Challenges with learning a 1st roll – part 2 – Physical fitness

Physical fitness plays a crucial role in rolling, duh. I know it’s not exactly rocket science. However, many people don’t seem to realize that lack of flexibility and strength can make certain rolls considerable harder, if not practically impossible.

To be able to perform the majority of Greenland rolls there are three areas of flexibility that can help. Lower back flexibility, torso rotation and hamstring stretch. Abdominal muscle strength is also key, including the obliques.

Torso rotation

For the Standard Greenland Roll I consider torso rotation to be the first critical focus area. When the paddler is seated normally in the kayak have them rotate from their core and see how far they can twist and rotate their shoulders. Ideally their shoulders should be able to become parallel to the kayak’s keel. The importance of this is not readily apparent to the learning roller. The effect of torso rotation is best demonstrated by having them out of their kayak and swimming. Have them first lie on their back. No surprise their nose and mouth are above the water and they can breath. Now have them rotate so one of their shoulders is pointing to the bottom and the other to the sky. Obviously their head is now underwater or they are straining their neck in a vain attempt to get a gasp of air. Using this technique is a useful way to have them appreciate the importance of being able to get their shoulders flat on the water. Clearly this is possible through torso rotation aided a little bit by the hips moving during rolling.

Hamstring Stretch

Forward finishing rolls demand that the paddler is able to stay very low and forward on the kayak deck. This is only achievable if the paddler has the ability to stretch their hamstrings considerably. Most office based work environments cause hamstrings to shorten due to the considerable time spent seated. This inhibits the paddler’s ability to stay tucked tight. This is especially obvious when inverted in the kayak and only the strength in their abs is being used to keep them close to the deck. Tension in the hamstrings will have to be resisted by extra strong abs or they will fall downwards away from the deck. For the Standard Greenland Roll hamstring stretch is only important during the set up phase. The roll is best started tucked low on the foredeck. This will allow the kayak to rotate freely and will decrease the splash created by the paddler entering the water. To check hamstring flexibility just do a simple toe touching exercise on dry land, but make sure they keep a straight back to ensure it is not their back flexing that you are witnessing. Ideally the paddler’s hands should extend beyond their feet while keeping their back straight. This will allow them to get their chest and chin onto the deck when necessary for set up or forward finishing recovery.

Lower Back Flexibility

In a previous post I described the need to be able to lie back on the back deck of the kayak primarily as the recovery from the Standard Greenland Roll. Lower back flexibility is also a key element to getting low. The greater the distance between the base of the seat and the rim of the cockpit the more flexible the paddlers back will need to be to bend over and be low on the deck. This is best checked while the paddler is in their kayak.

Abdominal Strength

Rolling requires good core strength. Pulling the torso onto the back deck uses a combination of many muscles, not least of which are the oblique’s. A paddler with weak oblique’s may find they can get into the balance brace but never recover. Weak abdominal muscles will result in greater dependence on the paddle for righting moment, which will subsequently prevent the paddler from progressing to harder rolls. Abdominal strength is an essential component of rolls like the Storm Roll where they are used to keep the paddler close to the deck throughout the roll.

In Summary

Strong arms are used by many paddlers to overcome deficiencies in their core flexibility and strength. Whilst this may allow them to get “a roll” they will not be rolling well, will probably hurt themselves, and will become frustrated when challenged by more advanced rolls that cannot be completed by thuggery alone. Help the paddler see why developing flexibility and strength will help their rolling and they will become much more proficient. When you find a paddler who does not have the requisite flexibility to complete the Standard Greenland Roll think about other rolls instead. For example the Storm or Continuous Rolls can be good starting rolls for someone with poor torso rotation.

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