Leg Drive-what is it, really?

I always hear people talking about leg drive here. I read something about it as it pertains to kayaks and it seemed like it was more visualization than anything else. In many years of paddling on O'ahu, practicing and racing w/ many top paddlers, I don't recall it being mentioned more than once or twice. How do you use leg drive in the oc1, without putting too much pressure on the peddles? What's the best way to use leg drive in the six?

Submitted by Jim on Thu, 05/29/2008 - 5:51am

Jim, you know how sometimes when paddling in the oc6 your "front" foot slips out from under you? Thats because youre bracing and pushing off that leg......hence leg drive. I think its focused more on the heel in the oc1 but Im not sure.

#1 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 6:44am

The technique I was taught suggested that the power application of your stroke emanated from the heel of your foot, thru your legs, hips, back, shoulders, etc., with that energy being finally realized with your blade in the water. In writing this sounds retarded, but if you visualize this transfer of energy, it's pretty cool. In OC1 you push off on your heel in the foot well. Paddeling on the left, push off on your left heel and visa versa. In OC6 if you sit in seat 1 you can push off the tank, unless its Koa. Leg positioning in the other seats will help. I make no universal claims of this technique. So when all the "experts" start chiming in, I just want to say, "it simply works for me".

#2 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 6:58am

A really good question that applies to leg drive, is how does one position themselves (stack their body weight) over their 'heel' to most efficiently apply leg drive...still working on it.

#3 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 8:28am

Oh yeah, and at the same time, efficiently stacking their body weight over the paddle...working the two in unison.

#4 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 8:33am

Well said.

And in addition to the above to stabilize the body contralaterally do you also keep pressure on your opposite foot? When the coast is clear I close my eyes and picture "pulling the canoe" to the paddle and try to see what my body says but I am not sure. On Rambos new vid you can clearly see him drive the leg with the stroke like a K1.

#5 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 10:08am

Take a look at these and it will give you an idea as to what leg drive is .


You need to rotate on your butt cheek (on the side your paddling) to allow for full rotation forward ,drop your body on the catch phase and and then drive back w/ your leg on the power phase of your stroke .

It best to where some type of spandex under your shorts or pants to allow you to move freely to rotate on your butt cheek and prevent loss of skin

#6 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 10:40am

Great stuff. I notice that I sit immobile with my right hip a bit forward which favors the right stoke which feels great. I switch to my left and my hips are out of position and the whole thing feels a bit off...I try to overcompenstate with my back to get that correct feel or when I switch my paddle side I try to shimy a bit to get in the right place but the coarse foam seat just locks me in. I had wondered if some seats have a coating that allows for rotation, but I guess finding the right shorts is the ticket?


#7 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 11:13am

If you can get some time in a rowing scull (sliding seat) you'll instantly get the feel of pulling water with legs, or maybe indoor rowing trainer (Concept II). Then go paddle OC and shoot for same feeling. I had to build up arch area w/foam in footwell to keep my heal from slipping forward/up when driving.

#8 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 11:21am

I wear UnderArmor spandex under my shorts/pants and it allows me to rotate on my butt easy w/ loseing any skin

#9 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 11:37am

Leg drive is described a lot for kayaking, rowing - google for it.

For OC 1, some say definitely yes, others are neutral.

You need to push of the palms of your foot, not your heel, for max efficiency. It is similar to a jump.

Imo, the foot board in OC1s should be larger to allow push off the palms.
You would then need to steer with the toes/move your foot up to steer.
My OC1 has a t-bar steering for that purpose.

#10 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 4:17pm

Video clips showing how leg drive is effectuated on the paddling machine is actually the double bladed stroke – such a fluid stroke with high rating capability.. . . But
this forum is about OC’s and no one has yet objected to the double bladed paddle stroke shown, so I’ll chime in with a thought or two.
There is often discussion about moving with the times and applying technology to gain performance by being smart. Well! the single bladed paddle is about as old and lacking in efficiency as a wooden dugout canoe is, when compared to a carbon sit on canoe paddled with a double bladed paddle.
The dugout needs to be bailed, so does not have foot-bracing facility, and to get leg drive it is necessary to move the legs at stroke side change. Left foot goes forward when blade goes on left and right foot moves back under the seat, while thighs are used to get pressure against the canoe sides and help fix the butt onto the seat.
Stroke rate is slowed down by changing sides with the old single blade, and the sport has moved on to embrace new ideas – like new canoe design that have rudders and foot wells that eliminate the need to bail water. The new seating arrangement is not like the old canoe, it is like a surfski, so why not just use the double blade as well, to improve performance along with the gains that new technology offers.

#11 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 11:10am

With all the supposed advantages you look at the surfski times and the OC-1 times over a 30mile course and they are pretty damn close, why is that? I was initally drawn to surfski because it was "the fastest" but there were somethings I did not like which may have a lot to do with surfski having a longer learning curve.

1) Seating position: Sitting down low in the boat with my knees up was immediately uncomfortable

2) Stroke: Felt more lighter and more rapid and less of a power stroke, more like a hamster wheel whereas the single had more of a whole body feeling and that you could drive down with the top hand and pull against a bigger blade/heavier resistance. The double felt more monotonous I like the way switching sides breaks up the long paddle

3) Stability...well this is obviously a learning thing but the few surfskiers I have met who were not expert say that they have to spend a lot of time balancing and cannot focus on hammering the stroke.

So I just flat out enjoy the single paddle more, but I think it would be great cross training to do both...I figure there are probably a lot of guys who do both.

Interesting to hear opinions from those who excel at both.

Are there more injuries in surfski vs outrigger? do they compliement each other for cross training?

#12 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 11:41am

Surfski-faster, yes, more efficient, definately. Cooler? NO. Sexier? Helllll Nooo. You can't really fantasize about being in some exotic tropical location when you're kayaking. Sorry, but things invented by Polynesians are simply way cooler than their counterparts in Eskimo culture. More examples: furry parka vs. grass skirt, seal skin mukluks vs. rubbah slippahs, raw whale blubber vs. tako poke, the list goes on and on...

#13 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 1:01pm

I'm with you there Jimbo, Culture is Cool.

Leg drive is really not what actually happens in an OC1. Yes legs do appear to pump, as Shawn noticed in the Paradise video, but it's more torque transfer than drive. Unlike the Surf Ski/ Kayak stroke which sweeps out to the side and tilts the ski/kayak from side to side, the Oc stroke is straight down the center-line of the hull. The legs are just a part of the connection that starts from heel, continues to circle the body and ends at the blade anchored in the water. The legs pump in response to the twisting of the hips.

Some OC paddlers appear not to pump at all, this i believe is fine as mostly they are larger body types and the torque transfer is primarily through their butt on the seat connection.

Lot's of top paddlers paddle with their butt very close too their feet, which gives them the high knee look, so obviously there is not a lot of leg drive going on there, just a different style of torque transfer and it works for them. Personally, i cannot paddle this way as I'm too unstable and my learnt style requires that i have hip rotation.

No matter what style you adapt, the most important thing is still getting efficient transfer of power from the paddle to the hull resulting in maximum FORWARD movement.

Chuck in a few bumps, side current and wind and you have a whole new ball game.

Gimmie a single blade paddle any day.

Cheers Rambo

#14 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 3:35pm

Hey Jim good topic to bring up...the leg drive i feel can be complimented from paddling ski, although you have to be more subtle with your movement when you transfer this skill to an OC1. Even more subtle still when you paddle an OC 1 Rudderless which i find an even more rewarding art. Try taking the rudder off and surfing runs in 15 knot plus winds and working the legs/torso etc your skills when you pop the rudder back on will make the OC 1 feel like a ski.

#15 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 6:26pm

forget about surfski vids...has nothing to do with OC paddling. The leg movement is too accentuated.

#16 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 6:49pm

So what is leg-drive then ?

If you have a rower with a sliding seat, it is obvious.

If you have a rower with a fixed seat, you also do have a leg-drive, less apparent. The stroke starts form your foot/feet, directly followed by the pull. Figure you would have to row without legs.

In kayak you have the rotation below the waist that allows for leg-drive. More so in K 1 with a swivel(?) seat. Don't know, I am not a kayaker.

OC 1 - kind of between rowing with a fixed seat and kayaking ?
I would call it a 'leg-drive', the stroke still starts from your foot.
You don't see the accentuated pumping.

#17 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 7:10pm

Danny Ching: "My legs hurt the most after a long race" "Everything for me initiates from the legs. I use the analogy of pole vaulting. Stick the paddle in, drive yourself off your leg and forward." It would be a lot easier to try to use the legs if I was not deadlocked in a form fitted foam seat and if the rudder pedals were not almost half the length of the footwell....hard to drive my foot when half of it is on the rudder!!

#18 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 7:46pm

Too much emphasis is being put on leg drive. Leg drive alone isn't gonna make you go, rather it's a secondary movement from the twist of your body that complements your upper body drive which is your primary power source.

#19 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 8:55pm

Shawn, Danny's right, his leg drive is restricted in an OC1 as you can see from this short video of him ... there is slight leg movement but no leg drive that i can see, that is not to say that he could be pushing on the heel to lock the knee.

Also i have split the screen with a cut a way kayak showing what leg drive is, you can clearly see the difference in foot to butt level which then allows more rotation.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Go here to play the short video


Cheers Rambo

#20 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 9:55pm

Lactate build up for a paddler is gravaty drawn. That is why the legs can feel heavy and sluggish after a hard paddle.

#21 Sat, 05/31/2008 - 11:24pm

Your foot has the most efficient contact with the boat and your leg pushes the boat forward while you pull yourself up to the paddle. 'Pole vault'.

The leg action is very important, whatever we agree upon to call it.

#22 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 12:06am



#23 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 12:14am

Many thanks, appreciate the thread, great stuff.

#24 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 12:34am

Eh guys
Here’s my two pennies. The wider base of knowledge the higher you’ll go. learn what you can, use what you can and put the rest in storage. I would say your stroke is always growing and changing but our own personal body’s dictate how we pull. It could be considered a waist of energy to use your legs, but also if there’s a rattle or slack area in the transfer of energy from your paddle blade to canoe it could slow it down.

I personally love the Inuit culture.

#25 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 4:50am

I love Inuit culture, too, Mulus. I just love Hawaiian culture alot more!

#26 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 5:41am

Not sure if I agree about lactate being gravity drawn. As a life long bike racer, its surprised me how tired my legs can get paddling (more in an OC6). I think its more from the sustained tension put on the leg muscles to "lock yourself into position".

#27 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 9:24am

If OCPaddler could quote some references for that statement it would help, i can't find anything to support it online.

Lactate is normally neutralized by the body or burnt as fuel by the working muscles, so i don't see why the body or gravity would banish it to the legs.

More info please.

Cheers Rambo

#28 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 11:06am

"Surski faster,yes, more efficient,definitely. Cooler? NO. Sexier? Hellll

Well said ! Polynesian culture is about the things you mention, and also the
soul of paddling without technological crutches or hype.

Eskimo kayaks are a different picture, but a surfski has its roots in the
reed bundle surf craft of the American mainland (S America) where the double
bladed stroke dawned as well.

Technology has done heaps for this form of open water paddling craft,
allowing decks with bum hollows and footwells to be created, as well as
carbon wing blades in place of bamboo stems.

Polynesian culture did not need technology to be cool and sexy.at least
until outrigger became a marketable commodity.

Just kidding about the double bladed paddle - but then I'm happy with a flat
seat base and a genuine canoe. Don't care for all the techno hype, although
it would maybe not be a bad thing to have a foot-brace bar tied to the seat
with some strings.

#29 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 11:19am

Hey wakabonez, that's a hard task you got there trying to sell surf ski to OC paddlers, we need our cultural attachment and techno hype to justify our choice to go slower with a single blade. ... Hahaaa

It's ok, we like surf ski too, just that we like OC better.
Cheers Rambo

#30 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 11:32am

not sure about the lacto-gravi theory either. when i used to paddleboard I would do it mostly in the prone position (legs level with rest of body). at the end of races when i had to run up the beach to the finish. my legs would still have that dead feeling.

#31 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 11:50am

I know John P. said at the Santa Barbara one man race that if your not going to use your legs you should leave them at home.

#32 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 1:26pm

Hey Rambo, selling surfski's is not my bag.
I prefer single blade.

But, when space age technology becomes the big deal, along with bio physics (leg drive etc.) then the other discipline makes a lot of sense.
Seems the local Hurricane dealer thinks so too, because that is what he paddles.

#33 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 4:06pm

Hey Wakabones i agree with you, surf ski does make a lot of sense and lot's do both, nothing wrong with that, we all make choices whether we're resellers or consumers. Oc1 manufacturing is Hi -Tec now so i guess paddlers are looking at ways to make the "motor" go faster, hence the Bio blabble. There's a lot that can be learnt from other discipline's, that's for sure.

Cheers Rambo

#34 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 4:39pm

I still believe that Lactate is gravity drawn.
Cyclings prime movers are the legs. So they will have a tendancy to flush better than someone sitting in an OC1 who uses minimal range of motion.
And as for paddleboad. Your head is up and so are shoulders and chest. I believe that there is enough angle to warrent a gravity pull towards the lower half of the body.

I need to check with my source before I mention any names. This person is a doctor involves in testing and writing programmes for Olympic Kayakers.
I may have misunderstood what they siad, but I am 99% sure. that was the correct message.

#35 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 5:22pm

I have had cramping from extreme dehydration start at feet and move up body. Feet to calves tol egs to lower back to entire back, etc. I think little different situation than lactate.

#36 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 6:02pm

i feel sorry for you Kona J, can't imagine having cramping in my egs.

the horror.

#37 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 7:09pm

Lactating is the job of mammary glands, to put it mildly, right?

#38 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 7:35pm

Sorry just read the intro on the thread and it started with leg drive and then we went up north for lactating. Frankly ,not a bad route at all.

#39 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 7:39pm

Why don’t they put backrest's and kickers so you can wedge yourself in there and cut out the rattle or slack area in the transfer of energy from your paddle blade to canoe it could slow it down not to mention you would have better control of the canoe?
or is that a numb nut Idea?

#40 Sun, 06/01/2008 - 9:33pm

Learning from other disciplines is one thing, and borrowing from them has
happened already.

Butt hollows and footwells are doing the same thing as backrests and kickers
to take the 'rattle or slack area in the transfer of energy from your paddle
to the canoe' - this borrowing (surfski deck structure) along with aerospace
technology is all the rage, so the logical sequence of progression is to
borrow the double blade as well.

I'm reasoning that single blade canoe paddling has always been geared toward
driving a hull with some weight, to achieve momentum and glide (which was
cultured and sexy?) - where a bit of slack helps to make the energy transfer

Explosive power paddling suits an ultra light craft, where energy transfer
from paddle to hull needs to be instant - through a synchronised kick to
create leg drive.

#41 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 9:34am

here's my thoughts on this issue

  1. whoever said kayaking is unrelated to paddling is incorrect. The current oc-1 technique is built off of the kayaking stroke.
  2. whoever said legs are not suppose to be used in paddling is incorrect. You want to paddle with the muscles that are the strongest and have the most endurance. Thats the legs butt and back. Biceps are weak. Women actually are better at this than men in my mind. Men try to use arms and shoulders. Women have weaker arms so end up finding ways to use their bigger muscles.
  3. its hard to believe a guy with the name poopoopaddler so I don't blame you if you think I'm wrong, sometimes I think I am wrong because I have the name poopoopaddler. So whatever.

Poopie on all of us.

#42 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 9:58am

Single blade paddle and the typical iaku set up are among the few restrictions that have been established for this boat class;

I heard that Walter Guild was involved in defining the OC class in the late 70ies here in Hawaii.

Does anybody know the exact restrictions that are valid today ?

#43 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 10:02am

If you look at the recent series of races, many of Jr's (or whoever won) were pretty damn close to the skis. If you factor out the weight and drag of the Ama, how big is the advantage of the double blade in a hawaiian channel crossing???

#44 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 11:19am

What about the stroker leg drive? I'm 6'2" and when I stroke, I don't get to use my legs very much...kinda cramped up there...any stoker leg drive suggestions?


#45 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 12:21pm

eckhart, there used to be a boat with a single iako. It didnt do well, as far as I know it was legal, but Im not sure.

#46 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 12:43pm

Oh yeah, legs are big time in the OC6. Start of the OC6 season my Quads are sore as hell. The positioning is different to the Oc1.

Most of the comments above are referring to the Oc1.

Brace off the bulkhead if you can. As stroke is not a power seat, smoothness and rhythm is king here.

Cheers Rambo

#47 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 12:46pm

I would defenetly want a kicker and backrestin the six. our's only have seat's. They said it was against the rulls to change it.

#48 Mon, 06/02/2008 - 3:20pm

A classical example of OC 1 leg drive can be seen in Rambo's 'Another day in Paradise'.

That makes it official.

#49 Tue, 06/03/2008 - 9:01pm

"smoothness and rhythm is king here."


#50 Tue, 06/03/2008 - 9:40pm

Here the link to the video giving actually a real nice impression of the leg drive:


Great video.

#51 Wed, 06/04/2008 - 1:46pm

I can't believe this thread is still going. If you still don't think leg drive is important in OC6 or OC1 or Surfski...try walking around without moving your arms. Your arms move to counter the legs stride. Same principle. Your hips counter what your shoulders are doing because you should be using your biggest muscle complex...your entire back from your butt to your shoulders. A good way to check is to make sure your knees are pumping like two pistons on every stroke. The lower arm shoulder is forward for the catch of the stroke and the opposite hip is back. As the paddle pulls the boat forward through the water, and the shoulders un-twist, the hips counter the action by moving back to a more squared-off position. Try doing it on a chair with a broom in front of a mirror. Maybe awkward at first but truely the way to use your entire body to paddle. If you don't believe me, try having someone duct tape your arms to your sides and walk around for a day. Kinda silly.

#52 Wed, 06/04/2008 - 8:07pm

havvvin ghaarrddd tiinme tytpiing wiithhhh myhh nose.

dammm tsappe

#53 Wed, 06/04/2008 - 8:22pm


#54 Thu, 06/05/2008 - 6:06am

The worst part about having my arms taped to my sides was when I fell down... Ouch!

No but seriously, use your legs when you paddle. It's what all the top guys are doing.

#55 Thu, 06/05/2008 - 10:00am

Taped my arms today... could use leg drive but couldn't paddle anymore... People were staring at me !

#56 Thu, 06/05/2008 - 10:00pm

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