Torso rotation

I’ve heard it preached to me, seen people try to demonstrate it ( without actually appearing to DO it!), and tried to figure it out myself, all to no avail.

This last weekend, Carol and I took our BCU 1-star (“Tadpole”) class at Sweetwater Kayaks in St. Pete.

Don and Donna, our instructors ( and SUPER nice people!) were very patient and helpful.

Don gave me the clue that FINALLY got the torso rotation thing to make sense to me, to the point where I finally GET IT , and can DO it!

Here’s the deal: Take a stroke on the right side of the boat. At the end of the stroke, rotate your torso far enough to the right so that you can tap the power face of the forward blade against the RIGHT side of the boat. Now, begin “unwinding” your torso to the left, and plant the blade you just tapped in the water to make your stroke on the LEFT side of the boat.

At the end of this stroke, rotate your torso to the LEFT enough to tap the face of the forward paddle blade against the LEFT side of the boat, and so on.

Of course, in practice, it may only be necessary to rotate far enough to bring the forward blade to somewhere around the center line of the boat, but you be the judge.

As all of you “old hands” know, this REVOLUTIONIZES the way you do the forward stroke.

This info is intended for the benefit of all the newbies out there who, like myself were having a tough time getting the hang of it.

Again, credit goes to Don at Sweetwater Kayaks for the tip.

We will be taking our 2 star training in a month or so, weather allowing.


to understand dynamics you could try do a stroke with fully extended arms - propulsion is provided only by torso and legs. Of course, that stroke is not terribly efficient but certainly makes a point that paddling can be done NOT using arms.

different strokes…
for different folks. To learn torso rotation, I never really thought of it from an arm or paddle perspective. For me, what was helpful was to concentrate on my hips. If my abs followed my hips with each stroke, I was using my torso. If not, I was arm paddling. These days (unless I’m doing whitewater) I use a foam masik as well and it’s more of a torso rotation along with a crunch. My arms don’t hurt after a long day paddling but boy are my abs sore!

peddle while paddling
I found peddling with my feet while paddling really helps rotation.

Basically straighten your ‘wet’ leg as you stroke. In my boats this results in my ‘wet’ foot flat against the bulkhead (I brace against the bulkhead not foot pegs) with my ‘wet’ leg extended flat on the bottom of the boat. My dry leg is bent and in the thigh brace. Alternate legs as you do blades. Engaging the lower body in this way not only aids rotation but lessens fatique.

At least two different BCU coaches clued me into this techique. It is also described in BCU materials on forward stroke.

LIke learning to be a baseball pitcher
This is yet another counter-intuitive kayak skill!!! They all look so easy, and some are, but others, NOT

When I learned as a child to pitch a baseball, like a major league pitcher does they teach you to throw using your legs! Not literally of course!

But, nonetheless, it is true. The force starts with the foot pressing off the rubber, tension is wound up through the body like a coiled spring and then released foot, leg, hip, torso, shoulder, arm, wrist, fingers and let it fly. Same thing with the paddle motion.

It is efficient, powerful, relaxing, less injury prone, and a motion that incorporates many muscle groups so one can have great endurance using it. Takes a while though!

Torso Rotation
Well said. The term Torso rotation is really a misnomer as the torso is only one component in the process.


A simple trick

– Last Updated: Nov-14-05 3:26 PM EST –

I tell people on the shop trips to try is this. (at least most of the time) if you follow the paddle with your eye, the body will turn that same direction. what you heard was sounded like it was right on. but when dealing with some of the beginners i do, it needs to be simplified. a good number of peole who have paddled before don't use torso rotation like they should. neither did i till used this trick.
What did the instructers say about proper paddle grip?

Paddle grip, etc.
Dona and Donna mentioned just about everything you guys have been stating, like pushing against the footpegs on the side you’re stroking, pretending that your arms were in casts and trying to paddle, etc.

As for the grip, Don said to keep it VERY light.

Sort of hard to describe in words, but I can picture how he held his paddle, basically in his fingers rather than deep into his palm, except when really digging in for power.

I just posted this thing out of my exuberance at finding the clue that finally made the light come on for ME!

As you folks have said, it seems like it is a little bit different for each person in how they perceive the skill, and how they finally accomplish it.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I am NOT claiming to have achieved the “perfect” forward stroke; far from it!

Just enjoying getting one more piece of the puzzle out of the box and finding where it goes!



After three months with a wing paddle, and a defined effort, I feel as though I am finally getting somewhere. After listening to the pro’s, I did full rotation. The only problem was, I was turning my torso and then using my arms to pull the paddle. Someone noted this, and I almost dismissed the possibility. But, I now see that it was true. I remember several Pro’s, including Greg Barton saying that once your paddle is submerged and in the “sweet spot”, pivot your body and the kayak around it. Another trick is to paddle long distances, because your arms will tire and force you to be more efficient. I am just now able to maintain 6.5 mph or better on my 8.2 mile work out route. I know there will always be someone faster, but to me, I feel like I am flying.

Ive Been Working On The
same thing for about four months. I read several articles and watched a forward stoke video and talked to many.

What finally did it for me is stated above by several people. Once I got my feet invoved everything kind of clicked for me.

Still working but I am sure my forward stoke is getting better. My shoulders, legs, and upper torso not my arms are tired and sore following a longer paddle now.

An interesting web site was posted by santacruzmidwife sometime last week as information about another topic. I found their discussion of forward stroke interesting.

Happy Paddling,


I advocate the cool cucumber look

– Last Updated: Nov-16-05 6:03 PM EST –

With little or no torso rotation. Just lean back like, as yanoer would say, you're relaxing in a Barcalounger, and grip the paddle with your hands no more than twelve inches apart, and sort of twist your wrists and paddle in small circles with your wrists. Yes, torso rotators will stream by you with their little "hut-hut-hut" attitudes, but you will look cool as a cucumber with so little body motion like you're a figgin' wind-up toy. Just get ready to ice your wrists like a banshee when they howl "repetetive stress injury" all the way home, but the "hut babies" won't see you grabbing the bag of ice (and heck, they'll likely be icing their-- well, torsos-- or something on their drives home). Try it, you might enjoy breaking all the paddling laws of nature once in a while. You can't beat gravity, but you can thumb your nose to paddling dogma at will. Here, dogma dogma. I've got a new chewy paradigm for you. Good, dogma. (Can you tell I've been hanging around Stephen Covey too long. Have a highly effective day!)

That's Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suntan.

Lots of good ideas in this thread
* the touch-opposite-side-with-blade exercise – Steve Maynard (BCU coach extraordinaire) showed me that, and it helped put me on the trail of true rotation. That alone did not do it, however

  • pump the legs – yes, BCU coaches often favor that. It helped me when I remembered to do it, but I often just forgot about my legs.

  • think of the hips – that’s what finally did it for me. Wind the hips up fully and unwind them to drive the blade. In fact, I like to call it “paddling from the hips” rather than “torso rotation” (as regular readers will have heard all too often ;-). I find that leads to leg pumping without any extra effort, but not vice-versa. But obviously it’s other way round for some folks

  • practice a lot, until it becomes second nature; don’t loaf. Real paddling from the hips is not an easy or natural movement, and it takes some mental application to keep doing it, or at least it does for me. And, in conditions, I still sometimes lose it.


do cross bow paddle strokes
as a canoeist as well used to doing cross strokes i find this gets me practicing verticle strokes and greater rotation, and is kinda fun if quite tiring.

dogma aside it does work
The funky thing about torso rotation is that after one really gets it one is embarrassed to have spent so long dismissing it criticizing it and blowing it off.

Really pretty poor excercise going kayaking after learning this as the effectiveness of using all the muscles is so frickin much or efficient as to be rediculous.

Not just for bored yuppies. A pod of folks all doing this is way fast.

Keep shoulders and shaft relatively parallel (better than just watching the blade - which you can cheat since necks swivel).

Rotation adds speed, but that is just one of many benefits. It’s for everyone, not just racers. It’s even more important for spreading out the work load to larger muscle groups, improving circulation, relieving stiffness, eliminating many comfort issues comfort issues - curing many back complaints, reducing injuries, etc…

I agree on the comment that doing more distance forces torso and leg use and is a good way to cure arm paddling! Won’t give you the best technique learning tired - but next time out you see changes/benefits and can refine from a better base.

Have a “Highly Effective” day?

Paddling Tired really teaches
I find that paddling tired really teaches me to pay attention to form. Especially when you have a sedentary job and are getting up in years . . . When I hit the “aching” point, and then pay attention to form, the aches and fatigue magically disappear! That has been a better teacher for me than all the instruction in the world. Of course, it helps to know ahead of time what proper form is, but pain and fatigue are the best coaches I know of for proper form!


That’s how nigel foster shows to do it
His knees are always bending and unbending, as if he is pedaling a kids peddle car. Who says kayaking is an upper-body workout only?

13 mph
See world champs at They have toe straps. Before the right blade has gone into the water, the right toe has pulled the right hip forward. Vertically plant the right blade and then the straightening of right leg brings the blade back. As a drill, try looking at back of boat after every stroke or better yet look way beyond back of boat. When your blade goes in water you top hand is high and past centerline and bottom thumb almost touches boat deck. Roll tip drill. Lay on your back in tub and learn to be comfy with head under water. Lay on back in shallow water with paddle and feel comfy. Now put yellow tape on paddle blades and tip over to right. Have head on right shoulder and look at tape on blade tip. Now keep looking down at tip of blade as you hip snap back up. Foam or paddle float on blade can help. So will hip snaps while holding unto dock. Learn to roll by tipping over to right and snapping back up on same side. The problem with big wings is they have torn many shoulders. 90 miler was won with tiny wing and a big man. The idea is high stroke rate and small paddle. I love the long narrow turbo wing because it has gentle catch. And white ethafoam on paddle shaft as index mark is great for reducing joint problems because it makes the blade seem flexible and this softens the catch. I can send you pieces of foam that are one in by 7in long. Need total of 4. They go on push pull part of grip as index mark.

Which foot is the wet foot?
I straighten the leg opposite the wet blade and push against the peg - is that the wrong foot? Also, when your torso is swiveling away, does your head go back and forth, too? I’d get motion sickness in a hurry if that were the case.