|So high it's almost a sky brace © Canoe Kayak UK Magazine|
|Low brace - photo © Mattos|
Let me explain.
Back in the dawn of whitewater kayaking, or pre-seventies at least, pretty much everyone (generalisation, shoot me) was either a sedentary paddler or a slalom paddler. Sedentary is a word I use instead of recreational, because I hate the expression "recreational paddler". All paddling is recreation, unless you are paid to do it or it's your daily commute. What I want is a distinction between gentle paddling and athletic paddling, and the word "bimbling" has been struck off as not scientific or grown-up enough (bastards), so sedentary is the word I choose.
Back to slalom. The early slalom paddlers used high braces, as well as the Duffek techniques and the now forgotten High Telemark (Google those), and even to this day you can see slalom athletes cranking a vaguely bow-ruddery-draw-thing stroke mash-up back until the top hand is almost behind the head. This sort of behaviour is routinely denigrated by some coaches as certain to cause injury (shoulder strain, shoulder anterior dislocation) and to be avoided at all costs, but the truth is it's likely to cause injury to people who have poor strength and conditioning or are genetically prone to shoulder dislocation. Neither group includes any slalom athletes, so they can be left out of the argument from here on!
|photo © Pete Astles|
The way much of the coaching world sees it is currently this. Dislocation or shoulder strain are caused by:
1. Allowing the arm to rise above the shoulder and/or to be forced upwards/backwards.
2. No, that's it really.
The way I see it is this. Dislocation or shoulder strain are caused by:
2. Strength - muscle or conditioning imbalance that allows the paddler to resist forces in excess of those sustainable by the shoulder joint.
3. Reflexes - failing to let go with the hand or release core tension instantly when overloaded by external forces.
All three of those are somewhat interconnected of course.
|photo © Helen Stewart|
|photo © Mattos|
|photo © Ville Miettinen|
|photo © Chris Hobson|
In conclusion - should you do high high-braces, elbow wrap bow rudders and the like? Probably not... unless you really want to. But whilst being cogniscent of the danger of such gymnastics, it also behoves us to be fit and strong enough to manage the arms in "above and behind" positions of stress, rather than just believing we can avoid the situation altogether.
Coming soon - an article about strength and conditioning for a more robust physique for paddling. In the meantime, don't forget to breathe.