SUP Technique Errors and their Fixes – Errors Associated with the Pull
SUP Technique Errors and Fixes: The Pull
In previous issues, we’ve looked at errors associated with the catch – the process of gathering water on the blade and beginning to work against it using big muscles and body weight. In this post we’re going to look at errors associated with the pull, which is the phase of the stroke which follows the catch and where we should achieve maximal load on the blade. We will continue to use the format we’ve established previously:
- What is the issue?
- How do you identify this problem in your stroke?
- How do you identify this problem in others or on video?
- How to correct the issue.
Most errors associated with the pull involve one or more of the following:
1. Premature loss of paddle angle.
2. Failure to load the blade effectively as a result of staying inside the board with body weight
3. Failure to load the blade effectively as a result of taking too long to get the blade buried
4. Failure to load the blade effectively due to not using legs enough
5. Failure to use the hips to work against the water loaded on the blade through the pull
We’ll take a look at each of them separately.
Premature loss of paddle angle
What it is: When we refer to paddle angle, we are referring to the angle between the paddle and the water as seen from the side. Actually, what we are really concerned with is “blade angle”. Remember that most SUP paddles have approximately 10 degrees of offset between blade and shaft. Before discussing paddle angle further, we need to know the difference between positive, neutral (vertical) and negative blade angles.
Positive angle is seen when the blade is in front of the top hand (figure 1). This angle is typical of the catch and if the angle at the catch is not positive there is a huge problem. An accelerometer attached to a board (or any other paddle craft) can be used to generate an acceleration profile for the stroke. In all craft, this profile shows that acceleration rapidly increases as the blade moves from positive angle at the catch to neutral or vertical in the pull. Hence, we should be doing as much as we can to maintain positive blade angle in our stroke and ensure that it does not become negative too quickly.
Neutral or vertical angle is seen when the blade is directly underneath the top hand as seen from the side (figure 2). The paddle shaft in this case appears to be vertical and at approximately 90 degrees to the water. The accelerometer data shows that this neutral or vertical angle is the point of maximal acceleration in the stroke.
Negative angle occurs when the blade goes past neutral or vertical and the blade is behind the top hand as seen from the side (figure 3). The accelerometer shows that while the board is still accelerating with the blade at a negative angle, the rate of acceleration is rapidly decreasing as negative angle increases.
Obviously, we want to maintain positive to vertical blade angle for as long as possible. Once our blade passes through vertical and begins to become increasingly negative our stroke becomes less and less effective. While it is pretty much impossible to avoid some negative angle, the idea is to minimize it and rather than continue to work in a phase of the stroke where there are diminishing returns, instead exit the water and start the next stroke as quickly as possible.
When paddle angle is prematurely lost and passes through vertical extremely quickly if affects our ability to effectively apply body weight and our big muscles to the stroke. It diminishes the amount of acceleration we can generate and accordingly the speed we can attain.
Identifying this problem in your stroke: If you identify that you are air catching or pulling the blade before it is fully loaded (see SUP Technique Errors and their Fixes – The Catch) you’re likely losing paddle angle too quickly. Not only are you missing loading at the catch and the earliest stages of the pull, you’re missing an opportunity to apply body weight and big muscles to your stroke through the entire pull and you’re not able to accelerate the board as quickly.
If you can identify that you are generating pressure directly down the paddle shaft with your top hand at the catch, you’re probably not losing positive angle too quickly. If, on the other hand, you feel like you’re punching forward with your top hand instead of creating downward pressure you are very likely losing paddle angle too quickly.
If you can keep your paddling side shoulder in front of or directly under your chin through the early part of the stroke, you’re likely doing a good job of maintaining paddle angle. However, if, in your peripheral vision, you see your paddling side shoulder quickly disappear under your chin shortly after the catch you’re likely losing paddle angle too quickly. Similarly, if you see your top shoulder come into view in your peripheral vision shortly after the catch then you are losing paddle angle too quickly as well. In both cases you are “losing shoulder rotation” too quickly. Your paddling side shoulder is rotating back and your top shoulder rotating forward too quickly (figure 4 and 5).
Lastly, if you’re paddling with someone else who is similar in speed and feel like you’re just not moving the board well through the first half of the stroke compared to how they are, there is a strong possibility that you’re losing your paddle angle too quickly and you should try to get some video taken for a closer look.
Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video: Losing paddle angle too quickly is readily apparent in video analysis when you see positive paddle angle disappear very quickly. While the idea is to maximize the time in which the blade is vertical or nearly vertical, when you observe a problem with maintaining blade angle on video you will see the blade spends very little time close to vertical. In fact, you will see the blade pass through vertical in an instant going from a positive to a considerably negative blade angle very rapidly (figures 4 and 5).
One of the things you will notice is how quickly the relative position of the hands changes. You’ll see a top hand that is closer to the body and bottom hand that is well in front of the body at entry quickly become a top hand that is further away from the body and a bottom hand closer to or even behind the body (again, this is readily apparent in figures 4 and 5). It’s the result of what is effectively a push-pull motion of the top and bottom hands in which the top hand punches forward rather than exerting pressure directly down the paddle shaft while the bottom hand pulls back (figure 6).
Looking further up the arms from the hands and all the way to the shoulders, you’ll note that the shoulder rotation you have at the catch, where the bottom shoulder is rotated forward and top shoulder is back, is quickly lost. You’ll note that this rotation/derotation of the shoulders is actually the dominant movement of the stroke and is occurring far too rapidly, rather than being part of a complete body movement involving hips, legs and core where the shoulder derotation is spread out over most of the pull. Compare what you see in figures 7 and 8, where shoulder rotation is too quickly lost, with what you see in figures 9 and 10 where it isn’t.
Correcting the issue: The two most important things to focus on to fix this issue are a) the movement of the top hand and b) keeping your bottom shoulder in front of, or under, your chin for as long as possible. Let’s look at each separately.
Good connection is always easier to find if the top hand exerts pressure directed straight down the paddle shaft (see figure 11). This does not mean that you should be trying to use the top arm to drive the paddle deeper into the water. That should be done with the upper body by dropping the paddling side shoulder, collapsing on to the paddle with your core and by bending your legs through the first half of the pull (see figure 12). The last thing you want is for your top hand to get too low which is what will happen if you use it to drive the paddle through the water. Instead, you just want to be creating a constant downward pressure with your top hand that is directed straight down the paddle shaft. You can do this with your top hand kept high – above, or just at, the level of your chin. This downward pressure stabilizes the paddle and keeps it secure in the water so that you can pull yourself to the paddle more easily.
If you’re directing the pressure from the top hand directly down the paddle shaft you won’t be pushing it forward with the top shoulder, which is what you’re doing when you’re losing paddle angle too quickly.
While thinking about your top hand pressure, also think about what your bottom shoulder is doing. Try to keep your paddling side deltoid just in front of, or under, your chin for as long as possible (figure 13). This ensures you are “saving” your rotation and thus your paddle angle.
Obviously, your top and bottom hands and shoulders are linked together. When the top shoulder is back, the bottom or paddling side shoulder is forward and vice versa. It’s not hard to see how a push-pull motion from the top/bottom shoulders results in a very quick loss of paddle angle. Focusing on eliminating this push-pull motion immediately helps save paddle angle.
Failure to load the blade effectively as a result of staying inside the board with body weight
What it is: We looked at this extensively in the September issue of The Catch in “SUP Technique Errors and Fixes – Staying “Inside” the Board” . While we looked at this problem largely in the context of the front of the stroke, most people with this issue manage to eventually get more “over the water” after the catch and load some weight on the blade through the middle of the pull. The problem is, they are just playing catch up. You’ll never get as much weight on the paddle as you should in the middle of the stroke if you missed the opportunity to get weight on the blade right from the catch by staying inside the board.
This problem becomes even worse, however, if one is reluctant to get “outside” the board and “on top” of the paddle with their body weight during the middle of the pull. In this scenario there is far too little body weight on the blade in this part of the stroke and, as a result, the board sits much deeper than it should in the water through the entire stroke.
Identifying this problem in your stroke: We’ve discussed how to identify this in terms of the catch in our last issue. If you feel reluctant to get your body weight outside the rails of your board to the paddling side during the middle of the pull, you’re very likely staying inside the board with your body weight centered directly over your feet.
If you feel reluctant to lower your paddling side shoulder closer to the water than your top shoulder during the pull then you are very likely not getting enough body weight on the paddle during the pull.
If your head is inside the board rather than over the paddling side rail or, better yet, over the water during the pull, you are likely not getting enough weight outside the board and onto the paddle during the pull.
If you see your top hand inside the board rather than out over the rail/water boundary on the paddling side during the pull, then you are very likely not getting your weight outside the board and onto the paddle.
All of these scenarios can be seen in figure 14.
If you don’t feel your board “rising” in the water through the pull then you are likely not getting weight off the board and onto the paddle during the pull.
Lastly, if you’re paddling with someone else who is similar in speed and feel like you’re just not moving the board well through the pull compared to how they are, there is a strong possibility that you’re staying inside the board too much rather than getting weight off the board and onto the paddle during the pull.
Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video: We discussed how to identify this issue at the catch in our last issue. Simply put, if you see the top hand inside the board and body weight directly over the feet rather than the head and shoulders hanging out over the water on the paddling side at the set up and catch, then the paddler isn’t getting enough weight on the blade at the catch. (figure 15).
If you see body weight similarly centered over the feet rather than the head and shoulders leaning out over the water through the pull, the paddler is staying inside the board through the pull and not getting enough weight on the blade (figure 14). If the shoulders appear to be level in the same horizontal plane rather than “stacked” top shoulder over bottom during the middle of the pull, then the paddler is not getting enough body weight on the paddle through the pull. This can be seen in figure 14 as well.
Correcting the issue: Corrections for failing to be “squared up” so you can get body weight on the blade right from the catch are outlined in “SUP Technique Errors and Fixes – Staying “Inside” the Board”
Most paddlers who fail to get outside the board at the catch eventually get out over their blade through the middle of the pull, though the effectiveness of this is limited due to the fact that they were late getting their weight on the blade in the first place. However, for those that continue to stay inside the board during the middle of the pull it is even more important to get weight outside the board and onto the paddle in order to salvage at least some of the stroke with body weight on the blade. They should think about getting their bottom shoulder lower to the water and have their head and shoulders over the edge of the board through the pull. They should focus on feeling a bit of a crunch between their rib cage and hips on the paddling side through the heart of the pull and they can shift their hips out a little to the opposite side to facilitate getting more over the water (figure 16). Figures 14 and 16 clearly show the differences in body position between staying inside the board during the pull and getting outside the board with weight on the blade through the pull.
Once you’ve adjusted the mechanics as described above, try doing some exaggeration paddling where you focus on really “climbing on top of the paddle” with your body weight during the pull. Play with letting the blade go a little deeper in the water during the pull and feeling more body weight come off the board and onto your paddle. Feel the board rise in the water as a result of more weight going on the blade.
Failure to load the blade effectively as a result of taking too long to get the blade buried
We’ve looked at this in great detail in the first installment of “SUP Technique Errors and Fixes”, focused on problems with the catch so I won’t go into detail here describing what it is, how to recognize it in yourself or on video, and how to correct it. However, you may be wondering how an issue related to the catch can be such a big problem affecting the pull. Let’s take a look at that here.
A sound connection in the pull builds on what was accomplished at the catch. If you’re late getting the blade buried at the catch and use a considerable amount of positive blade angle up doing so, there is less positive blade angle left to use in the pull. You’ll recall that accelerometer data shows that a board’s rate of acceleration increases rapidly from entry, peaking when the blade is approximately vertical. Thereafter, the rate of acceleration rapidly decreases as the negative blade angle increases. So, if you’re late getting the blade buried at the catch and use up too much positive blade angle doing so, there is less positive blade angle left to use during the pull. This really has a negative impact on the effectiveness of the stroke.
The other issue associated with the pull that is impacted by taking too long to bury the blade at the catch is that the depth of the stroke through the pull becomes somewhat limited. Consider a blade that gets buried quickly at the catch. As the blade passes through positive blade angle towards vertical in the pull it can continue to probe deeper, taking more of your body weight and finding undisturbed water to interact with, thus enhancing connection. At vertical, where acceleration peaks, the blade is at its deepest and can take the greatest amount of body weight in the stroke and still fully supports you. This all results in a very powerful stroke and a very heavily loaded “gear”. If, however, the blade is slow to get buried and most of the positive blade angle is lost in the process, the blade will be much shallower in the water as it approaches vertical. This means that at the part of the stroke where acceleration peaks the blade is not as deep in the water as it could be, is taking and supporting much less body weight, and will be a much “lighter” gear. The power producing potential of the stroke through the pull will be much less.
An exploration of “gears” in paddling is a topic for another discussion and not all paddlers are going to want to use a really heavily loaded gear. However, if the blade is only just buried as it approaches vertical the “gear” is too light for almost every paddler. There is tremendous potential being lost in the stroke, and in the pull specifically, which means that the part of the stroke that should provide the most forward impulse to the board is greatly diminished.
Lastly, taking too long to get the blade buried increases the likelihood that you’ll pull the blade too far behind you, thus negatively impacting the exit as well. If you’re late getting the blade buried you’re likely going to struggle to find connection in the pull because your blade will be too shallow in the water. Unfortunately, this can then negatively impact the exit because if you’re late getting the blade buried and therefore struggle to find a good loaded connection through the pull, you’re more likely to keep “loading” and looking for connection when you should actually be beginning to “unload”. Invariably you’ll pull the blade too far back through the water with the blade angle becoming very negative. This limits the effectiveness of the exit in a number of ways that we’ll look at next time.
Failure to load the blade effectively due to not using legs enough
What is it: Connection is maximized through the pull by probing the tip of the paddle blade deeper into the water through the pull. For more on this see the Zoom recording “The Water Column, Connection and Paddling Gears” . One can get the blade deeper into the water through the pull by bending their legs through the pull as they drive back with their hips. This effectively lowers the hips closer to the water, thus also lowering the torso, the paddling side shoulder, the paddling side arm and hand, and ultimately the paddle itself – all making a deeper stroke possible. It also has the advantage of engaging the legs through the pull in conjunction with the hips, thus ensuring that the biggest muscles available are engaged in the pull. Furthermore, the greater degree to which the legs can be involved in the pull, the greater they can then also be involved in the exit.
In contrast, failure to load the blade effectively due to not using the legs enough sees the paddler either bend more at the waist in an effort to get the blade deeper, thus engaging smaller muscles at the base of the back and neglecting the big muscles of the legs or, worse still, making no attempt to get the blade deeper at all. In both cases, this will significantly reduce the connection the paddler has with the water, the power of their stroke and ultimately their speed.
Identifying this problem in your stroke: If you actually try to keep your legs straight when you’re paddling then you have a problem that you need to address. If you don’t really think about whether you are using your legs or not and, when you look to see if you are, you notice your legs remain fairly straight during the pull (or stay bent at the same angle as they were at the catch) then you also have an issue you should address. The first logical step in addressing the issue would be to get some video taken in order to learn more.
If you notice that you are getting low back pain when you paddle you might be bending at the waist too much as you pull. This is often because you are bending your legs too little. In this case it is certainly worth taking some video to get a better look.
Lastly, if, when you look at your paddle in the water during the pull, you notice the blade is barely buried then you’re likely not bending your legs enough. Again, you should take some video to get a better look.
Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video: This issue is pretty easy to pick out when looking at video.
You’ll likely see the paddler standing with relatively straight legs and bending too much at the waist to get the blade buried (figure 17). Note how flat the paddler’s back is and how comparatively straight the legs are. In extreme cases you may see the paddler’s legs almost perfectly straight while their back is almost horizontal and level with the water. You could also see a paddler with legs bent at the knees as they catch and the angle of bend remain unchanged during the pull (figure 18 and 19). Rather than bending their legs more during the pull, they’ll either bend over too much at the waist in an attempt to get the blade deeper during the pull or they won’t try to get the blade deeper during the pull at all.
Correcting the issue: The key to correcting this issue is simply to bend your legs more through the pull as you use your hips to work against the water loaded on your blade after the catch. It really helps if you can execute the catch properly as described in “SUP Technique Errors and Fixes – The Catch” . You’ll recall this means your legs will be slightly bent with the back of your hips (i.e. your butt) ideally level or slightly forward of your heels as you begin to gather water on your blade (figure 20 and 21).
Once the blade is buried and fully loaded, you’ll then want to engage your hips and legs to pull, with the hips driving forcefully backwards and your legs bending at the same time (figure 22 and 23). This bending of the legs not only allows you to engage them in the work you are doing pulling against the water held on your blade, but also helps you get lower to the water, thus making it easier for the blade to probe deeper into the water during the pull.
The key to using your legs correctly is waiting until the blade is buried and fully loaded with water before starting to bend your legs. A common mistake is bending your legs in order to get the blade buried (figure 24 and 25).
If you’re having a hard time getting the blade buried without bending your legs more to do so, I suggest trying to lower your base stance by bending your legs a little more at the knees and ankles. This base stance should be the stance you return to after unloading at the exit and maintain through the recovery. Note the difference in base stance in figures 26 and 27.
While bending your legs and driving back with your hips through the pull, you should be adding upper body weight onto the paddle by bending a little more at the waist (see figures 22 and 23). However, this extra bending should not be excessive as seen in figure 28 nor at the expense of using your legs.
A simple drill you can use to work on engaging your legs more through the pull is to practice using only your legs to get the blade deeper. Since drills are by definition exaggerations, try to get the blade as deep as possible by using your legs only. Of course, this drill will not reflect the exact way you want your paddling to look as a finished product, but it will help you learn to bend and use your legs more through the pull to enhance your stroke.
Failure to use the hips to work against the water loaded on the blade through the pull
What is it: The hips are the most heavily muscled, and therefore most powerful, joint in the human body. It is imperative that we use them as much as possible to generate force against the water held on our blade through the pull.
Failure to engage the hips appropriately can take the form of the hips being relatively immobile during the pull. In this instance, the amount of hip movement is very limited despite the fact that the paddle moves more through the pull than in any other power producing part of the stroke. If the hips aren’t moving, either by rotating, thrusting backwards, or some combination of the two, they won’t be generating the type of force they are capable of through the pull.
Failure to engage the hips appropriately can also take the forum of “using up” the movement of the hips before the blade is fully set and buried in the water and the pull commences. This is what commonly occurs when a paddler “sits in the chair” by using their hips to counter balance the forward movement of their upper body as they reach to the catch. This was explained fully in “SUP Technique Errors and Fixes – The Catch” . In this instance, since the hips move back considerably before the blade is buried, there is very little movement left for them to make once the blade is actually set for the pull.
Both of these situations severely limit the use of the biggest force producing muscles we have available to use through the pull and thus severely impact power and ultimately speed. Moreover, they also impact one’s endurance as failure to effectively use these big muscles means that one will be relying more on smaller muscles which will fatigue more quickly.
Identifying this problem in your stroke: If your hips feel tight at all during the stroke there is a very good chance they won’t be moving as much as they could and you’ll be missing an opportunity to engage them in the pull. If you feel balance challenged, and are responding by tensing up and trying to enhance stability by being more rigid through the middle of your body, your hips will be tight and won’t move enough during the pull. Ironically, you’ll also make yourself less stable (see “SUP Stability Tips for both New and Experienced Paddlers” ). So, if you feel any tightness or reluctance to freely move your hips in the stroke, you very likely have a problem that requires some consideration. It would be a good idea to take some video for a closer look.
If you’re reluctant to get weight forward of your feet as you reach to catch there is a good chance you might be “sitting in the chair” by using your hips to counter balance the forward movement of your upper body. Try to identify where your weight is relative to your feet just before your blade enters the water. If you feel a little unstable, almost like you might fall forward onto the deck of your board, you’re likely okay. However, if you feel like you can stop moving in the set-up, just before your blade contacts the water, and hold that position with some sense of stability you are very likely “sitting in the chair” with your hips out behind you. In this position, your hips are already where they should be towards the end of the pull and are thus unavailable for you to use through the pull. If any of this describes you, it would be a good idea to gather some video for a closer look.
Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video: Again, this issue should literally jump off the screen when you are looking at video.
If you see hips that don’t move back much during the stroke, they aren’t being used enough. Whether they start forward and stay forward, or start over your feet and stay over your feet, they aren’t being used in the pull if they aren’t moving. Figures 29 and 30 illustrate examples of lack of hip movement sufficient to generate adequate force during the pull.
You can look for signs of hip rotation which can somewhat mitigate the lack of backward movement during the pull. This should appear on video as the hips opening somewhat to the paddling side during the pull. You can also detect hip rotation during the pull by movement in the legs. As the paddling side hip rotates backwards during the pull, the paddling side leg will straighten ever so slightly while the inside leg will bend slightly more. This bicycling of the legs in analogous to what you see in kayak paddlers who are only able to generate force from their hips though hip rotation.
Hip movement through the pull tends to occur on a spectrum from backward movement of the hips at one end to hip rotation at the other. Most paddlers have elements of both in their stroke and the relative degree of each is really a matter of preference. However, if no or little movement of the hips is discernable during a video analysis of the pull, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
If you see the hips sticking out behind the paddler as they are about to begin to gather water on the blade at the catch, they are “sitting in the chair” (figure 31). Again, this issue jumps off the screen when looking at video. The hips are so far back when the blade is entering the water that they have very little range of motion left through which they can move after the blade is finally buried, thus limiting what they can contribute to the pull. This is illustrated by comparing figure 31 with figure 32 and the relative position of the hips in each compared to the feet. You’ll note that the hips have barely moved in relation to the feet through the pull.
Correcting the issue: Fixing the issue of the hips not moving enough during the pull is simply a matter of consciously trying to move them more when paddling. The first step is to relax them. Try to identify and remove any tension in them. Then consider doing some drills where the hip movement is exaggerated. These are extremely useful tools in learning to move the hips more during the pull.
When doing exaggeration drills for hip movement, make sure that you start with your hips “forward” as you catch. “Forward” in this case means they should be over or in front of your feet (your butt level with, or in front of, your heels). This immediately precludes you from “sitting in the chair”.
Once your blade is set in the water, try to visualize the connection between the water held on your blade, and your hips. You’ll want to think of your paddling side arm and your paddling side lats as “connectors”. Try to feel the load on your paddle in your paddling side hand, up your arm and then down your lats to your hips, then torque them backwards forcefully against that load. You may feel more comfortable, and stronger, by adding a little hip rotation to the torque, moving your paddling side hips back slightly more and more forcefully than the other side. While it’s true that the exit involves reloading your hips forward after the completion of the pull, when doing pulling drills I suggest you forget about the exit for a moment and just focus on the pull. If your hips move back too far or do not reload forward soon enough that is okay as this is just an exaggeration intended to get them moving during the pull. The last thing you want to do is undermine the effectiveness of this drill by thinking of too much while doing it.
Do your exaggeration drills for one minute at a time and then take a rest of at least one minute to refocus. After doing a set of three or four of these exaggerations, just return to normal paddling, focused on the whole stroke and a natural, fluid paddling rhythm. Over time, elements of the exaggeration paddling you did in the drill will find its way into your normal paddling.
In my experience, as both an athlete and a coach in both canoe and SUP, I have found that it is often hard to correct a large element of the stroke while trying to paddle “normally”. You simply cannot make large enough adjustments to have a meaningful impact on the stroke without doing some type of exaggeration. However, doing exaggerated paddling all the time is only likely to create new problems. In the case of exaggerations to enhance hip movement, the key is to do a few intense exaggerations every day in your warm ups and cool downs and then just be mindful of relaxing the hips and allowing them to move freely during normal paddling. You’ll find that they’ll start moving properly in the pull surprisingly quickly.
The pull is the biggest part of the stroke. It’s where you’re able to engage the most body weight and the largest muscles. It’s the stroke segment in which the paddle blade travels the greatest distance. If you’re not getting off the board and onto your paddle and using your hips and legs, the effectiveness of your pull will be limited. It’s worth taking time to examine what you are doing in the pull and correcting any errors. Furthermore, just as an effective catch enhances the pull, an effective pull will help you execute a more effective exit which will look at in the next issue of The Catch.