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?
“Hey coach! Gimme a break!”
I’m sure it’s a thought that many competitive paddlers have had at some point during a hard practice. But who wants to be the whining wimp who complains that a set or drill is “too hard?” Part of being able to push yourself physically is being able to work through the agony of 100% sustained effort. With that kind of mentality, it’s no wonder most coaches won’t hear that kind of comment from their crews, but is that necessarily a good thing?
What is perfect performance?
Quite simply, performing optimally is a combination of elements essential to the sport. If a paddler has great conditioning, technique, concentration, and determination, then it should be expected that a melding of high amounts of each will result in great performance. Call it the best-case-scenario.
If a paddler falls short in any of those elements, performance will likely drop. It makes sense to want high marks of each element of performance at all times.
Practice makes perfect but perfect practice takes priority
Say that ten times fast without losing a letter and you’ll know what it means. Practice is about enhancing an athlete’s ability to perform by developing each element of performance either individually or as a group. The challenge for a coach comes from designing workouts that enhance these skill sets without being detrimental to others at the same time. For example, why train to paddle at 120 spm if your paddler technique falls apart and timing becomes garbage? You are training folks to move quickly but at the expense of 2 very important performance skills.
A team wiped out after hard racing. This kind of fatigue didn’t happen after crossing the finish line.
In the novice to recreational world of dragon boat, I see so many teams train to fail. Training to fail at this level is running a set or interval at a difficulty (either duration or intensity) that exceeds the athlete’s ability to keep good performance throughout. Anytime we practice with sloppy technique, our bodies adapt to make sloppy technique more natural. Just imagine if every stroke you took was perfect in delivery throughout practice! You’re training to paddle perfectly.
Michael Phelps with the energy to celebrate AFTER setting a world record. Perfect practice = perfect performance.
While encouraging good performance habits is a no-brainer, noticing form failure during a practice is essential information for any coach. Investigating where and why performance failure occurs during practice allows a coach to determine “the weakest link” in a crew or athlete’s training. Using this approach, a coach can gather vital information about their crew and areas needed to improve to address overall performance. There’s no reason to avoid failure while training, but it’s a mistake to train failure.
The Problem: a paddler’s timing degrades through a 250m sprint piece
Your Observation: Their head is dropping and they are out of breath
Potential Weakness: Inadequate endurance, inefficient stroke technique
Possible Solution(s): Allow for more rest between sets, decrease paddling intensity/effort pacing,
encourage paddler to improve attendance, address technique
So, the next time you run a practice, recognize when different aspects of performance are failing and adjust the workout as needed to keep your practices perfect!