Coordination for Paddlers

In the past three Friday blogs, we have discussed three fundamental abilities for good paddling: rhythm, balance, and mobility. There is one more motor ability we often neglect when talking sprint kayak training: coordination.

The simple definition of coordination would be the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently. Champions are not only super fit, but also super efficient in using their entire body to propel their tiny boat as fast as possible. In practice, all motor abilities are interconnected. Coordination is directly connected with strength, balance, speed, and mobility. While in some sense rhythm is a part of coordination itself.

Paddlers need to develop coordination in a smart way in order to:

  • Increase the speed of their technical learning (and achieve mastery quicker)
  • Increase their adaptability to different outside condition (so they can thrive in any weather and water conditions)
  • Increase the ability to fit into crew boats (so they are a good fit for possible boat partners)
  • Maximize technique efficiency (because nobody can be so fit to win without)
  • Optimize the distribution of effort during races (optimal H-Graph)

What you want to become is an adaptable, fast learning, effective paddler. To achieve this only getting fitter and smashing your sessions harder is not enough. Your training goals and content should be aligned with these additional goals. So all sessions should have a double goal – paddling faster and paddling better at the same time.

Where does coordination come into the picture?

Understanding coordination and understanding how to train it can be very complicated. But there are some shortcuts you can use to handle this topic. Try thinking of these areas of improvement and work on at least some of them every day (you have to find solutions to these problems!):

  • Some athletes can paddle well also in waves – can you?
  • Some people can stroke well a crew boat – can you?
  • Some people are excellent in the back seats of crew boats – are you?
  • Some people don’t care if there is back or front wind, they adapt to it – can you?
  • Is there intensity Zones where you don’t perform as well as in other ones – can you change that?
  • Is your technique evolving or are you stuck?
  • Do you have a clear picture in your mind of how your technique should look like, or are you waiting technique will find you?
  • Do you feel you can keep in the boat with paddlers fitter than you or do you feel people less fit than you are often faster?

How to think about coordination in the boat

We can get specific about what needs to be in place to paddle fast. Think of the following technical points if you want to change your game regarding the points from the above paragraph:

Manage your boat

  • Do you manage how your boat is moving well? Is it moving in a nice, predictive, logical dolphin-like pattern or does it feel like you are trying to ride a wild horse?
  • Does your boat squat a lot? What about the surge, roll, yaw, and pitch of your boat?
  • Do you work together with the boat, becoming one with it? Can you balance the inertia of yourself plus your boat with the inertia of the water you catch with your blade?
  • Are the rhythm of your boat movements and the rhythm of your strokes matching or colliding?
  • Does your boat glide? Or it has a strange surge or it even moves with the nose too high/ too deep in the water?

Manage your paddle

  • Does your paddle slip during your stroke – meaning does it exit in the same point it entered the water, or does it move in the water during the pull (can you lock it in the water)?
  • In percentages of a stroke duration, how much time you are in the water and how much time you are in the air (hint: top paddlers are all above 60% of the time in the water and only 40% or less in the air)?
  • How does your top hand work in comparison to your bottom hand? Is one punching and the other one pulling or you can do better than that?
  • Do you use your paddle like an anchor or like a shovel?

Manage your power transfer to the boat

  • Can you lock your elbow, shoulders, spine, hips perfectly into a strong ‘catch frame’ just before entering the water? Can you control that lock during the pull?
  • Can you keep your posture in all the stroke phases? Can you do it also when going fast, when you are tired and when under pressure?
  • After the catch, is the shoulder on the pulling side moving backwards or are you moving the whole body forward?
  • When the leg is pushing on the footrest is its hip moving backwards or are you moving the whole body forward?
  • When you catch the water and start the pull phase – does your boat react quickly or only accelerates towards the end of the pull?

If this is a lot of new ideas don’t worry. It means you just found a lot of new points to work on and improve.

If from the past 4 articles you understood that you have technique issues but can’t manage to address them… then also don’t worry. Next week we are starting a long series of Friday blogs that will explain the technique in detail. Technique explained according to how we see it at TIP including all our tips on how to work on it. So stay tuned!


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