times after paddling all day in strong wind.
Regarding your second comment, I am finding that the harder and more slippery a seat, the better. Which is too bad because two of my sea kayaks have foam seats. Fortunately, slippery silk-like nylon shorts with slippery liner brief work beautifully even with the grabby seats.
It’s the Happy Cheeks seat in my Jackson ww kayak that I really hate. Fuzzy surface grabs clothing and stays wet for a long time.
Straight/neutral wrists are a must - yet few maintain that. Many would benefit from wearing a wrist brace for paddling for a while, simply to train them how to keep them straight though the stroke and brake them of numerous bad habits. Overgripping is the biggest problem.
Applies to all paddle types.
The torso is not a low-friction system
by comparison with the arm joints. Exaggerated torso rotation is going to cost the paddler in terms of the resistance, frictional and elastic, inherent in torso rotation.
Fortunately, it turns out that most of the power from the torso can be had from just a reasonable amount of rotation. Powering down 1000 meters of a flatwater kayaking course, or slamming over a whitewater slalom course, requires a short period of higher rotation. But a full day of sea kayaking or river canoeing can be accomplished more efficiently with somewhat less rotation.
What is enough and what is too much
That was the gist of my original question, which I should have worded more clearly. I was actually thinking more about high loads from torso rotation possibly injuring the spine/lower back than about any ripple effects on shoulders or arms.
If violent coughing fits can cause strong abdominal muscles to spaz hard enough to crack ribs (as I have read), then maybe they can do bad things to vertebrae unless the back muscles are in balance strengthwise???
Standard answer: It depends, +++.
Not to dismiss the question as it’s a good issue to discuss in several (general) ways, but how can anyone possibly quantify this for you as to what is too much or too little?
You body, gear, and paddling conditions should sort that out pretty quickly (at least as far as limitations go, if not potential). Study technique videos and/or get lessons from race oriented paddler (even if you have zero interest in racing).
Changes to technique can feel a bit odd initially, but as you adapt things should feel quite smooth and natural, never awkward or forced.
If you’re sitting upright or a leaning a tiny bit forward the spine should not be getting into in any bad position by rotating correctly. Opposing muscles tend to limit how much you can actually twist, and getting, more would likely take practice/training, not some accidental over-rotation (outside of a surf/WW thrashing).
Rotation should be doing several beneficial interrelated things for you: Maintain alignment, increase circulation (back AND legs), strengthen/balance core muscle groups, and increase flexibility/range of motion in torso and below, better endurance, and better speed though the water (for same effort).
Getting anything less than this out of it could be considered evidence of too much or too little.
Pay attention to your hips as they may tend to roll under and put pressure on/limit mobility of lower spine (short hamstrings all but force this - and work on flexibility there pays in many ways).
Your gear and outfitting will impact this (as you noted with smoother seat pan). If your outfitting limits full from the hips up rotation you will be limited to partial rotation more in mid-upper back, while the lower back is more limited. Consequentially it is not getting the benefits listed above and is under more strain and more prone to issues.
The combination of partial/limited/pseudo rotation (due to outfitting or not so great technique - usually both) and short hamstrings/posture issues - pretty much defines your average sea kayaker (myself included).
More Spartan race type outfitting (smooth hard seat pan, low or no backband, room to work legs, and full foot surface vs pegs) can really help (for comfort over distance too), but it’s not the only way. Greenland style (flatter leg/bit more crunch/slightly less twist to the rotation paddling) can be fine too - it’s just that most paddlers aren’t adapted to it and flexibility issues can make it a bear for them to get all the way to where it works optimally. To me the real problem area lies in between, and that describes most sea kayak outfitting regardless of paddle/style/orientation.
I have L5 issues, and the more I paddle the less problems I have. Only times I’ve had any back issues from paddling have been in kayaks with padded seats/pegs, and when I’ve spent a lot of time sitting/lily dipping with others. This stuff all conspires to kill the benefits above and I start to stiffen up and that invites other problems. If I begin to feel this on the water, I pay more attention to my technique and work more rotation back in to nip it in the bud.
My stroke ain’t all that great or anything. I’m just becoming more aware of what I don’t do as well as I could, when and why I start getting even sloppier that usual at times, and seeking to reduce that. Various pains/issues along the way can provide really useful feedback on what not to do.
how much rotation
Textbook rotation for your forward stroke in a sea kayak would involve rotating from the catch to where your working hand is no further back than your hips.
If your elbows have very little bend to them this would mean more torso rotation. With more bend in your elbows you’d be rotating less. The idea is to keep from sweeping the blade toward the stern and turning the boat.
If you’re trying to sweep then rotate till you can’t go any further!
That’s what I try for in canoe and kayak
It’s less likely that rotation would damage anything if one is careful not to “horse” the paddle past the hip.
"when I’ve spent … time lilydipping"
LOL, I think when idling down while waiting for lilydippers, the tendency is to lose the good power posture and slump a bit. Even a little sloppy posture means a loss in output (at least it does for me, but then again my “engine” is quite small).
Sunday I took a long warm-up, focusing on technique and experimenting a little with amount of rotation. After a while I noticed an increase in speed for seemingly similar effort, and it wasn’t the wind. The difference was from just the slightest bit more torso rotation. That’s what made me wonder, “Is there such a thing as the point of diminishing returns or even negative effects with increased torso rotation?”
Not long ago, I finally replaced a bicycle stem with one that was 1.5cm longer. I’d always felt my position was slightly cramped (because the stem I had originally bought was chosen based on an inaccurate spec for the bike frame’s top tube length). When I rode with the new stem, I was amazed at how much better my chest/lungs, back, and shoulders felt.
Small differences in ergonomics can be just amazing. It’d be interesting if kayaking had a “fit kit” (taking into account both kayak and paddle) similar to what’s available for fitting bikes to riders.
Funny, I’ve been thinking…
… a bit longer stem would be the ticket for my bike too.
I like how it takes the stress off the shoulders.
For the most part, I think people with poor rotation will claim it’s not important and can lead to injuries and people with good rotation think it’s important.
But what is “good rotation”? I think
it’s not as exaggerated as seen in many instructional videos. And my torso, at least, is not quick enough to lock in the catch, which must be done by the arms and shoulders.
It is remarkable how seldom shoulder problems occur in rowing, where the arms and shoulders are responsible for locking in a very high load catch.
Instructors teaching torso rotation will always exagerate the motion to make it visually easier to understand. You don’t always need that much, but it’s a good idea to practice doing more than you think you need to, so that when you’re heading into a strong wind or current you have that great technique to get you through.
Based on my own experience, if i feel like i’m not engaging my core muscles at the catch, it means i need to rotate a little more forward - kind of wind up a little more. Get a little more potential energy stored up and i’ll get that much more energy out.
Pika, kayaks do have a fit kit. Take
your Jackson Fun and keep it in your spare bedroom or other less used space for a few days and move the seat pan into an ideal location. Note that the stock position is just average, not necessarily best. The Fun has lousy thigh hooks so the fit depends on how far your thighs fit into the knee bumps. The Happy Seat is a good piece of equipment that goes with those boats as they don’t let your legs slip too fardown in a capsize. Get that dialed. Your foot position is easily solved if you have the Happy Feet footbag, but if you don’t glue enough foam with your standard footwear to be comfortable and fit snug. You don’t need to overdrive anything, use the water features for that.
Sea kayaks are different, but I don’t like a sloppy fit there, either. All I can suggest there is to spend time with your outfitting and get that dialed in. Pay attention to your posture. Don’t overdrive or over emphasize anything. Pay attention to the concept of “Flow.”
you are misunderstanding rotation ???
I wondered about this years ago myself. After having many top mentors and participating in forward stroke clinics I realize I did not understand how to generate the most power, how to utilize the strongest muscles, and how to have the most efficient stroke for EACH set of conditions.
First and foremost is the myth of low angle paddling being easier even for calm conditions and for slow pacing. The paddle being further from the boat makes for a dramatic % of energy production that does NOT make the boat go forward. This becomes a larger issues in headwinds and waves.
Secondly, utilizing the strongest muscles and more muscles prevents injuries and develops one’s power, efficient oxygen utilization, and endurance.
Thirdly, the idea of over rotating occurs ONLY if one does not understand the beginning and ending of the forward stroke phases and how to accomplish them.
For example the use of the legs is NOT by themselves doing a great deal. Actually, they act to preload the hip and to increase hip extension during the stroke that coils and uncoils the torso, no more.
This is no different than a major league pitcher, a professional golfer, a discus thrower, etc. Coil and uncoil.
The beginning of the forward stroke is not the moment the paddle enters the water, rather, it is keeping the torso coiled up until the whole blade is in the water. If you do this you will not either over rotate nor try to rotate too far because you have started to uncoil too soon.
Same at the end of the stroke, if you get the paddle out of the water as the blade is at the hip you will not try to rotate beyond where is helps to power you forward.
Actually what happens when people try this incorrectly is they are not over rotating, what they are really doing is incorrectly using their arms to paddle in ADDITION to rotating the torso. This produces some angles of shoulder, arm, and wrist they leads to injuries.
As others have shared, their are different syles and forms of the forward stroke for different size paddlers in different boats and for different conditions, so even as said above, variations are needed by all of us to make it work correctly for each paddler.
A very real benefit of learning this full forward stroke is years of injury free, highly conditioning, and much more capable kayaking. I say go for it!!!
My 2 cents
A few things occur to me that haven’t been mentioned:
- Windup: you can get 90 degrees of rotation by rotating from 45 to 45 degrees on either side of the boat. If you want more rotation, wind up more on the offside, don’t go further back on the onside.
- You shouldn’t rotate in your seat to get enough rotation. If your hips are moving, you’re bracing almost entirely with your legs on the thigh braces and your feet on the footpegs. The result is sciatica, crampy thigh muscles, foot pain & numbness. Your entire lower body s/b braced including your hips and butt, which will absorb more of the pressure and spare your legs & feet. And give you more leverage.
- If you have hand/wrist strain after paddling hard, you may be unconsciously pulling with your arms to get more power. This goes along with not having your hips braced - you can’t get enough leverage from your thigh braces and footpegs, so you’re using your arms to pull the paddle, rather than just holding it in place while your torso pushes it.
- How long is your paddle? When I switched to a high-angle blade it was incredible how much faster I could go. If your paddle’s too long, a lot of energy is lost as the blade moves in a semi-circular path rather than straight back close to the boat.
You can also get a quicker cadence with a higher-angle stroke. The key to efficient speed is maintaining momentum. If you try to go faster with more powerful strokes, you’re putting greater stress on your body and letting your technique slip to get more power e.g. pulling with your arms. If you go oomph, oomph, oomph rather that dipdipdipdip, you’re also losing momentum during the longer recovery phase.
So to summarize, I’d suggest trying the following:
-Wind up more at the start of the stroke. Blade should go in the water while you’re facing across the boat.
-Lock your hips down so you can brace against them.
-Higher-angle stroke, use quicker cadence instead of more force to get speed.
that’s the way
I was taught, to wind up past the catch, plant the paddle, and start to unwind, before moving the paddle…
For me a good torso rotation creates extra power for going into strong wind and currents, and can also reduces any stress point on the shoulder.
Right now, I also don’t find that bending the elbow slightly reduces torso rotation. If I don’t need full power, I find a slight bend in the elbow and a high angle and very good rotation helps to reduce stress on a shoulder and is a very efficient forward stroke.
hopefully I’ll learn something
“You shouldn’t rotate in your seat to get enough rotation. If your hips are moving, you’re bracing almost entirely with your legs on the thigh braces and your feet on the footpegs. The result is sciatica, crampy thigh muscles, foot pain & numbness. Your entire lower body s/b braced including your hips and butt, which will absorb more of the pressure and spare your legs & feet. And give you more leverage.”
I do rotate my hips some when I’m really pushing. However, I don’t brace on the thigh braces at all. The force from the paddle, created by my body, transferred through a locked in arm and shoulder, is all pushing my body forward. It should only be contact points preventing my body from slipping forward in the boat that make any difference, shouldn’t it? Also, it’s pressure on one foot, and no pressure on the other, and I’ve found this to keep blood flowing and increase comfort?
3) “If you have hand/wrist strain after paddling hard, you may be unconsciously pulling with your arms to get more power. This goes along with not having your hips braced - you can’t get enough leverage from your thigh braces and footpegs, so you’re using your arms to pull the paddle, rather than just holding it in place while your torso pushes it.”
I do understand the pulling with arms. It just feels like I should go faster if I pull with my arms. But I realize that it results either in pulling the blade face towards the stern at the end of the stroke, or decreasing torso rotation so that I don’t do that, both of which work against me. I don’t think it’s possible to not get enough leverage from my foot peg to take all I can potentially give with torso rotation and the kayaks ability to slip forward through the water? Again, I’m not understanding the thigh braces.
4) “How long is your paddle? When I switched to a high-angle blade it was incredible how much faster I could go. If your paddle’s too long, a lot of energy is lost as the blade moves in a semi-circular path rather than straight back close to the boat.”
“You can also get a quicker cadence with a higher-angle stroke. The key to efficient speed is maintaining momentum. If you try to go faster with more powerful strokes, you’re putting greater stress on your body and letting your technique slip to get more power e.g. pulling with your arms. If you go oomph, oomph, oomph rather that dipdipdipdip, you’re also losing momentum during the longer recovery phase.”
On this part, any change in technique is to enable you to apply more pure power towards going forward. I do understand the quickness of release to plant to maintain inertia, but it’s more power e.g. pulling with your arms less and using your torso more, that delivers the speed. The finesse is in removing the blade, planting the blade, the speed of this process, and the ability to not shift weight needlessly as to effect efficiency (I can rotate hips without doing much of anything to my center of gravity). A faster cadence has to include the oomph, and a slower cadence has to maintain the smoothness and quick transition between blades. I imagine when it comes down to it we’re thinking the same thing here.
“So to summarize, I’d suggest trying the following:
-Wind up more at the start of the stroke. Blade should go in the water while you’re facing across the boat.”
This seems to lend itself towards working against inertia? I always think in terms of limiting use of my pulling arm so that it doesn’t interfere with good torso rotation. No need to wind further before plant, but as Tideplay pointed out, make sure I don’t unwind prior to plant.
-“Lock your hips down so you can brace against them.”
I hope I can learn something here, but I really don’t understand this part?
-“Higher-angle stroke, use quicker cadence instead of more force to get speed”.
I could only go with quicker cadence enabling me to apply more force, until it starts to curve the other way.
The biggest thing I’m trying to understand is locking down the hips. Movement of the hips really seems to help me engage my legs and lower torso, and really keeps the blood flowing, preventing discomfort. I’m not saying I’m not missing something here. I just need it explained to understand how to put it into practice.