Stroke symmetry for paddlers

Symmetry is everywhere in nature.

Have a look at a shell on the beach and you can see what I’m saying.

But symmetry should also be found in movement, especially in a repeated action such as paddling.

Let’s discover what a massive impact it can have on your health and your paddling performance.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably learned a lot about how far you should go with your paddle during the reaching phase, or when exactly you should release it from the water. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend having a look at my article about the four phases of paddling here.

Being aware of these four phases is a fundamental step on the paddling learning ladder.

Another important step on that ladder is making sure you have the correct action on both sides, which is often not so obvious until you do some tests to find out just how symmetrical (or not) your movements are.

But why should you be so concerned with having your action symmetrical?

Simply because this feature of your paddling heavily influences your performance and affects everything including direction, speed, and even the effort of your cruising.

So let’s have a look at each of these.

Direction

The most obvious symptom of an asymmetrical technique is having difficulty in keeping your board moving in a straight direction.  Beginners realize this after their first five minutes on a paddleboard. 

Having a different left-right paddling technique means always having to keep your attention on correcting your direction, changing the stroke rate per side and trying to fix it, instead of focusing on your propulsion. The result of this is a segmented track.

Speed

The natural consequence of a segmented track is achieving a far lower speed than can be attained when straight cruising.

This is because part of the energy of every stroke goes to the correction of your direction rather than the forward movement of your board.

Effort

Connecting the dots, it’s obvious that a segmented track requires far more energy and effort to keep your board moving forwards.

This factor inevitably impacts your performance, but it also affects the symmetry of your body.

In trying to correct the direction of your board, you’ll execute a different technique on one side compared to the other. 

 As paddling is a repetitive action, the sum of the strokes during a session could be huge, and you’ll end up with a significant amount of compensated strokes as you try to keep your board moving forward in a straight line.

 This will massively affect the use of your left and right muscle chains.

Paddling affects your posture, and your posture affects your paddling.

To achieve the symmetry we spoke of at the beginning of this article is something that is important to aim for – but it’s not as easy as we might like it to be.

We aren’t perfectly symmetrical beings ourselves – you only have to look in the mirror to see that for yourself.  We all have a stronger side that we can control more easily – we call it laterality – and this leads to an asymmetrical way of doing things like pushing, pulling, handling tools, writing, and, of course, paddling.

All this also has an effect on your posture. 

Usually, your body prefers to use your stronger side when you’re making actions requiring a certain level of strength. 

This slowly leads to each of us having a preferred side with stronger, but tighter, muscles. A tighter muscle will reduce its length at rest, which will affect the position of the bones and joints it is connected to.

This is the reason for a change in your posture.

Because your posture is asymmetrical, it leads you to make asymmetrical paddling strokes.

Once you understand this, it becomes easy to see that your technique and your posture are parts of a chain reaction, where each part in that chain can affect the other.

So, how can you achieve symmetry?

During my clinics, I analyze these two factors: technique and posture.

Part of my job is to understand if your posture is affecting your paddling, or if it is the other way around. Each case is different, and sometimes the same person can be affected by both of these situations at different times.

So, in order to understand your own situation, start observing the following factors.

#1 - Observe

First of all, take a look at the rails of your board. Is there any difference between left and right?

Can you see any scratches?  If so, are the scratches longer, or further forward or backward, compared to the other side?

All these signs help you to understand something about the symmetry of your technique.

#2 - Evaluate your track

Another easy and useful thing you can do is a sort of training/evaluation exercise.

Find a spot with calm water. It’s imperative that there isn’t any current or wind.  Start paddling with the same number of strokes on each side and keep checking your direction.

In an ideal situation, without any external force like current or wind, you should be able to keep your board on a straight track.  You can do this to evaluate your symmetry and also to train for it.

If you realize your technique is asymmetrical, you need to fix it. 

#3 - Standardize

One useful way is standardizing.

Grab a tape and small cable ties. You can use bamboo sticks instead, but they have to be thin.

Fix the cable ties/bamboo sticks on the top of your board, near the rail, one in the position where you’ll insert your paddle into the water (reaching position), and one where you’ll release the paddle from the water (release position). Use the tape to fix them. The tie/stick has to overhang about 8cm.

Your task will be to touch each tie/stick with your paddle during each of your strokes.

In this way, you’ll be sure of the length of each stroke. The distance between the two ties/sticks on one side has to be the same on the other side of the board.

Your posture

I also highlighted how even your posture could affect the symmetry of your technique.

If this is the case in your situation, the best thing to do is to rely on a professional kinesiologist who can evaluate your mobility, flexibility, strength and posture.

Even a difference in the parameters of just one static or dynamic muscle chain or fascia could easily lead to asymmetry. In this case, you will not only paddle in a different manner, but you’ll execute any daily activity in an asymmetric way. 

In the long run, if left untreated, this could lead you to experience several problems like back pain, tendinitis, and so on.

There is something you can do your own: your shoulders.

So, start evaluating the symmetry of your shoulders by undergoing the three free tests I’ve given you here or pushing the button below.

Try them and then tell me what you find out.

 

And if I can help in any way, get in touch with me through the box below.

Start thinking about symmetry, improve your technique and stay healthy!

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Take-away message

  • Symmetry is a fundamental parameter of the technique of any paddler, no matter the level
  • Technique can affect your posture, posture can affect your technique
  • Check the symmetry of your paddling with the simple exercises I proposed
  • Check your body symmetry
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