The Path to Torso Rotation

Greenland-style balance brace

In kayaking, if you can rotate your torso, your strokes can become more effective. If you’ve ever taken a lesson or read a book on the forward stroke, you’ve probably heard “rotate, rotate, rotate” or some kind of encouragement like “show me your back, show me your chest” to force you to rotate. The reason for the emphasis is that torso rotation, done the right way, gives your forward stroke more power. It’s not just for the forward stroke though; almost every stroke, from sweeps, draws, rolls, etc., work better with torso rotation. To take advantage of the torso rotation, you have to be able to rotate your torso, and, although that sounds straight forward, it’s harder than it sounds. Torso rotation is harder than it sounds, because it isn’t something that most of us do on a daily basis, which means that we’re probably stiff in the torso and could benefit from stretches to increase the rotation.

For 2013, I’m incorporating more torso stretches into my workouts — mainly because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I can’t twist like I once was able to — and I think you should, too (consult a doctor before starting any new exercise). Here are the extra exercises/stretches that I’m adding to my workout. They come from Fit to Paddle : The Paddler’s Guide to Strength and Conditioning by Rocky Snyder. Unfortunately, the book is currently out of print, so either try to find a used copy or one at the library if you want to see the pictures and more of the exercises that Snyder suggests. I highly recommend the book and it has been helpful for me when I need to find an exercise to help me work on some aspect of paddling.

The torso rotation stretches that I’ve been doing:

  • Upper spinal floor twist

The torso rotation stretches that I’m adding are:

  • Crossover twist
  • Crocodile twist
  • Seated torso twist
  • Simple twist
  • Seated lower-back stretch
  • Triangle pose
  • Side reach

I’m going to include some short descriptions, but the images in the Fit to Paddle book and their descriptions are better. Hold the stretches for 10 seconds to 1 minute and do them on each side.

Crossover twist

Start on the floor on your back, arms out to the side with palms down, bend the knees so your feet are on the floor, cross one ankle over the opposite knee, rotate until the crossed foot reaches the floor while keep your back and arms on the floor.

Crocodile twist

Lay on your back, arms to the side with palms down, put one heel on the other foot’s toes. Rotate the feet to the ground while keep legs straight.

Upper spinal floor twist

Lay sideways on the ground, like you’re sitting in a chair, knees together. Arms our in front of you with hands together. Rotate at the waist until your back is flat on the floor and arms out to the side. Legs stay in place.

Seated torso twist

This is one you can do in your kayak. Sit down on a chair or in your kayak, twist to the right, grab the top of the seat with your right hand and grab the front of the right side of the chair with your left. Twist in the torso by keeping your feet and legs pointed forward.

Simple twist

Here’s the description from the book:

  1. In a seated position, bring your right leg behind your body by bending at the right knee.
  2. Place the sole of your left foot against the top of your right knee and thigh.
  3. Remain in a tall seated postion as you reach back behind your body with your left hand and twist your torso to the left.
  4. Keep your left hand anchored to the floor and bring your right hand to the left knee to assist in the twisting.

Seated lower-back stretch

Here’s the description from the book. The picture really helps on this one.

  1. In a tall seated posture, straighten your right leg in front of your body, with the foot pointing to the ceiling.
  2. Bend at the left knee and cross the left foot over the right leg and down to the floor so that the foot can be pulled flat toward your groin.
  3. Place your left elbow against the inside of your left knee as you reach around with your right arm and then anchor it to the floor behind your body.

Triangle pose

This one really feels great. Here’s the description from the book.

  1. Stand with your legs 3 feet apart.
  2. Keep the right foot pointing forward and turn the left foot side ways so your feet are perpendicular to each other.
  3. Extend your arms out from the sides of your body at shoulder height.
  4. Bend your hip and waist to the left so the left hand contacts the lower portion of your left leg.
  5. Turn your head toward the ceiling.

Side reach

I really like this one as well. As with the last one, because you’re standing, you could do it on the beach without getting dirty. Here’s the description from the book:

  1. Stand with your legs 3 feet apart.
  2. Keep the right foot pointing forward and turn the left foot sideways so your feet are perpendicular to each other.
  3. Extend your arms out from the sides of your body at shoulder height.
  4. Bend your left knee while your right leg remains straight as you shift your body’s weight sideways to the left.
  5. Lower your left hand to contact the left ankle as you reach up and over your head with your right arm.

In addition to torso rotation stretches, I do leg stretches to keep my hamstrings and calves loose, because I think that you need the flexibility in your legs to do torso rotation effectively. If you have other exercises that you do to help with torso rotation, I’d love to hear them.


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