Posts tagged “paddle

Finding Your Torque: The Way of the Leopard

Most folks know and understand what torque is.  Just in case you don’t remember high school physics, torque is defined as “the cross product of the lever-arm distance and force, which tends to produce rotation” (good ‘ole wikipedia).  When paddling, there are many aspects of basic stroke technique that involve torque.  You exert torque through the paddle to the water, your body exerts some torsion force on the paddle and the boat itself, etc this much is intuitive.  What may not be as intuitive is how an innate metric like torque may actually be missing from key aspects of your stroke technique, leading to diminished performance and even increased risk of injury.

To quote Dr. Kelly Starrett in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard, “A stable, well-organized spine is the key to moving safely and effectively and maximizing power output and force production…midline stabilization and torque are two parts of a unifying system that work in conjunction with each other.”  What does this mean?  In basic terms, he is saying coordination and stability are key to producing and transferring max force.  You may think that this boils down further to say, “if you’re buff and experienced, you’re golden” right?  Not entirely.  Raw strength does not equate to stability and experience does not always equate to better technique.  For example, you may be able to deadlift 1.5x your body weight but do it in a sloppy way.  You may also be highly experienced at performing an exercise but do so with poor technique.  Both situations increase your risk for injury and prove to be limiting factors to improved performance.

Now think of paddling.  Say you compared 3 paddlers of equal experience: Paddler 1 is strong but muscle-bound to the point where they can only take a short stroke, Paddler 2 is very flexible and can reach way out for a super long stroke but resembles a wet noodle when paddling, Paddler 3 has the most picture-perfect technique you can imagine and uses it with a seemingly effortless appearance.  From my choice in descriptors, you can probably assume that Paddler 3 would be the best in a time trial situation and if you had a full crew of paddlers just like this person, it would be a more powerful, efficient, and faster boat than the others.  What makes this paddler so effective compared to the others, given the fact that they all have equal experience?  This is where finding good torque steps in.

If you search Youtube for paddling clinics, just about every speaker and coach talks about setting the blade firmly in the water on the catch.  Some liken the feeling of planting the blade to having it “stuck” in the water as if in instant-dry concrete.  Once a solid catch is obtained, then power is applied to the paddle to pull yourself (and your craft) up to the anchored blade.  While this perspective takes into account the paddle in relation to the water, it tends to overlook what the paddler is doing once a firm anchor is set.  If you get the paddle in the water perfectly but fail to find good torque through your body either because of joint instability, impaired motor control, or lacking of range of motion, you will NOT be able to exert good torque on that paddle.

So how do you know you are giving good torque?  As a coach, what can you look for to know if good torque is being applied by your paddlers?  From the first-person perspective, applying good torque requires you to be stable in neutral (or as close to neutral) spinal posture and have your extremities set and stabilized prior to actually applying power.  The first stroke of a race start is probably the easiest and most intuitive way to find optimal torque because slow movement is generally easier to coordinate.  Anchoring your blade 100% and setting yourself up to have your back straight, shoulder blades set down/together, feet braced against the foot stops, thigh pressing into the gunnel, and hands “pre-loading” the paddle, gives you stability before the GO.  In setting up this position and using your muscles to make yourself as rigid as possible, you are using muscular torque to compress and stabilize your joints while taking up slack along your body frame, in turn making them great conductors of force.  You will have a stronger, quicker and more precise drive on that first stroke just by having that setup.  After you start to pull, practice keeping a firm and rigid frame through the pull to ensure you are not losing torque along the way.

As a coach, you can watch for paddlers holding good posture throughout the stroke cycle.  Assuming the paddler is coordinating their paddle to your ideal, look for signs that they may be losing torque along the way and try to troubleshoot why this is happening (is it from lack of stability, lack of coordination, or lack of flexibility?).  Dr. Starrett refers to movement patterns that diminish torque to be “faults” and gives them clever and funny names such as the Stripper Fault (having your booty pop up before the bar lifts when doing a good morning squat).  Here are some common “faults,” complete with funny names, that I see in paddlers losing torque:

Neck Crane Fault

Neck Crane Fault

1.  Neck Crane Fault: cranking your head up to look forward (say at the timing box) while you flex your trunk forward on the reach diminishes the stability of your shoulder blades before the catch.

Head Banger Fault

2.  Head Banger Fault: after entry and anchoring the blade, some paddlers will throw their head down violently in attempt to get better drive.  Instead you are committing your neck muscles and scapular stabilizers to decelerating your bowling ball-weighted head instead of applying force to the paddle.

Drawbridge Fault

3.  Drawbridge Fault: during recovery and reaching forward, the paddler rounds their back either as if slumping in a chair or sidebending (due to rotation) resembling a curved bridge.  This unlocks the connection between your hips, pelvis and spine while destabilizing your upper body to take a good pull.

Roll Up Fault

4.  Roll Up Fault: after initiating the pull, the paddler’s pelvis rocks backwards, rounding the low back, and this rounding curve rolls up the spine to the head like a sinus wave.  This is a dynamic fault that destabilizes your whole system and can actually start as a result of the Drawbridge Fault.

Knock Knee Fault

5.  Knock Knee Fault: the paddler draws their knees together during the pull phase instead of pressing the outside leg into the gunnel and foot against foot stop.  This fault diminishes the connection between paddler and boat, decreases leg drive power, and destabilizes the pelvis leading to more instability up the chain.

Chicken Wing Fault

6.  Chicken Wing Fault: when anchoring the blade, the paddler’s elbows go from tipped up towards the sky to down to the water, giving the appearance like they are doing the funky chicken dance.  The apparent movement at the elbow is actually from the paddler not being able to stabilize their shoulders against the increasing load at the paddle while anchoring.  This diminishes how quickly they can anchor the paddle and delays the point where they can produce force during the drive.

Choo Choo Fault

7.  Choo Choo Fault: when pulling, the paddler breaks at the outside elbow, bending it and drawing it back making them appear like the crank of a locomotive as the wheels spin.  Bending the bottom elbow during the pull prior to initiating recovery diminishes torque because there is movement occurring along what should be a solid frame.

(I’m sure I can think up many more faults, but I’m all out of zany nicknames right now)

When practicing finding torque, I wrote earlier that going slow is key.  In the basic sense it’s easier to coordinate your body.  When the rate increases, most paddlers’ mental focus goes from ensuring good pulls and form to just staying in time.  I recommend drills that focus on strokes from dead stop or pause-type drills at a low rate to learn how to find torque.

Master torque application and you may yet become a supple water leopard!  Rawr!

Sidenote: I am in no way affiliated with Dr. Starrett except in being a fellow physical therapist.  I believe his book is a terrific guide to what physical therapists try to get their patients to understand everyday.  If you get a chance to read the book, you’ll be miles ahead of the average athlete in terms of knowing how to minimize your risk for injury and improve your potential for improved performance.


2013 Dragon Boat Paddle Comparisons

It’s been 4 years

since my last survey of dragon boat paddles available to athletes the world round.  With the growing popularity of dragon boat, changes in IDBF paddle dimension allowances, and improvements in manufacturing processes, some brands have flourished and others have faded away.  New philosophies in paddling performance and function have lead to many innovative products.

I’ve scoured the internet to find published prices and updated information on each paddle model from the manufacturer whenever possible.  If there is a major brand I’ve left out, please let me know and I’ll look into it!

Without further ado, here is the 2013 Dragon Boat Paddle Comparison List!


Paddle Erg Setups

Paddle ergometers are increasingly popular among teams and paddlers looking for objective measures of paddling performance or perhaps dry land training alternatives.  While it’s my opinion that nothing absolutely replaces the training effects of actual water time, I don’t believe there is a single brand of paddling erg around that fails to claim it provides the most realistic dry land paddling experience out there.  The one thing you’ll notice about all paddling ergs is that…drum roll please….they don’t look like dragon boats.  You might say, “of course!  An erg isn’t a boat, my good sir!  A boat is a boat and an erg is an erg!” but when replication of the on-water experience is the goal, taking a look at how closely you can set up the erg to match your on-water setup becomes essential to realistic practice.

Below are the bench metrics I took of one of our local BuK boats, row by row, so that you may try to relate them to your erg setup by adjusting seat height and relative position of bench to the forward foot stop.

Row

A

B

1

11.25

27.75

2

12.5

28.5

3

13.3

29

4

14

29

5

14.25

29.25

6

14.25

29.5

7

13.75

29.25

8

13.1

29

9

12

29

10

11.25

29

A = Bench height over trough (the deepest portion of the hull, closest to the gunnel)

B = Distance of bench front to forward foot stop (linear parallel to long axis of hull, not diagonal from the gunnel)

Units = Inches

Using the 2 numbers you can potentially adjust the seat height and distance relative to the foot brace of the erg to replicate more closely the row that you normally paddle in.  One consideration I thought of for ergs that can replicate the bench to foot stop position is to avoid sitting so high relative to where the cable/rope feeds into the gyro that your “paddle” tip travels above the point during recovery, causing resistance onset to “lag” as one begins the pull phase.

Give it a try!


Video

The 10th Campaign: 2013 Season Trailer

Join the resistance and our team for the 2013 season


Once you go black…

…you never go back (to a wood paddle, that is).

At least that’s been a common trend for paddlers following the rise in popularity of carbon fiber paddles hitting the market.  Paddlers will often find themselves in the dilemma of choosing an “advanced” paddle as soon as they feel they are getting “advanced” but what are the pros and cons of different paddle materials?

A dragon boat team using mixed paddles

Getting Woody

IMO, you can’t beat the look of a brand-new Grey Owl “high-performance” wood paddle is a thing of beauty.  Shiny lacquer over carefully joined pieces of ash and basswood give a great look that holds up to years of use.

Despite a claimed weight of 570g (at 51″), many top dragon boat teams and excellent athletes utilize this type of paddle with good results.  It’s also a steal at less than $60.

Wood paddles are generally the first type of paddle that dragon boaters utilize when learning the sport, because it’s so economical for clubs to stock them and they are VERY resilient to clacks/dings.

Essentially, a high performance wood paddle can be tough, cheap, and perform great.  If you’ve never tried a carbon paddle, you’ll never know how the wood paddle compares, so stop reading, buy a high performance paddle and be done with it.

Oh but whataboutacarbonpaddle?

The future is here!  No jet packs, but laminate paddles made of carbon fiber and occasionally Kevlar weave.  The IDBF regs allowing paddles “made from any materials” fitting the controlled dimensions and design restrictions is a real game-changer.

Despite the lack of objective 3rd party comparisons, all carbon paddle designs generally aim to cut weight and increase rigidity compared to the traditional wood design.  The “cutting edge” nature of composites (despite being around for almost 100 years) keeps prices significantly higher than wood paddles.

For a carbon paddle that can be 55% lighter, supposedly stiffer, and almost 5x more expensive than a wood paddle, is it worth it?  It’s all subjective, really.  Here are my thoughts.

Carbon paddles are often touted as being for the most hardcore of paddlers, but let’s compare this to the carbon bicycle market.  Sure, pro’s use carbon and other high-tech material bikes, but it’s the average Joe (who has $1-20k) that makes the market go round.  Same goes for dragon boat paddles.  Pro’s choose ’em, Joe’s use ’em.

I’ve heard folks mention a possible disadvantage to using a carbon paddle is that it is “too stiff” for a novice paddler and can result in increased risk of injury.  I personally don’t think this makes sense.  First, stiffness is the resistance of a material to deformation in response to an applied force.  It is the paddler that applies the force.  That force a paddler exerts doesn’t change based on what the paddle is made of.

Most injuries that are atraumatic (in large scale) occur from repetition of faulty mechanics.  A paddler that is not fit enough to paddle with good mechanics is likely to develop injuries regardless of their equipment.  Heck, it would probably happen if they air-paddled for hours on end without a paddle.

The advantages of a paddle that is stiffer is that there should be higher efficiency of force transmission to the water, meaning less energy is wasted flexing the paddle and more is put towards shoving the boat forward.  There should be a net energy savings for the paddler here.

A lighter paddle also means less energy spent through recovery and may reduce the strain associated with using a heavier paddle at the same given stroke rate for any length of time.

All together, I’d say using a carbon paddle is less likely to cause an injury than some may think.

Stiffness can most definitely affect “feel” and carbon paddles are also notorious for having wildly different weight distributions between blade, shaft, and handle brand to brand as compared to wood paddles.  Each of these aspects will affect how the paddle feels on recovery and through the pull.

For those who are on the fence about wood vs carbon, Kialoa makes a hybrid wood and carbon paddle so you can supposedly get the best of both ebony and ivory worlds.

The choice is yours!  Best of luck to making the change to carbon OR changing back.


HIT Yourself!

Growing up, my parents always told me that hitting was a bad thing but science is showing some evidence that a little hit isn’t such a bad thing after all.

In case you were wondering, I’m not talking about actually striking somebody but rather the acronym HIT or High-intensity Interval Training.  Athletes who train to race in any sport are well aware of interval training, which is a form of exercise involving a period of exertion followed by a period of rest.  Interval workouts give variety and challenge to a training program, but are commonly associated with sprinting or mid-distance sports.  Did you know that there is evidence that the integration of a HIT workout can result in better endurance when compared to an ordinary endurance training program?

Although the distance of dragon boat races could be considered sprint to mid-distance in most water sports, the physical demands of dragon boat paddling still favor the team with a good mix of power AND endurance.  Many teams will train to develop power by power-lifting in the gym and doing starts on the water, with endurance training consisting of moderate to low-intensity, sustained paddling.  With the lack of research being done on dragon boat itself, I found one, albeit older, study from Laursen et al titled “Interval training program optimization in highly trained endurance cyclists.”

Their results showed that workouts involving HIT resulted in better 40km time trial results in cyclists compared to those who only performed endurance training and did not perform HIT.  More specifically, the treatment group that improved the most was subject to the following HIT parameters:

HIT parameters
HIT workout 2x/wk
8 timed sets of 60% Time to Exhaustion (Tmax)
at VO2peak power output (Pmax)
1:2 exercise to rest ratio
Recovery period intensity at 65% max heart rate (HRmax)

4 weeks total with workload adjusted at 2 week reassesment

Getting some metrics for your paddlers is important but not necessarily essential to get HIT to work in your favor.  The metrics will help you learn where certain people excel and where others need to improve.  Since DB is a team sport, having some average race times before and after training under similar conditions would be good to have (or individual time trial data).  For individual testing, a paddling erg would be useful.

How to do this Yourself The Meticulous Way

Measuring VO2peak:
Unless you have access to a professional lab setup, you’ll have to estimate this by other means.  The experiment calculated VO2 while exercising at certain workloads.  For practical purposes, VO2max can be substituted and there are several calculators online, here is one.

Measuring Tmax:
Warmup for 5 minutes at a set, low intensity.  After the warmup, immediately increase resistance to a higher level (the experiment increased wattage at warmup by 1.5x for the test portion).  Measure the time it takes for the paddler to drop below a desired stroke rate.  The time to cadence fatigue is Tmax.

Measuring Pmax:
After warming up 5 minutes at easy intensity, gradually increase resistance while paddling until the point of volitional fatigue, making note of the wattage just before point of fatigue.  The experiment measured this in relation to VO2 measures, so again, this is an approximation.

Measuring HRmax:
Try this calculator to find your range of max heart rate by age, type of sport, and training level.

How to do this Yourself The Simple(r) Way

You could choose to omit things like VO2peak and Pmax.  Get your crew warmed up properly.  After this, run a sprint race piece and make note of when either stroke rate progressively drops or boat speed starts to decrease.  You can film and count stroke rate later or use an accelerometer to figure this out.

For workouts, run 8 sets of similar intensity sprint pieces for 60% of the time until performance drop-off.  Paddle easily at 1:2 time ratio through the whole workout.

For general health and performance reasons, your paddlers should be familiar with methods to monitor their heart rate in relation to workout intensity.  Wear heart rate monitors or figure out max HR prior to working out and having folks measure their HR immediately after the set.  With experience, folks can learn to associate HR with perceived level of exertion and use that as a general guide if they are not actively being measured by a device.

rdln


Musings: The Stretch/Shortening Cycle

Athletes have long noticed that bouncing helps increase power immediately before a power activity.  Ever see somebody struggle to chest press too much weight?  They may literally bounce the bar off their chest, which can fracture their ribs but also give what’s called an active, eccentric stretch to the pec major, triceps, and deltoid muscles; increasing their power output temporarily.

Try this: get a chair and squat down to lightly touch your bottom to the seat.  Then, try to jump as high as you can (ideally you’d have a marker to know how high you jumped).  Now, try removing the chair and squatting down to the same height, allowing your hips to quickly dip down into the squat right before the jump (an ordinary, stationary squat jump).  You should notice that you can jump higher when you take the chair away.

Notice how those tasty frog legs move slightly before the body starts to move in the leap

You are giving your leg muscles a quick stretch prior to the jump, which increases the power and thus the height of your jump.

This phenomenon should happen in our arm and trunk muscles as well.

One might wonder, if you could coordinate an entire boat of 20 paddlers bouncing slightly before the first stroke of a start, you could get a significant increase in power on the first stroke!

This may already happen instinctively in the form of “The Trunk Bob” immediately leading up to the first stroke.  What this does is bring the trunk downwards while the arms ever-so-briefly stay stationary, stretching the mighty latissimus dorsi muscle before it contracts and pulls through the first stroke.

Check out The Trunk Bob

Will a slight bounce help make a more powerful first stroke?  How much does the first stroke REALLY matter if everything counts in a race?

Nobody knows for sure, but it sure does make me wonder.


Stretch before paddling?

It’s a very common belief that stretching to reduce muscle tightness is positively linked to performance, however evidence shows that some forms of stretching may actually be bad for performance.

When it comes to dragon boat, is it a good thing to stretch?

Will it help or hurt your paddling performance?

Let’s look at key features of different types of stretching.

Static Stretching

This is a slow and constant stretch performed either actively (under your own power) or passively (with some help from another person or object), held at an end position typically for 30 seconds or longer.

Dragon boaters performing static stretches.

The Good

Static stretching is a simple method to increase range of motion (aka flexibility) with potentially decreased risk of injury  during the stretch.  If you’re a paddler who can’t paddle with good form despite having good water experience because of muscle tightness, then this method may be of benefit to you to improve flexibility between practices.

The Bad

Studies show that static stretching has a negative impact on a muscle’s ability to produce peak force and power.  In terms of sprinters and weight lifters, sprint times and one-rep max values were made worse immediately following a prolonged, static stretch to the muscles being used.  Why does this happen?  Our muscles have different sensory receptors within them that help us produce force quickly (creating power) and static stretching is thought to reduce the activity of these receptors.

Static stretching also causes muscles to decrease in temperature due to not actively contracting them.  This means you may lose the benefits of doing a warm-up if you statically stretch muscles for several minutes.

Doing static stretching prior to races or at the start line?  Evidence may suggest you’ll have a lower ability to exert power during your paddling.

Ballistic Stretching

This is an active effort using bouncing-type movements where the end position of the stretch is occupied only briefly.

The Good

Unfortunately, there is not very much evidence at all that says ballistic stretching has any clear benefit to athletic performance (so far).  This means that ballistic stretching is not a dependable way to improve performance.

The Bad

There is evidence (1) that says ballistic stretching may actually increase risk of injury to affected muscle groups, especially if these muscles have been injured in the past.  Remember those stretch receptors mentioned earlier?  Their job is to contract a muscle in the event that extra force is suddenly detected (eg you are holding an empty catcher’s mitt in front of you with your eyes closed and somebody drops a softball into it.  Your hand doesn’t fall because your muscles contract to keep the mitt in place).  Ballistic stretching exerts tension on a muscle in a quick manner that activates these same receptors, causing muscles to tense up at the end of the ballistic movement, defeating the purpose of the stretch.

Dynamic Stretching

This form of stretching can be defined as a “functionally based stretching exercise that uses sport-specific movements to prepare the body for activity” (2).  They are active movements made within the range of motion required for a sport, ideally in directions that mimic the sport itself.

A dynamic paddler warming up dynamically

The Good

Dynamic stretching is a more controlled, gentle method for stretching and in this regard, minimizes the risks present with ballistic methods.  Dynamic stretching can gradually increase tissue temperature, which improves the ability for tissue to accept loads safely.

The Bad

There aren’t very many “bad” aspects of dynamic stretching, but this method of stretching has not been found as effective at increasing static range of motion (3).

HOW do you put it all together?

A good series of dynamic stretches as a warm up for dragon boat involves closely mimicking the movements performed in the actual sport.  These movements should be kept non-ballistic without bouncing in/out of the end range of your joints and tissues.  For example, you could perform “air” paddling on land with your hands and no paddle, working on gradually progressive reach, rotation, and leg drive an even number of times per side.  As you continue, try to gradually increase the speed of movement (rate it up!) to increase your body temperature by getting your blood pumping!  “Air” paddling is just one idea for a dynamic warm-up.  You could gradually move your arms, legs, and trunk in sport-similar movements to similar results.

After the race is over, feel free to statically stretch as a cool down by holding your stretches for ~30 seconds within a comfortable amount of tension to maintain range of motion and reduce post-exercise tightness.

In any stretching routine, you should never push into feeling pain as this may mean you are exceeding the capacity of your tissues and possibly causing injury.

Keep it dynamic everyone!

1.  Clarkson, P., and I. Tremblay.  “Exercise-induced muscle damage, repair, and adaptation in humans.”  J Appl Physiol. Jul;65(1):1-6.1988

2.  Mann, D.P., and M.T. Jones.  Guidelines to the implementation of a dynamic stretching program.  Strength Cond J. 21(6):53-55. 1999

3.  Bandy, W.D., J.M. Irion, and M. Briggler.  The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles.  J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 27(4): 295-300. 1998

4.  Baechle, T.R., and R.W.  Earle.  Essentials of strength training and conditioning; 3rd edition.  National strength and conditioning association. 2008