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Kayaking/canoeing: Fundamentals of movement and paddlesport

glenmore lodge coaching

By Dave Rossetter – Head of Paddlesport Coaching at Glenmore Lodge

The last set of previous articles has all been round different concept areas from planning sessions through to how to improve as a paddler. These have focused on the process of coaching. In this article I am looking at a set of over riding principles that go by the collective of Fundamentals.

Within paddlesport the two sets of fundamentals in use are: –

Fundamentals of Movement

  • Balance
  • Co-ordination
  • Agility

Fundamentals of Paddlesport

  • Active posture
  • Connectivity
  • Power transfer
  • Feel

Fundamentals of movement and paddlesport

Movement principles
The three areas are critical in all movement and especially so in paddlesport. They underpin our paddling in all craft and environments. Without having these in place and our ability to perform becomes compromised.

Being able manage your balance while paddling will undoubtedly aid you in your development. With the multiple environments that we paddle in along with the changes in the water we need to be able to stay upright through a range of movements. By being able to change how we sit / kneel / stand then we can have our centre of gravity over the base. By use of the paddle or more importantly using the stability that we get from moving and by adding in positive connection points we maintain our balance throughout the manoeuvre.

Paddlesport is a whole body sport. We are continually using multiple parts to help achieve / maintain our balance. We also have to coordinate upper and lower body movements. This could be driving through the legs while the core is engaged and the arms are free to move. Consider the movements required to roll and having both arms on both side of the body. By giving different focus to the paddler we can aid them in the movements by looking at a chain of events along with where our centre of base is to allow us to maintain the balance.

When moving from one place to another we need to be agile. The stop, start and change of direction for the body is critical for paddlers to move into different positions. This could be going from a bow rudder into a forward paddle stroke, from stern rudder into draw or simply working from one side of the boat to the other. Unlike say a footballer who is free in their movements we as paddlers have an enclosed space to work within but still need to be free to connect different parts in different strokes. The ability to stop moving to hold position and then move again is critical for us to be agile. Being in balance, being able to co-ordinate what needs to move and then doing it. The speed at which we can move from position and the smoothness that we do this will aid us in staying in balance and give us time to execute critical manoeuvres.

Fundamentals of movement and paddlesport

Maintaining balance and agility

Quality skill development:
The skills we learn in paddlesport are all about being able to move the boat to a desired destination, preferably in a controlled, efficient, and economic fashion, in order to achieve this we need to:

  • Have an active posture, allowing the body to move freely, with the muscles sensitive to movement and free to act quickly. Whilst being able to effectively transfer our weight, changing the centre of gravity and remaining in balance.
  • Be connected to our boat allowing us to react to the movements of the boat, paddles and water around you.

This allows us to feel and anticipate the movement of the boat through the water and efficiently transfer power from the body to create movement of the boat. The paddler can perform strokes that generate power, turning and stability; control the speed, angle, edge and trim of their boat; and move efficiently and economically.
Resulting in the controlled and efficient movement of the boat to achieve a desired outcome.

Using the Draw stroke we can look to see these fundamentals being applied –

Moving the boat towards the paddle side.
Stroke used in canoes and kayaks.

Moving the boat away from the paddle side.
Stroke predominantly used in canoes.


In the picture above, we see the paddler applying the upright body with the middle pelvis position. We can observe this due to the freedom to get both hands over the side they are paddling on / the upright head and the body rotation achieved.

This also allows the paddler to reach out comfortable giving the full range of movement.
We need to ensure that we have good co-ordination here, as the legs need to have a degree of pressure on them so that they hold the boat at the required angle and don’t allow it spin back towards the paddle.

Fundamentals of movement and paddlesportTo have an efficient and effective draw stroke we need to look at our posture in the boat first.
We need to have our pelvis in the middle position. With the pelvis in this position it allows our surrounding muscles to be relaxed. A relaxed muscle is able to contract quicker, is more sensitive and mobile than a muscle under tension. In the picture (left) we can see the paddler able to rotate their upper body over to the side that they would place the paddle on.

This is possible due the upright upper body with the pelvis in the middle position. This posture puts us in a position where we can remain in balance and be free to be agile in our movements.

Our next fundamental is our connections within the boat.
We use the points of the body that are in contact with the boat; and a basic level of tension through our main upper body (our core) to connect the boat to the body. This is essential to achieving control over the boats movement both in direction (laterally) and remaining upright.

Connections within the boat are:

  • Where and how we sit/kneel/stand
  • Where the knees are and the points they touch
  • Where the feet touch
  • The use of hip pads/backrest
Fundamentals of movement and paddlesport

Knees up under the knee braces under the cockpit / feet touching footrest and side of boat.


Knees pressing against the side of boat/use of kneeling thwart.

We need to use these with a degree of tension as we plant the paddle we are aiming to pull ourselves up to the paddle. This brings us onto our next fundamental: power transfer.

The strength of the stroke (stroke efficiency) is determined by remaining stable. This means that the water is left in the water and we remain upright and in control.

Fundamentals of movement and paddlesport

Showing hip pad

Task 1
Draw stroke only using arm power and try and move the water.

Task 2
Draw stroke using your core muscles and think about leaving the water stable and calm.
What differences do you note?

Once we are this stage it is time that we start developing our feel. We need to learn to work with the water and not against it. To do this we need to develop a feel for how the boat / paddle interact with the water. The paddler who can do this looks like they are working together with the water and not fighting it.

Exercises that can help us improve our feel would be:
Practicing draw strokes with your eyes closed. Do your reference points (points where you position your hands/arms/pressure on contact points) change.

Play time
Take your draw on the move and link it into a turning stroke such as the bow rudder.

  • How does your posture/connections/ power transfer and feel change?
  • What do you need to maintain your balance?
  • What is the chain of events that help you co-ordinate the movements?
  • What allows you to get free (agility) to move to the new position?

dave rossetter coachingDave Rossetter
Dave is Head of Paddlesports at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found.

About thepaddlerezine (699 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

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