Foot straps

on May 20 in Equipment by

A few weeks ago, a friend popped by and borrowed my Uno Max for a session. Of course they came back raving about how good the ski was, but that isn’t the subject of this blog. I jumped on the water the next day, and while they had returned the foot plate to my setting, the foot straps were on a looser setting. Putting in at Camp Cove, myself and my paddling buddy headed around the corner to South Head and punched into a hard south easterly wind, our reward would be some lovely downwind conditions. While chit chatting on the paddle out, I didn’t notice the fit of my foot straps too much, but once out the back, my normal stability wasn’t there, I felt terrible on the ski. I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I then noticed how much space was between my foot and the foot strap, and how much my foot had to travel back to get a solid grip on the strap. I had also noticed that my stroke felt a lot shorter than usual, probably due to the fact that I didn’t have my normal stable feeling. This got me thinking about the importance of setting your foot straps and the very positive effects it can have on your paddling.

I come from a kayaking background, where solid pull bars and straps are order of the day in our boats. Pictured below is a K1 footrest, with a solid pull bar across the top.

Proper technique to attain nice boat run in a kayak means that as the stroke side leg straightens out, the recovery side leg bends, while the foot pulls back on the bar or strap. This has two effects. The first is that it keeps the boat on a more level plane, as one leg drives, the other leg pulls, so you don’t get lots of sideways movement of the craft, thereby reducing the amount of lost energy. The second, is that by pulling the recovery side leg forward, you pull the hip forward. This makes rotation easier, leaving the drive leg to push out easier, and setting up the next stroke for a more powerful catch, with the hip in a more forward position. Correct technique dictates that the shoulder and hip follow each other through the forward stroke, ensuring that all effort applied to the paddle is then driven through the seat and foot rest to propel the boat forward.

Here is a video of the current K1 1000mt K1 champion, Tim Brabants from the UK. There is some nice slow mo in the video, where you can see Tim’s hip and shoulder work in harmony as he drives the boat forward with great effect. You will also notice the huge movement in Tim’s legs, he has terrific leg drive. The really important thing to take from the video however, if how his hip pulls forward as his recovery leg comes up. The power of his stroke is more than impressive.

So how does this apply to ski paddling? Well, you often hear people talk about the ski stroke being shorter, and that the rating is higher than that of kayaking. That may be true when paddling in the ocean, but on flatter days, you can gain a huge amount of power which may be missing from your stroke, by applying the same principals Olympic champions like Tim use. On the rougher days, those same principals will actually make you more stable, and therefore be able to apply more power. By spending a small amount of time getting the positioning of your foot straps correct, you can see big gains in stability, and therefore power application in your paddling. Getting better rotation, a by product of your hips working in synch with the rest of your body, you will activate the larger muscle groups of the back, lats and trunk, reducing the possibility of injury and making you a stronger paddler.

So what is the ideal foot strap position? Everyone’s feet are different sizes, so you need to work that bit out for yourself. The basic set up should focus on a few things:

- You need to be comfortable. Your feet should feel good under your straps, with no pinching or excessive rubbing.
- You need to ensure you are safe. Straps that are too tight can be a hazard in the event of a capsize.
- I suggest using double foot straps on a ski, as they keep your feet in a better position, on both the foot board and the pedals. Personally I find the single foot strap allows too much sideways movement.
- Set the strap so that it allows for maximum pull with minimal backward movement of the foot, while still considering the points above.

Now armed with some tips on foot straps, take the time to look at your own leg drive and power application through the seat and hips when out paddling next. Play with your foot straps to find a nice fit and see if that helps your rotation and stability. And then watch your GPS to see if that then transfers into increased boat speed, or maybe allows you to push down that run you may have missed in the past.

See you on the water…..

Stewart O’Regan
Think Kayak Australia