Thigh braces/leg position

Forgive me if this has been covered before, but I’m hoping you guys can help me with this.

What is the most efficient leg position in a kayak? Is it better to have your knees more bent and higher and wider for leverage, or is it better to have your legs closer together and flatter for a lower center of gravity?

There must be trade offs between the two, but are there any guidelines or rules of thumb on this?

I’m trying to decide how much padding to put on the sides of my thighs in my Capella. 22" wide with a fairly high deck. 13".

I weigh about 185 with short legs and long torso. 5’11" tall.

Really no answer
Bent or straight, splayed or together - thick or thin large or small pads - all depends on your shape/size/fitness/preference - and on your kayak - and on what you are going to use it for.

If that lack of info doesn’t help - I’ll make something up that sounds more like an answer. Follow this made up BS at your own risk:

For a Capella in general touring use - (mostly normal paddling in easy to moderate conditions and some bracing/rolling but nothing fancy and not life or death):

  1. Sit in the cockpit and bend your legs so one fist fits underneath each knee.

  2. Adjust foot pegs back to hit ball of your foot, with foot at a natural and stable angle.

  3. Pad the braces down so they hover about 1/2" above your thighs in this position. This gives you some room to move - with support at the ready. To engage firmly with braces just flex foot forward a little, or lift thigh a little, or both.

  4. Contact with brace surface should cover an area from 2 fingers behind your kneecaps or more back about the width of your hand including your thumb as a minimum. Overall area about the size of your whole hand. Adjust for comfort/control/fit with keyhole. May end up longer then wide - or wider than long.

  5. How much you curve/shape them to wrap around your legs is up to you. Some like big hooks - but if the surface is at a good position and size to give solid contact when you lock in an aggressive WW style hook to the foam is probably not needed in a touring kayak.

    If your legs splay out and rest on the hull at the sides and you are comfortable, fine. If not you can add some foam at the sides near you knees to bring them in a little but still have somewhere to rest. If you are a more active paddler they’ll be up and moving anyway and this won’t be an issue.

    OK - All that sounded more specific - but really isn’t. Outfitting is VERY individual. Depending on your fit in the kayak - you could end up with anything from very little foam (I have only small 1/2" thick pads added on either side under the keyhole bumps on my QCC 700 - but I also have 26" thighs) - or some nice thick sculpted pads. I have seen dozens of very differently outfitted kayaks that all worked well for their owners.

    Minicell is easy to work - so experiment. Once you get them right there’s a good chance you’ll want to make changes again after paddling with them a while.

Multiple schools of thought
Most commercial boats are designed to be paddled with bent knees. However, Greenlanders and Greenland style paddlers have used straight legs for centuries. The equipment and techniques used for each style are different are are designed to be used as complete systems, but you can always pad down the deck of a boat for straight legged use. I’ve done it to all of my boats and several for friends.

That’s fairly straight legged
with one fist under knees. That is kind of what I’m thinking. Lower center of gravity, and I think you can get a better snap in your hips with your legs a little flatter.

With my high deck and my skinny legs, I’ll probably need about 2 inches of padding on top.

Also straight legged
It sounds like you prefer straight legged also.

I’ve seen your pictures and you seem to pad it down quite a bit on top of the thighs with very little if any on the outside of the thighs.

I assume when rolling and bracing you are getting most of your support by putting pressure upward against the thigh braces and not so much outward.

with skinny boats and low decks you don’t have much choice,your legs will be flatter and lower,cg has nothing to do with it. With a wider boat you need more leverage in rougher water to crank it around. Ergonomically knees together and slightly bent without thigh bracing as you’d see on a surf-ski works best for high output. This is going to be an area of exploration for you as to what feels comfortable now and what works later on in different conditions.

I’ve got a Chatham16 in plastic that has the adjustable thigh braces removed,I can hook my knees underneath for rolling or paddle with knees together if I wish (although it’s not a fast boat). Play with it .

P&H Front Decks
I find them to be on the high side, espcially compared to my Explorer LV. My short boat is the Vela, which is already pretty narrow, but I padded the thigh braces down about and inch and it made a nice diff.

Personal preference
The efficiency of your paddling from your leg position will depend mostly on your personal preference and comfort. With your legs flat you can use a knee/ab crunch to enhance the power of your stroke. When your knees are in a bent position you are able to set up your stroke by straightening the knee, which pivots the hips and adds to the torso rotation to strengthen the stroke. I enjoy paddling kayaks that are set up both ways. With the legs set up flat against the hull it requires some flexability in the hamstring muscles to be comfortable. I like paddling kayaks with low decks because my hands can be lower and is a more relaxed paddle stroke. This limits me to keeping my legs fairly straight. I find It’s more comfortable for me to have my legs slightly bent. Try different knee positioning and see what works for you.

Progression of skills dictates set up!
How your boat is set up is very much determined by your level of skills and how wide your experience base is.

As a novice it is useful for most paddlers to have maximum points of contact, foot, thigh, knees, hips, lower back so that their mind is provided the body feedback of moving with the boat and having it move. Edging, bracing, and rolling are very difficult to teach if the person is slliding around in the boat.

As an advanced paddler, one’s mind and body understand how to move in concert with the boat, WITHOUT have a super tight set up, that is to create enough contact and only the right kind of contact to effect an edge, rotation, and thus one can commit to edges and rolls with little pressure on the boat, paddle, etc. It feels like magic from one’s early days of straining and muscling things.

In fact, even the forward stroke is enhanced by loose hips allowing for full use of legs, higs, and up through the torso to the paddle. A small or no seat back is also important here.

So imo, give yourself enough points of contact, and with a moderate leg position so that you can progress in your commitment to edges and learning rotation in the roll, but WITHOUT stiffling your progression towards a “just enough contact cockpit” as you advance.

The exception to this is a focus on greenland rolls and a steady diet of rolls, as here other aspects of paddling are deemphasized and having perfect fit and a very low volume boat with legs out and low center of gravity all enhance one’s art of rolling.

For the general paddler the ideas above do help many progress.

Just for the record.
I know the original question was not about WW boats. But I think it is worth remarking that the good advice and analysis above would be mostly wrong for WW. I say this just in case an inexperienced paddler is reading this and generalizing.

For sure
For sure. The main reason this holds for sea kayaking it the diversity of demands sea kayaking makes on the paddler. Although there is a huge common ground, BCU integration of teaching is one instance of showing paddlers this is so, the demands on the white water kayaker are significantly different, i.e., much less emphasis on covering distance, the importance of having a boat that is designed to turn not resist turning like a sea kayak, and the necessity of staying in one’s boat philosophy carried to the extreme conditions some take themselves into.

Sea kayakers need a more moderate or neutral set up that allows them enough freedom but not so much one loses contact with the boat.

This is like the first feeling of a novice to get a huge cockpit so one is not trapped, then to wish for a perfect fit as one feels the boat is what will make it happen for you, to depending less and less on both paddle and boat, i.e., the hand roll, and finally, understanding the efficiencies and commonality in all strokes so the movment of body, blade, and boat function together.

Makes for a lifetime of learning

Thanks for the input. It looks like I can assume the following from your comments.

For paddling efficiency-legs more together and knees up moderately like a surf ski.

For leverage-higher knees, farther apart.

For stability and more greenland style-legs flatter.

I liked the idea of keeping a degree of freedom of movement with key contacts points available when needed.

I wanted a little clearer idea of what might be the ideal target for my needs. I have paddled high and low volume boats, and I tend to like the low volume best as far as fit goes.

My Capella is pretty large volume, but I love the way it handles. It is a great all purpose boat IMO. Fairly fast, quite manuverable, holds a lot of gear, good in rough water. It is just a little too roomy.

I’m going to take it out with several 1’ X 1’ sheets of 5/8" minicell and just kind of experiment with it temporarily placed around my thighs in various thicknesses and locations.

interesting thought
My tempest 170 at first was just the right size and I felt very snug in it. I have since taken out the hip pads, loosened the back band and feel just as comfortable if not more so now.

It seemed small before but now appeears rather large.


Did it!
Well I got the thigh braces done today. It came out quite well. I love the new fit. I just want to keep sitting the boat.

going both ways
my 31" cockpit (i’m 5’8") allows me to alternate between having my knees under the deck, feet splayed and wedged in for rougher or edging conditions or feet together (i use a foam block footrest) and knees almost touching out from under the cockpit for lots of rotation and more freedom to pump my legs.