Rounding back? It may be your hips

The Problem

If you see folks who look like this picture below every time they reach, the causes could be multifactorial.  I’ve written about hamstring flexibility before and that can certainly be a contributing factor to losing low back stability on the reach.  Another cause that I haven’t written about is hip mobility and that’s what this post will focus on.

Drawbridge Fault

Because the low back is anchored to the pelvis and the pelvis connects to the hips, leaning forward on the reach involves flexing the hip and rocking the pelvis anteriorly (think of a ball rolling forward).  If all goes well, the low back can stay in a neutral position as if you were sitting bolt upright and simply tipped forward while reaching your arms out.  Now, if the hips stop early in flexion (think of stuffing a basketball under your shirt and bending forward), the pelvis stops and the low back must round for you to continue to reach.

The Solution

Now, while I’m a rehab professional who understands the body very well, I can’t claim to have come up with all the great solutions to helping it along.  For that, I look to those who have done the hard work already with good results.  Kelly Starrett is one of those PTs.  Here are 2 videos of him demonstrating methods to improving hip mobility.

As usual, feel free to leave me your questions and comments below!


Tips for Video Analysis of Paddling Technique

Whether you’ve seen and replayed dragon boat videos online a million times, have had somebody else film your technique, or have collected footage of other paddlers to analyze, you may be sitting at your computer screen saying, “Something could be better, but I’m not sure what.”  If you’re like most people, your eyes will flick around to various areas that catch your brain’s attention.  You see something happen in your periphery but by the time you look, the moment has passed.

In physical therapy, watching people and analyzing their movements for abnormal patterns or issues is a significant part of the practice.  It also takes just that…a lot of practice.  Whether you’re new or experienced at analyzing paddling footage, here are some tips that may improve your flow and consistency in watching technique.

1.  Stick to a System

Give yourself a step by step protocol to watching somebody paddle.  If you were looking at a photograph, your eyes will flick around the scene to areas of interest.  Now, if that picture is a movie, your eyes will move and follow many different areas without order…unless you take control.  Try starting somewhere specific, anywhere.  I usually start from the water and watch upwards.  I look at how the water moves, how the paddle interacts with the water, what the paddle is doing through the stroke(s), how the person interacts with the paddle, and finally how the person moves.  I don’t move my eyes to the next portion of the image or video clip until I am satisfied with the information I have observed.  I will also do multiple passes (more on this later).

Your system can be totally different but I highly recommend using one consistently.

2.  Get General Before Specific

Take notes on paper or get mental about things you see.  Don’t get hung up on tiny details until you get a good sense of the Big Picture.  Paddling technique is a sum of all parts and ultimately you are interested in that sum.  Complex movements are also, well, complex.  It helps to make things as simple as possible.

I will follow my system of watching a paddler from water to paddle to body in several “passes.”  With each pass I make note of more specific findings, observations, and hypotheses.  The Scientific Method.  To put it vaguely, I may look for “what” I see, then look for “how” things are happening to cause what I see, and then finally think about “why” things are happening in a certain way.  I take things from simple to complex because it’s very easy to get hung up on the details but not be able to see their relevance towards the Big Picture.  A paddler may drop their head through early to mid-pull.  So what?  What are the qualities of their overall stroke and how does this head bob possibly affect it?

It also helps to slow things down so see specifics.  Use a simple video editing program to slo-mo your stuff as best you can.

3.  Imagine Change

You’ve made a list of observations and hypotheses.  Now to test things out.  If you’re really good (or just experimental by nature) you may have several video clips of paddlers on the same day trying different techniques or changes on-the-fly to compare later on.  Ask yourself what makes sense to try and change in a paddler’s technique?  What are the costs and benefits of making such a change?  Is the change dependent on something fairly quick to change like paddler awareness or knowledge of results?  Does the change require something that takes longer to develop like “feel” for a solid catch at entry or plain physical power?  How will a change made in one part of the stroke affect other aspects?

4.  Make Change

Pick your battles and make a plan of attack that prioritizes your findings and interventions to yield the best results soonest while all good things come to those who wait (and work their @sses off).  Get more data so you  can retest your changes and see if your approach had the intended effect.

Try out your System in analyzing this paddler’s technique!


The 10th Campaign: 2013 Season Trailer

Join the resistance and our team for the 2013 season

Long Beach 2012

We love you long time Long Beach!

Sprint Race 2012

Stay strong
Stay true
Stay passionate
Stay together.

Congratulations to a race well run, paddlers of SFL.  This is why I coach.

Teamwork and Boat Control

These Chinese teams show some kick ass control over their boat and crew.  I’m sure they’d have no problem lining up at the start line on a windy day at TI.


The Suen Feng Loong (SFL) Dragon Boat Team has returned and it’s time to hit the water for an exciting 2012 paddling season. Start shedding those holiday pounds, get a good workout, and meet some crazy people.

New to the sport? Experience the fun and excitement of the sport first hand as our experienced paddlers and coaches show you how to paddle safely and efficiently.

Already a paddling god? Come realize your paddling potential and value as a team member on a individual-oriented team that emphasizes both performance and fun. Learn what makes our team different than all the rest.

FREE to try. Paddle and PFD (life jacket) provided.

See you on the water!

Gripping Vid

Ok, no, not really but in response to 1 reader’s comment on the grip tape, I went ahead and made a long-winded video about the stuff just so folks could see how it’s applied.

Hope it helps give you more of an idea how it works.  You can read the full post here:

Such a dashing team…

Congrats everybody for a fun day of sprinting out at Quarry Lakes!  It was a hard day of racing and is personally one of my favorite events of the season.

To the pandas of the world, this video is for you.


Trying out a new idea to mount GoPro’s on opposite ends of a pole and holding them up front for views of both sides of the boat…hard to keep steady being handheld and the pole vibes can be heard through the mics, but is a neat concept IMO.

Great recruit story!

Just sharing an entertaining and positive dragon boat recruitment story found on the Oakland Renegades website.  Kudos to anybody with this level of adventure in them.

More Technique

Most of us have heard this before…and it’s another thing altogether to make it happen, but coming from one of the top teams on this continent, it’s gotta mean something!

Believe in This Team

Get tough SFL, we need that more than ever.

Words of Wisdom

Alas, not from myself, but from paddlers and coaches that have my top respect.

LARD’s perspective on the team concept.

Clip from In The Same Boat (also found from LARD’s blog)


The race is never over SFL and don’t you forget it.

Technique of Hcc

Don’t really know if Hcc has anything to do w/ the team, but it’s got probably the best slow-motion capture of dragon boating I’ve seen.  It’s a great opportunity to pick apart their technique!  I’ll only touch on a couple of their paddlers that really stand out.

0:00 – 0:55 = everyone has a good setup on the start.  The black-shirted guy breaks his bottom arm which keeps him from digging fully (this seems to be how he paddles throughout the vid).  He also doesn’t reach that far compared to others around him (based on his trunk lean).  This means he’s pulling less water both in depth and in length of stroke.  The guy in back pulls out early which makes him rush a bit.

1:13 – 1:35 = The guy in the blue t-shirt w/ rolled sleeves has probably the most different stroke technique amongst the whole right side.  His top elbow bends so much on the reach that it causes his paddle to twist to face out.  It seems to me like he paddles to maximize paddle reach.  Not only does his technique make him late on both the exit AND entry, but his paddle fully buries at 90 degrees!  Compare that to the guy in red who enters w/ positive angle.

1:44 – 1:53 = rows 1 and 2 match up well except for the exit, where row 2 exits early.  They have a nice pause up front, but I prefer a faster dig after the bottom arm reaches full extension.  Row 3 bends his bottom elbow in the pull which makes him start to rush.

2:47 – 3:15 = the back 2 guys are interesting to compare.  Guy in last row has crazy reach and rotation but his pull depends mostly on his low back (he does the “roll-up”).  He also doesn’t drive that much w/ his top arm since his paddle drops at the same speed as his head.  He’s using his body to drive the paddle, not his top arm.  The problem w/ this technique is that as his paddle pulls back, he loses power because he can only sit up so far.  The guy in the bucket hat, meanwhile, has nearly equal reach and rotation but uses more top-arm drive and counter-rotation to pull the paddle vs his back extensors via the “roll-up.”  He probably pulls before he’s fully buried to cause the kerplunking backsplash you see trailing his paddle.  This is undesirable because the air pocket from a “kerplunk” usually pops up into the paddler 1 row back.  This makes it harder to see which can throw off timing.

Strength train w/ your partner!

If your boy/girlfriend is jealous about the time you spend lifting weights when you should be spending time together, just make your boy/girlfriend into a weight!  Duh, problem solved.

Video: I Promise

every day, in every way, i promise, to do my best,
its all for one and
one for all,
we are a team, we can’t be beat, we are the team, we won’t be beat

Video: The Challenge

How badly do you want to be a [dragonboater]?

Video: Lance Armstrong

If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind

Video: TI 2009 Grand Championship

BAD’s Video:

LARD’s Video:

Video: Snake Boat

You might want to turn your volume down (or, if you were me, you’d max it out!) for this one.

Video: My Better Is Better

Video: My Weapon