Why so few use torso rotation fwd stroke

After observing hundreds and hundreds of paddlers, and even fellow instructors who teach others to use torso rotation during the forward stroke, hardly anyone, IMO less than 3% of paddlers and even very few instructors use torso rotation. Mostly what people do is arm paddle and extend their arm and bend the other doing what is supposedly very inefficient in terms of muscle recruitment and what is efficient in terms of pushing the boat forward.

Why might this be, I am truly curious. I was recently on a paddle with very strong and experienced paddlers, some 40+ folks and less than three people used even a little torso roation.

Is this idea not what it is cracked up to be, are there other ways you all find are more restfull and still efficient.


Posture and Comfort…
…I will speak only for myself here…POSTURE: I believe I use more torso that the average paddler, and I believe the reason is partially the way I was raised, “Stand up straight quit slouching”, and a 22 Year Military career that built on that, “Head up, eyes forward, shoulders back, gut in!”…essentially, my posture.

When I sit in the yak, I am sitting back in the seat, torso upright, head up, centered on the boat. I don’t find this posture to be forced, it’s second nature to me…

COMFORT…when I see others I paddle with sitting forward in the seat, with torso leaned back, head leaned forward or back, paddling lazily on moving water, I notice the arm paddle more…torso rotation is more work like this, and uncomfortable, so you forget efficency, the current makes up for a lot…why rush? I came out here to relax…that sort of thing. When I find myself arm paddling, it’s mostly when I’m tired, or being purposefully laid back. Torso rotation and efficency is great for purposeful movement from point “A” to “B”, but there is a pitfall to avoid…

Travel Lock. Know what that term means? Military personnel learn to avoid it, and it is the bain of most Backpackers… It’s when your head is down, eyes on your feet, leaning forward putting one foot in front of the other, with the only thought to get where you are going as fast as you can. Who enjoys that, and whats the point if all you see is the ground at your feet?

Like learning to roll, torso rotation is a learned technique, and to be “Bomb proof” any technique must be either reflexive or instinctual to be reliable…

My humble.02cents worth.

are you sure?
Torso rotation is sometimes hard to spot. Although racers will show extreme torso rotation which is really visible, my experience is that many good paddlers rotate at the hips which rotates their torso but not necessarily their arms. Unless you really focus in on their PFD zippers, it can be a bit deceiving.

Various reasons
First, lots of people have not learned how to use torso rotation. They haven’t taken lessons, they didn’t really learn when they took lessons, or the lessons weren’t very good. We have taken to video taping students to show them (and convince them) that they are not rotating. By and large they think they are using torso rotation when they are not. Second, the forward stroke as often taught makes torso rotation difficult, especially given the natural tendencies of paddlers. There was a discussion of this recently on this board. If you put the paddle in at your toes, keep the paddle as vertical as possible, and move the paddle back close to the boat I guarantee you wil not rotate your torso very much. Your stroke will be too long and you will be lifting water. Letting the paddle drift in its natural path (gradually out and away from the boat) makes torso rotation easier, the paddle stroke shorter. That, however, is not the standardly taught technique.

Overly Long Paddles
sold to lots of newbies promote arm pulling strokes as opposed to rotation.

Conversely, working with a really short paddle for awhile will encourage body rotation.


these are helpful any furher ideas?
This is food for thought, thanks. Keep em coming, any further ideas most welcomed.

One other off shoot question, is there common ground here and elsewhere that torso rotation is significantly more efficent? In other words, more poweful, less tiring, leads to a more vertical blade and less wasted paddle movement, etc.

What I see is maybe just that those who have given thought to torso rotation also have learned how to waste less energy pushing water sideways down and up also, have shorter paddles or paddles that are minimum needed for them, their stroke, and boat.

What ST said…
About the only time I use a good rotation is when I have somewhere to be and really want to get there. I have a high back seat that is easy to lounge in. When I’m cruising the shore picking up lost lures and “beachcombing” or just sightseeing it’s arm paddling at less than marching effort.


I Am Sure Some One
Is going to answer with “abd crunch” Greenland style…

I doubt anyone is really going to really argue using more the smaller arm muscles over large muscle groups involving torso and legs is productive on a long haul paddle.


Paddle close to boat
good observation. Letting the paddle move naturally will give you a longer effective stroke without having to pull with the arms. Think of the long side of a right triangle…

I am glad some paddlers

– Last Updated: Jul-15-05 11:36 AM EST –

start to recognize the lack of form/technique of the paddling community in general. Now, from there, it is possible to attack/solve the problem.

A good forward stroke is not only good technique but also physical conditioning that goes way beyond watching a video.

First, the technique must be mentally and mechanically learned, and in these, most paddlers fail.

Second, the muscles use in the forward stroke must be conditioned through many, many, hours of paddling. In general, most people don't even know they have muscles like the latissimus dorsi and obliques, which are fundamental during the forward stroke.

Third, only a few will recognize that they are doing something wrong, and these are some of the most common mistakes:

A: Shoulders rotation:
Quite a few paddlers rotate their shoulders but not their torso, so from their cockpit, they think that they are rotating.

B: Powerless rotation:
Some recognize mistake "A" and start rotating their torso, but their initial power come from their arms and sholders. It seams that they are rotating but no real power come from their torso. Of course, if no real power comes from their torso, a proper rotation is useless.

C: Lack of training:
A lot of paddlers spend uncountable hours learning to roll and to do fancy strokes but only a few take the time and dedication to perform a proper forward stroke.


Paddle alone
I was racing a marathon K-1 and lived far away from other paddlers. Over 20 years ago I paddled at the Natl’s, until I met other paddlers, I had no clue that I was an arm paddler. I got help from a racer/boat builder & paddled a bit better the next year. I agree that having to long a stick can’t help. I was probably overgeared for years. I just used what my buddies did.

Most folks don’t actually know what…

– Last Updated: Jul-15-05 1:30 PM EST –

..."torso rotation" really *feels* like in their body.

They have been exhorted to do various things that are actually effects of "torso rotation", but very few actually know what it feels like, in itself.

The next problem -- when someone is shown what it feels like, then they don't want to do it because it feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

One solution to the first problem is a slow exercise in a still boat. Get the paddler to "wind up" their hips totally in one direction, and then unwind them to drive the paddle. Do this very very slowly and deliberately, making sure they feel the fully rotated hips (not just torso!). At first, this actually feels like locking the hips in an extreme twist.

An aid to getting the wound-up feel is to ask the paddler to hold the paddle out front at arms length, in the box configuration, and then rotate the paddle as far as it will go in one direction, so it is parallel with the boat or even beyond. If they are really going as far as they can, their hips will be wound up to the max, their butt twisted in the seat, and their knees alternately extended and bent to accomodate the twisted butt.

Then, with hips still wound up (say to the left) but arms and paddle ready for a catch (on the right), get them to unwind the hips slowly and drive the paddle *with the hips* only, not the arms or shoulders. If they wind and unwind only from the hips, they will naturally press the water-side (right) footpeg as they unwind, becaue they'll have to straighten that (right) knee to get wound up the on the other side (the right).

After a few rounds of this, almost anybody will (a) understand what "torso rotation" really means -- and it means "paddling from the hips" more than "torso rotation"; (b) realize that they haven't been doing it. Unfortunately, they will also often decide that (c) doing it right is hard and uncomfortable -- and it is, at first.

Overcoming (c) is a matter of convincing someone to keep working on it for the long-term benefit. It will eventually come to seem natural -- "eventually" being different for different people. It took me several months of consciously practicing that extreme windup for it to become instinctual and completely comfortable.

But if someone don't know *what* it is -- kinesthetically -- they can't do it no matter how much you yell "torso rotation" or even "move that zipper" at them. That's true because, as somebody noted, the visual cues are subtle, so it's really hard to teach or learn merely conceptually or visually. You gotta feel it.

Once you've got it, visual and conceptual cues can then help. For example, I sometimes visualize Brent Reitz turning his shoulders almost parallel to the boat and spearing the water almost from the side. But seeing that in the video didn't get me there. I just couldn't figure out how he could get his shoulders turned that far. The answer was, of course, he can only do it because he maximally winds up his hips.


I use torso
rotation. Less so when lazy paddling though. If I am looking for power and efficency, I will use torso rotaion though.

“From the hips” is a good picture.
I try to think of sticking my paddle in a bucket of mud and moving my hip to the paddle, not moving the paddle to the hip. This goes for single or double blade.

When I’m paying attention, I keep the stoke very close with a single blade, but about 12’-18’ out with a double. I’m also careful to paddle parallel to the keel and not lift water so that the efficiency is better. If you paddle with me, you will see that I’m sloppy and have numerous bad habits. Good practice makes good performance, so I’m trying to pay more attention. If the fundamentals aren’t solid, the problems magnify as difficulty increases.

Mom was right!
Sit up straight!, seemed to always echo in my mind when I was taking tips from a paddler that lives here in the Mid-Hudson area that took bronze in the Olympics for sprint kayaking. Then I heard it again when Deb O’Keefe was teaching a playboating skills class for me. Looks like Mom might have been on to something.

See you on the water,



Interesting thread…
I like an aggressive forward stroke with a high angle IF I need to achieve a fairly spirited forward momentum. There are times I’m just sight seeing or goofing around and my stroke still has torso rotation but I’m not realising the benefit of the toso wind/unwind. The next forward blade is simply not entering the water fast enough to do so. Thus I still have a torso based forward stroke but NOT a performance forward stroke.

I believe a lot of paddlers never feel the torso rotation because they are seldom going fast enough. In order for torso rotation to have an effect on the stroke, the cadence must be fast enough to realise the benefit of the wound-up torso. If the cadence is too slow then the paddler loses the ‘spring’ action that is the real benefit of torso rotation. Sure, you can still rotate at a slower cadence but you’ll never have the power seen with a properly timed blade entrance & torso wind-up.

I think its easier to teach someone torso rotation by using reverse strokes. This limits the ‘normal’ articulation of the arms and its easier to isolate and limit the bending of the arms. Simply have them work one side only, rotate, plant the blade as close to the hull as they can, and then try ro turn the boat by twisting the torso and using the thigh brace contact. No follow up strokes, just let the boat coast to a stop and do it again.

Many recreational/leisure paddlers I’ve worked with are never going to have a solid forward stroke as they’re simply going to slow. Nothing wrong with that as its their preference. And I see no benefit in trying to shove a full torso rotation forward stroke down their throats.

I’ll keep mine though!


Technique & Equipment are Linked
The components of speed and efficiency in order of importance in my opinion are:

Good Technique - Less than 5% of sea kayakers even come close to having good technique.

Slender kayak at the waterline - Ideally a boat should be designed for your weight while being as narrow as your skills allow.

Wing paddle - The benefits of a wing paddle combined with the other elements listed here far exceeds the 10% increase in efficiency often mentioned on this site.

Rudder - The rudder allows one to maintain a consistent symmetric forward stroke. The benefits outweigh the additional drag contributed by a rudder. A rudder also significantly reduces slideslipping in a cross breeze making distances paddled shorter. A rudder also allows one to stay on the face of a wave much longer allowing huge increases in speed when paddling in similar direction as waves. The rarely seen understern rudder generates about the same lift with half the area of a surface piercing rudder.

Solid Foot Brace - Like a tiller steering pedestal or Sealine pedal system. This allows one to push with legs to rotate butt on seat for more power from large muscle groups while still maintaining rudder control.

Good Seat - hard, slippery and inclined forward to allow one to rotate upon is best but rarely seen. Traditional seats can be made better by removing padding under butt and using a more modest back support. If your seat back supports your lumbar region or higher, torso rotation is prevented or significantly hindered. Seats can be a challenge because its just as important to be comfortable too. Most people prefer to lean back against a cushy backrest because they have not developed the muscles for correct paddling posture.

Proper Attire - Non-chafing, quick drying tops and bottoms make paddling more comfortable. Tight neoprene or similar shorts make a big difference. Don’t forget good water shoes. The butt and feet are the primary points of contact with a kayak when paddled with best technique.

I know this is more specialization than most paddlers would ever strive to. Frankly many people claim to have no desire to go fast and far in their kayaks. However, incorporating any of these element into your current setup will net better efficiency. Efficiency is something all paddlers should appreciate.

Stock Seat and Outfitting?

I have been following this and other threads recently with interest. Good question and maybe good observations? Hard to tell sometimes what is going on out of sight. There appears to some who believe that the stock seats hinder good rotation and then all of the outfitting to wedge one into their boat must also hinder good rotation. Jed convinced me not to continue to outfit my boat, so I never glued in the pads I carved. I’m getting even more comfortable with the loosie-goosie feeling now and if I wasn’t so arthritic maybe I could rotate my torso as well.

Maybe some of what you observed were folks who have outfitted to the point that rotation is restricted.

See you back at the ranch after a short vacation.


Very True
If the length of the stroke is correct as well it’s quite short so you don’t always see the rotation without really watching for it.

so what it sound like here to me, AGAIN
is that extreme, actual, torso rotation from the hips, is not something that sea kayakers do, can do, or even should do, rather the domain of race kayakers who are in boats, on seats, using paddles specfically designed to enable this for maximum propulsion. where sea kayakers need to perform a wide array of strokes, braces and rolls which requires a tighter fitting boat, legs spread and braced against underdeck, not unlike a ww yak.

so do the best you can, rotate your shoulders or torso or whatever to the greatest degree that you can, and don’t sweat it too much either way if you are having a good time.