what might improve or hinder torso rotation?

I’d like to incorporate more torso rotation into my paddling. I try but despite the purported advantages of using big muscle groups for more power and endurance, when I intentionally paddle with a lot of torso rotation I get winded pretty quick. But anyway, I’m wondering specifically if gym exercises working on torso would help or be counterproductive and, conversely, if Yoga or other stretch and stretch-and-hold exercises would be helpful? Not much I can do about it but wonder also if a short torso is not helpful, and if a belly fat is similarly problematic.

For me…Yes, Yoga and both upperbody/lowerbody strength exercises work for me…but I make it a point in doing most everything slower than normal as to focus in on getting the movements right to target the specific areas. Think the belly fat is more of a symptom of having laid off for a while.

are you using your legs to drive as you rotate? Is your seat to tight to let you rotate?

Just do it more. Really. I’m a road bicycle person and I used to get tired and winded when I got out of the saddle and stood on the pedals. The fix was just to keep doing it. It got easier and easier. By spreading the workload I’m hanging with riders much younger than me (and who are staying in the saddle all the time).

This probably is not the help you are looking for, but just this weekend, I discovered something sort of along this line. I recently bought a new pfd and wanted to try it out. I also had a new shirt that is a very slick polyester spandex. I found that with this shirt on, I can rotate, but the pfd remains static. There is little to no friction between shirt and pfd. The end result is a somewhat reduced swing weight, so I conclude, although fractional, the core rotation effort is reduced.

If there is a negative aspect in this, it is that I have to find another gauge to spot check my paddling form. I have become used to glancing at the front zipper on my pfd to note if it is moving from side to side to indicate torso rotation. The new pfd has no front zipper (NRS Ninja) and I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, because my forward stroke is so ingrained now; it isn’t likely to change.

Getting winded when you first start adding torso rotation isn’t a surprise. The muscles may be larger, but they are likely not used to doing the work you are now asking them to do. Figuring out which muscles are getting tired and finding exercises to focus on them could work. or just paddle and work on torso rotation on the water enough to strengthen them is another option.

First things first, what does torso rotation mean to you? Where, or what, are you trying to rotate? Shoulders? Chest? Abs? Knowing what to do is half the battle. Some paddlers move their shoulders a tiny amount and call it torso rotation…

Ideally you will rotate all the way down to your butt bones in the SEAT. This often separates the excellent paddlers/racers from the pack. A good visual is to imagine that you are sitting on an old phonograph turntable. As you push with your leg on the side of the stroke, that hip moves back, the other moves forward. This is what drives the rotation. This is very different than just pushing yourself hard into your backband. Some Olympic kayaks have rotating seats to enhance this effect.

As the previous post by Gs96c599@aol.com hinted, torso rotation is usually initiated by leg action – You wind up (turn your body so that the shoulder on the side of the stroke points forward), press into your footpeg on the side of your stroke, this allows your butt to rotate in the seat, which provides the power to rotate your torso and move your arms, which levers the kayak forward with your paddle blade. If any of this isn’t clear, get a copy of “Barton and Chalupskys”, “the Forward Stroke” DVD and study it.

With this explanation, it makes it clear that anything that will enable you to rotate in the seat, and apply good leg drive, will enhance your torso rotation.

Some ideas:

Good torso rotation demands good posture. Sit on, or just forward of your sit bones, sit tall or leaning slightly forward. Slouching will cause pain after many miles and limits shoulder mobility and rotation.

Modify or loosen your backband so that you don’t touch it when you are sitting up tall and applying power. If you are rubbing hard on your backband, or if you seat is tight or very “gripping” it will be difficult to rotate.

To make the seat slippery (not necessary good if you are surfing and playing in conditions) some racers wax their fiberglass seat or sit on a couple of plastic grocery bags to help overcome friction to make it easier to rotate in the seat.

You can rotate more strongly with your feet and knees close together, rather than the splayed-out “frog” position common in most touring kayaks – although this position is less stable. To allow this position you will need a footplate or a bulkhead to press against. Ideally your footplate will allow you to bring your knees/feet together when the conditions are good and you want to “fly”, or drop into the splayed-out position when you are getting bumped around and need stability (at the expense of torso rotation).

Working out in the gym can pay rewards, but often improving your technique will pay even bigger dividends. Of course, these don’t have to be mutually exclusive…

Note that some of these methods (e.g. a slippery seat) may be practical for one paddling environment, but not another (e.g. whitewater, playing in big conditions, etc, where sliding around in the cockpit could impede control).

Greg Stamer

@magooch 's comment about the PFD reminded me of a few years back when I kept getting winded and couldn’t figure out why. Turns out my PFD was too tight around my chest and I wasn’t able to breath and expand my chest enough! At the time I was so paranoid of slipping out of it I had myself cinched up way too tight.

Now I adjust my chest straps so they’re just snug when I take a deep breath. The straps under my rib cage are just tight enough to hold the PFD from slipping up past my ribs but without hindering abdominal breathing.

When the seasons change from “dry suit” to “no dry suit” and vice versa, I have to re-adjust my PFD for a proper fit. Funny, it seems I gradually tighten it over the summer too… lol… likely due to the winter weight slowly coming off. :wink:

pfd should be put on all the time lose and then tightened.

A PFD can hinder rotation. Not only different models and sizes, but how you tightened the straps matter.

Butt slippery on seat surface is necessary. Raw neoprene wetsuit on a gelcoated seat, or Cordura drysuit seat layer on a grippy (not smooth) cloth-covered seat, stops rotation.

A tall coaming/deck height hinders freedom of movement for rotation.

NOT SITTING UP STRAIGHT hurts rotation. Check your posture. Slumping or even the tiniest bit of backward lean have a big negative effect, and those things will keep you from breathing fully as well.

Look ahead, not down. This will promote sitting up straight AND it naturally makes you tend to track straighter for forward paddling.

I took the Current Designs seat padding out of all my Kayaks. 3/4" lower and easier to get in along with more movement when leg drives and rotation are going full bore. At a bare minimum your hands should cross center line of kayak a bit.

Thanks for all the great tips everyone!

what does torso rotation mean to you<
I’ve been told that if you are rotating properly the zipper on your PFD (assuming you have a midline zipper) will move back and forth across the centerline of your boat.

Yikes!! The B&C DVD is $109 on Amazon (new)…but after a little more digging I found it at a more reasonable price elsewhere. A review on the DashPointePirate website said “For me it was a great review of the forward stroke using a spoon and a wing blade (NOT a Greenland paddle).” I use a GP but I suspect that you, Greg, wouldn’t recommend it if at least some of it was not also applicable to paddling with a GP. Actually, one thing I came across that looked really helpful were your (Greg’s) 13 bulleted comments on the forwards stroke and Greenland Paddles at http://www.gregstamer.com/2012/01/27/forward-stroke-with-greenland-paddle. Very much looking forward to reading that.

FWIW, although I would be happy to be faster and have more endurance, this isn’t what was in the back of my head when I posted the original question. I feel I am reasonably quick (but would be happy to be a bit zippier) and the sun always seems to go down before my muscles tire. I was actually thinking that it might help me stay in the paddler’s box (and avoid further shoulder issues) during strokes, braces, etc. other than the forward stroke.

I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the point of switching pressure from one foot to the other during the forward stroke but a couple of the above comments may have helped me…or maybe not. Is the point to push on the stationary footpeg so that you drive your hip on the same side backwards and that this initiates rotation of the torso? Where the hip goes the spine will follow? I don’t think it’s ever been explained to me in quite those terms. Or maybe it has and I’m just a dunderhead.

I don’t use a seat currently but I will probably be purchasing a new kayak in the next few months that comes with a Redfish carved foam seat (and back). Does anyone here have any experience with these? It doesn’t look like it would be very conducive to moving your butt around very much.

Thanks again,

leg drive locks your back against the seat for no loss in power when you stroke like no free play.



I added reflective tape at 10 and 2 o’clock outside my cockpit. Helpful, as sometimes I get lazy.

“Is the point to push on the stationary footpeg so that you drive your hip on the same side backwards and that this initiates rotation of the torso?”

You may not be getting it here? Not sure, just a feeling. I’m thinking of something everyday that may help you get the feel for what Greg is describing. Remember Greg’s visual of sitting on a phonograph turntable. The point isn’t really to drive your hip backwards. The point is rotatation of your hips.

I make this distinction because driving your hip backwards with your leg, and twisting your hips, has a different feel. I say that sitting in a swivel chair on wheels, extending my legs against a desk, and pushing back. I can very easily do 2 different things. I can push myself in the chair backwards without swiveling the chair. Or, I can swivel the chair without pushing the chair backwards. I’m engaging muscles and coordination in a different way, even though I’m pushing off from the same place on the desk.

You want to remember that sitting in a kayak, the thing that I’m doing to get my chair to move backwards accomplishes nothing. My seat doesn’t move backwards like the chair does. My kayak doesn’t move forwards. The distance between the seat and the footpegs doesn’t change. So I’m just putting pressure between footpegs and seat, with no resulting movement. That type of pressure and effort is all wasted energy while kayaking. And my first years of kayaking, I was entirely guilty of trying to “push the chair backwards” instead of “twisting the chair”. It was an epiphany for me when I finally got the twist thing coordinated.

I don’t think of it as “moving the hip initiates rotation of the torso”. That seems like hip movement is just a means to facilitate torso rotation. Hip movement is the point - torso rotation is just the result of hip movement. Think of it as a stationary torso. You’re not moving your shoulders. You’re not twisting your chest or abs. You’re using your legs to get your hips twisting freely, and your torso is only moving to the extent that your hips are moving. The resulting rotation equals the amount of rotation you’re getting from your legs. And our legs can deliver a burst of movement like no other part of our body.

You want to “feel” this hip twist feeling vs. the feeling of just driving your hip back. It’s just a different feeling. When I figured it out, I found that I began applying a lot less pressure with my legs, and getting real power from them.

If you get the feel for it, you will realize that you have to recoordinate your entire stroke to take good advantage. I suggest focusing on leading your stroke with leg movement. Follow that with lower torso - abs. As you add more powerful muscle groups, you get to eliminate arm and shoulder movement.

Everyone fills in with something. The more casual the paddler, the more their arms lead the charge. The more powerful, the more the legs lead the charge. If you’re paddling for long days, no matter your paddle style, truly engaging your legs and hips, even occasionally at differing levels of intensity, has another huge benefit. It really keeps the blood flowing, and can prevent a lot of the leg and back stiffness that would otherwise build up. Sprint situations, like catching a wave, or breaking out through a surf zone, it’s incredibly valuable to have honed leg power - hip twist - into your stroke, instead of driving your back into the backrest a little harder.

“leg drive locks your back against the seat for no loss in power when you stroke” - I paddled this way for a while. I now know it to not be a very productive way to consider it. It sounds nice, but it really isn’t a very productive goal to have for your leg drive.

You say you are not using a seat. A contoured seat pan helps to keep your butt in place. Your rear end does not slide back and forth or side to side. It rotates, or maybe think of the spine as pivoting as you shift pressure from one foot to the other.

The carved foam seats, of which Redfish is one example, usually are glued to the hull floor. Some people leave them unglued to allow free rotation of the seat itself. When I had a wood kayak, I glued the foam seat in. I didn’t like it other than the added insulation it provided, so after I sold that boat I chose molded fiberglass seats for the others. It did feel like the foam inhibited rotation when I wore the drysuit, because the Cordura gripped the seat surface a bit too much. This could be remedied by glueing a smooth nylon fabric over the foam, similar to the seats that WS used back then. (I don’t know what they use now.)

The Ben Lawry DVD on forward stroke might help you see the mechanics involved. It cost the usual reasonable price for a DVD.

Changing to a better forward stroke won’t happen in one fell swoop, if you have already taught your body one way. The improvement might start with a few big changes; don’t get complacent there.


With a little searching you can find “The Forward Stroke” DVD for around $25.00. It’s a shame that it’s getting harder to find.

As an indicator of rotation, your PFD zipper should be moving from side to side, but it really tells nothing of whether you are rotating correctly – only that you are rotating. For example, even if you rotate only your upper body, with “dead” legs, you can still make your zipper move. Combine the moving zipper, with your legs rising and falling in the cockpit (looks like you are pedaling a mini-bicycle), and feeling your butt move on the seat (that an instructor cannot see), and that would be a better test. If you rotate correctly your pulling arm will be almost straight. If you find that you bend your biceps quickly, then you are “arm-paddling” rather than rotating.

The point of pushing on your footpegs is that this is the main foundation and source of your power. If I can’t touch my footpegs, I can’t apply any real power. The video clip from Barton’s DVD that Rookie posted provides some good information. When you drive the stroke side leg, this should cause the hip of the stroke side to go back AND the other hip to go forward. In other words your hips “spin” (rotate) in the seat. You don’t just push your back into the back of the seat.

I use my GP with similar mechanics to a wing stroke. That said, **you can also use a GP using a crunch-stroke, that uses very LITTLE rotation. A crunch is actually the most popular way a GP is used in Greenland. **
There’s a long video from a discussion at Delmarva, of Maligiaq Padilla (Greenland champion) and I discussing rotation and stroke mechanics at https://vimeo.com/35661065 . The erg in the video was a converted rowing machine with a lot of up-front resistance, which it difficult to show a normal stroke, so I wince a little when I watch this video, and the quality is rough, but you might find some of the information helpful.

Greg Stamer

Looks like sit ups at home will help. No need for the gym.


Others have explained the torso rotation as related to beginning with the legs and moving through the hips, I want to touch on another part of your original post… yes stretching (and balance) exercises definitely help. I do not practice yoga, but I would imagine it would be an excellent choice. Other stretching and balance exercises can also work. This is especially true when you are doing strokes other then the forward stoke where you really need to get rotated to “face your work” and maintain the paddlers box you mentioned. And yes a fat belly does inhibit this ability. (something I need to work on). I have no problem getting rotation for the forward stroke, it’s the strokes where the paddle blade is at or behind the center point of the cockpit that I need to work on. Strokes such as a reverse sweep, stern rudder, draw strokes, sculling brace, etc. These are the strokes where I feel the big belly gets in the way, and really good flexibility from stretching are key.