Torso Rotation

OK, Pamskee and I have been taking solo caoneing courses for about 5 weeks now; we’re getting better!

It seems one of our problems is lack of sufficient torso rotation, which results in wimpy, inneficient strokes on occasion.

Does anyone know of some exercises we could do to improve flexibility, especially in the torso (besides paddling I mean)?

My routine
when I remember to do it is a few excersises from school days. One of which is that one where you put your hands on your hips and rotate your torso fully to the left and then fully to the right while standing with your feet firmly planted. One full left and then one full right counting as one complete count. Seems to help me.

simple trick
And Mcwood will back me up I am sure. Get in a canoe and paddle hard continously for 30, 40 50 miles in one day(not sprinting, just solid strokes). Your arms will either fall off or your body will adjust to a more efficent rotation style. Listen to the body on long paddles.


Find a local ballet instructor
and pose your query to him/her.

There are simple routines that will enhance your midbody flexibility and any ballet instructor can quickly show you the moves. This would be better than my trying to describe them to you and confusing you.

I have spent time with ballet instructors several times over the years with regard to enhancing martial arts performance.

Give it a try and I think you’ll be rather pleased.

Good luck and pleasant waters to ya.


I do that at the end
of my floor routine of situps,crunches and bicycle thingies and stretching is a must!

Found two arms on Long Lake

When did your adjustment set in?

My best routine was installed by my chiropractor to alleviate lower back pain. Every morning before i get out bed i go thru a stretching routine that has helped my flexibility quite a bit. I can now rotate enough to continue a stern sweep around the stern til i am looking directly astern. Two years ago i could not go over 90 degrees.

Best advice i can offer the paddler is to keep your arms as straight as possible and concentrate on using the torso to drive the paddle back along the gunwale. The bottom hand should act as a hook on the shaft to pull the paddle back as the knob hand drives the knob back and keeps the blade as vertical as possible.

Like you said Charlie, somewhere around the thirty mile mark the torso muscles should have taken over cause poor form would have killed the arm muscles by then. But just repetitions of poor form can lead to some really bad habits to break.Remember how Vitamin Ray and Kevin stil do the head bob when they paddle hard, too many years of reaching far ahead with a straight shaft paddle that was too long for their short bodies as Scouts.



water exercise class
Just got back from water exercise class and we did a lot of stretching and rotation along with 45 min of aerobics. This is working well for me. We both feel like relaxed noodles when we’re done. We felt the torso work tonight.

I borrowed a pilates tape and we’re going to do that as well. I do exercises every morning before I get out of bed to get the coordination going in my legs and stretch out the kinks.

The key, to me,
was realizing that the whole rib cage needs to stay together as a solid unit. So I visualize leading my stroke (it’s a kayak stroke–but same idea for a canoe) from the forward (ventral) corner of my rib cage nearest my stomach, and not allowing my shoulders to rotate any more than that bottom-most rib rotates. Over about 6 months of doing this, it’s gone from feeling extremely unnatural to very good. It takes ages to stretch out your abdominal obliques, but I can report that with enough stretching, they do finally give up and let you rotate better.

In other words, don’t just twist your shoulders. Twist the whole thorax. You want the rotation to occur as much as possible at the lumbar spine.

This is much easier to demonstrate at the gym than to explain in words!


after about
my second 70 miler my body started with better rotation. My lower back problems also started to become less and less frequent. Some simple Chiropractic stretching of the back helps, but I feel long paddles are an important step overall. Although, I might add not the only one.

An idea
Someone mentioned paddling with stiff arms. I do that as a drill - admittingly it is unnatural and somewhat stilted feeling, but it demonstrates the opposite end of the spectrum from paddling with arms only and torso rigid. I am a yak paddler now, but I believe this would work in a canoe as well.


take yoga classes if you can. increased flexibility is guaranteed! if you can’t find classes, at least get a good yoga book that explains how to do poses properly and what they are good for and stick with it. it makes a world of difference for me. yoga and paddling go great together!


Two words. Chubby Checker!
Dig out those old twist records and get to work!

focal point
Pam, If you can rotate your upper body enough to look behind you then your flexibility is most likely sufficient to cover the range of motion of a paddle stroke. Years of tai chi, martial arts, dance and yoga have enhanced my awareness of the center of power emanating from the lower abdominal region. All those art forms train the body/mind connection to visualize the ‘center’ as power source for movement.

When you paddle, assume a strong sitting or kneeling position which will allow for good posture. The buttocks or the knees will be the base connecting you to the boat (the connection is important as it’s the link between transfering your energy to the boat). With base firmly rooted imagine, sometimes I say sink, your energy into your center. You can feel those muscles and as you quietly paddle observe their movement and how the center is the source of power for the arms.

Muscles have memory so practicing good form is very important and will require maintaining a heightened awareness on that focal point in the early phases, until proper movement becomes embedded in the muscle/mind. Top-notch atheletes maximize the body mind connection through visualisation.

See in your mind first what a good stroke looks like, visualize the mechanics, go slow and break it all down. Take a deep breath and fill the lower abdominal cavity. The East has long recognized the power of the center as the source of life. It’s where food becomes fuel, new life is reproduced, it’s the pivot point that connects the appendages… In contrast it is said we Westerners are too much in our head and generally lack center awareness. Sink your energy to the center and you will feel more grounded, stronger and more present in your body. There are many meditation practices out there that will enhance deeper breath and center awareness. This isn’t just some esoteric mumbo jumbo, it works. All the best. Heidi

apologies mskee
awareness practice, it’s a daily thing, sorry to confuse you with Pam.

center of power…
Hi, Heide,

I appreciate your comments; I’ve actually noticed that there’s an “Ah-Ha!” experience when I get the stroke right. That experience comes regularly now that I’ve had more chance to practice.

However, if I understand you correctly, you attach a sort of spiritual significance to it as well.

I’ve got to say that the spiritual center of a person is the heart, or soul, not my stomach.


An exercise for torso rotation…
Get a bar, rod, stick, kayak paddle etc. Lay it across the shoulder, arms extended out straight along the bar… Now twist in both directions. Start slowly and carefully. Work up to 3 sets of 30 repetitions or whatever is good for you. This really helps me in both canoe and kayak.

Thanks, gpasek and heidi
gpasek, we have done the paddle exercise (a few to just show it to us)in our pool class. Another good exercise when I first get into my boat is to do full on-side/offside sweeps to spin the boat. I did better with rotation last night. From a sitting position, rotation is more difficult. I need to get the hip and knee pads installed to help the connection.

Heidi, I have used a biomechanical centering technique in horseback riding, skating and rehab. My anatomy/kinesiology training helped me to identify/isolate neuromuscular responses. The horses compensate for bad seatbone connection and balance. My canoe doesn’t care. lol

For me, this exercise
(the stick behind the head) tends to make my shoulders rotate, leaving my ribs behind. An alternative is to hold cross both arms over the chest (fixing the shoulders), and then to rotate the entire thorax from side to side, so the bellybutton moves just as much as the shoulders do, and the ribs stay together. My wife has these nice curved “SmartBells” (as opposed to dumbells). They are a perfect thing to hold against the chest for this alternative exercise.


Outfitting connection
does make a huge difference. A good resource for ideas and questions at, check out Craig Smerda’s custom infitting. With the help of Adam from C-Boats I did something more minimalist than Craig, it didn’t take much foam at the primary contact points to have the boat responding/corresponding to my movement.

As for the spiritual center (interesting you heard that) I don’t have a visceral location for that, it’s more of a holistic connection between the inner and the outer world. What is the soul and where does it reside? Ah, such deep thoughts perhaps one day we can share them beside a crackling fire. One thing I do know for sure, for me paddling is bliss…

enjoy the journey