Dragon Boat Foot Placement: Where to Place Your Feet for Maximum Speed

One of the most hotly debated topics in the dragon boat world is feet positioning.

Some argue that the outside leg should stay forward, and the inside leg should be put back.

Some argue that both legs should be forward.

Some even argue that the outside leg should be back, while the inside leg should be put forward, “sprint canoe” style.

Coaches from all over have their own, sometimes very strong, opinions on the matter.

So what is the proper feet positioning for dragon boat? Let's find out!

Table of Contents

The Outside Leg

Let's start with the easiest one: where should the outside (i.e. gunwale side) leg be placed?

The outside (gunwale) side leg should always be forward, leg pressed against the side of the boat.

dragon boat feet position

The leg should be almost straight but not quite, with a slight bend. Shorter paddlers who can’t reach the footboard may have to place an object such as a water bottle or yoga block to get the right position, while taller paddlers may have to use the second foot board behind the one front.

The main purpose of the outside leg is to connect the body to the boat, acting as a base of support for the paddler. In paddle sports, stability equals power. The outside leg cannot support the athlete’s body as effectively if it is backwards.

Try doing a drill where you are standing shoulder width apart with one hand outstretched in front of you. If someone were to come and pull you forward by grabbing your outstretched hand, you’d instinctively react by catching yourself with the same side leg forward.

Many people argue that canoe sprint athletes use this “paddling side leg back, opposite side leg forward” feet positioning. That’s true because it works for that specific type of canoe. It’s comparing apples to oranges—you need to make an argument for why something works within the context of dragon boat. Stating that athletes do something a certain way in a completely different discipline of canoeing is not a good argument for why you should do something in dragon boat.

sprint canoe

The reason why it works for canoe sprint is because the paddling side leg (which is backwards) is able to support the athlete’s bodyweight through the knee. Paddlers are actually encouraged to not put too much weight on the forward leg, to prevent the bow from ploughing into the water and because it could make the boat rock back and forth if too much weight is shifted forward and back.

Additionally, having the feet in this position doesn’t allow the dragon boat paddler to engage the hips properly. Canoe sprint athletes can engage the hips to a greater degree because they’re not sitting down. But because dragon boat athletes need to put their weight on their outside butt cheek (to form a pivot), this prevents a lot of hip movement. So they need to make do by pushing the inside hip back in order to maximize the rotation and extension forward from the hips, then pushing the inside hip forward to aid in the pull. This cannot be done as effectively if only the inside leg is forward, because the inside leg will have to simultaneously pull the hip forward and push into the gunwale to support the paddler during the pull phase.

The Inside Leg

Many paddlers and coaches are adamant about whether the inside foot should be put forwards or backwards.

In truth, it can be put either forward or backward. There is no “correct” inside foot placement.

It’s up to the individual paddler to determine what is most comfortable and stable.
Here are common ways paddlers may put their feet:

  • Two feet forward, side by side.
  • Inside foot staggered just behind the gunwale side foot.
  • Inside foot placed just under the knee, forming a 90 degree angle.
  • Inside foot placed back underneath the paddler’s butt, usually with the heel lifted.

None are better than the other—experiment and figure out what works best for you.

Now should all paddlers on the boat use the same feet positioning to maximize unity? It actually doesn’t really matter. It won’t affect the way the boat moves if some people put their inside foot forward while others backwards. What’s important are bodies moving in unison, applying pressure to the water together and entering and exiting the water at the same time.

Paddlers should be careful to avoid swinging their inside knee sideways while paddling. This is the result of a misguided effort to try to rotate the hips. Hip movement should be forward and back, not sideways, to avoid shifting your weight back and forth and rocking the boat.

Adjusting to Different Seats & Boats

You’ll often find yourself sitting in different seats, and maybe even training/racing in different boats.

Every seat has different dimensions, e.g. seat 1 is very close to the foot board, which is higher up, whereas seat 6 tends to be the furthest away from the foot board in most boats. This could influence how comfortable you are with your current feet positioning and might necessitate you playing around with a different configuration.

Different models of boats oftentimes vary considerably on dimensions and layout within the boat. Again, it would be best to play around until something feels right. The best athletes are able to make quick adjustments on the fly.

Remember, the most important thing with how you are sitting is being comfortable and stable! Other people cannot decide that for you—you need to figure it out for yourself.

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1 comment

Buenas tardes, me gustaria citar vuestros articulos en un trabajo de fin de grado que sera publicado por la universidad de sevilla; para ello necesito saber quien es el autor de ellos, michas gracias, espero respuesta.

Maria Mendoza Mendoza

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