Putting Your Best Leg Forward
The debate rages on (not exactly raging, but it happens) as to what foot position is best for dragon boat paddling. Some argue the inside leg should be forward, while others state the outside leg forward works best. Others argue for both feet forward. Ultimately, I agree with Steve Giles when he writes “get comfortable, keep the weight moving forward, put your feet wherever you want.”
Inside vs Outside Leg Forward
It’s the commonly accepted technique used by C1, C2, and C4 paddlers, so ’nuff said?
My thoughts are that the inside leg forward is not easily transferable from canoe racing to dragon boat. Not having any experience in C1, C2, or C4, I am speculating that putting the opposite leg forward in the canoe helps maintain balance in the boat during the pull. The canoe is very narrow and does not appear to have very much lateral stability (certainly compared to a dragon boat where you can stand edge to edge and the boat won’t flip). As I wrote here, paddling exerts a downward force on the boat, but what I didn’t write about initially is that it does depend on where that force is transferred to the boat. In the case of the C1 canoe, the force exerted on the paddle is transferred to the boat primarily by the forward leg. When the forward leg is opposite the paddle, it applies equal downforce across the boat midline, preventing an immediate tip-over. The other aspect of the foot position is related to the half-kneel position of the C1 racer. You can see in the pic that the paddler can swing their pelvis away from the paddle during the stroke to likely get more power, better balance, and more stroke length. If anybody has canoe racing XP, please feel free to clarify if my thoughts are accurate.
In a dragon boat, if a pro paddler like Steve Giles felt uncomfortable with this position is that enough reason to avoid it? My thoughts are that placing the inside leg forward makes your leg drive come from the inside. If a large portion of stroke power comes from rotation/de-rotation, pushing with your inside leg during the pull phase will tend to push your inside hip back, rotating your pelvis to the INSIDE of the boat. If you think about it, this is the opposite direction that you want to rotate during the pull phase.
Additionally, leg drive with the inside foot alone makes the paddler work against more torque, giving a mechanical disadvantage and robbing efficiency. If you took a top-down view the paddle is pulling water a certain distance outside the boat, creating a torque moment. The axis of rotation is the paddler’s outside ischial tuberosity (butt cheek). Leg drive with the inside leg creates a torque moment that is farther away from the outside butt cheek, making the paddler work harder to transfer force to the boat.
Another potential reason the inside leg forward is not well applied to DB because the bench prevents the paddler from swinging the pelvis back during leg drive as is possible with kneeling in canoe racing.
No “best” foot forward? Why not both forward?
Certainly another popular foot position to use in DB is both feet forward, similar to OC racing. With larger OC craft being quite similar to DB in terms of paddler position relative to the water, I’d say the technique works better than the inside leg forward. Folks have claimed that leg drive with both legs is stronger than one foot forward, but really? Your trunk and upper body will always be much weaker than just one of your legs. IMO, the main limitation to power in paddling is from core strength/stability than leg strength. You are only as strong as your weakest link.
Both feet forward may reduce the paddler’s ability to rotate on the reach because it tends to lock the pelvis down both in terms of hamstring flexibility and ability to swivel. If a paddler is able to put relatively more weight over their outside ischial tuberosity and unweight the inside leg slightly during reach, it may make a well-balance stroke….but if you’re already un-weighting the inside leg to get a good pull, why not just put the outside leg forward?