Some teams who
emphasize stroke rate might put their strongest members in the
front to set the stroke rate for the team. Some others who
emphasize the mechanical science of propulsion put their
strongest members in the back to deal with water resistance.
There are also those who theorize on the center of gravity of
the boat and the best lineup to lower that center of gravity.
Whatever the lineup, there is a rationale for it. Yet,
including flawless strokes and synchrony, is the most
important part of competitive dragon boating.
No amount of alignment
experimentation will help the team if its members fail on the
There are four basic
phases of paddling:
as you lean forward, turn your body slightly toward your
partner and submerge your paddle in the water. Make sure
that the full blade catches water.
you lean back to pull water. Propulsion of the boat is based
on countering that water resistance you feel. Therefore, the
boat experiences maximum propulsion as the full blades of
all 20 paddlers catch and pull water at the same time.
as you pull the blade out of the water. This phase signals
the completion of your first stroke and preparation for your
as you lean forward again to prepare for the "Catch" phase
of your next stroke.
The "finish" and
"reach" phases are sometimes known as "ready-and-reach".
Together, they are also addressed as the "recovery" phase.
In the "catch"
phase, how far forward should you lean and how much body turning
should you have? Ideally, this
far and this much - click to see the graphic on
Burnwater.com. If you are a beginner, imagine doing that again
and again until you finish a race course of 500m or longer.
Don't freak out, as the saying goes: "practice makes perfect."
Perfect execution requires physical conditioning outside of
dragon boating. In the "catch" phase, your abdominals and
shoulders matter most. Regular crunches and shoulder lifts using
dumbbells will condition these body parts. Check out the
fitness conditioning guide
on this website.
It is a good idea to sit in
front of someone taller than you as you train on
water. Why? Your taller
teammate behind you naturally has a longer reach than you do,
thus forcing you to lean forward more. Be careful - do this only
if you have sufficiently conditioned your abs and back muscles. Otherwise, you will likely suffer endless swearing
Sitting in the back
of the boat will give you more effective resistance training
overall. Why? You are eating the wakes created by everyone in
front of you.
If you are sitting
in the front, a good way to practice resistance is asking your
teammates behind you to create drag by putting their paddles in
water but not paddling. This will require coordination by
Training on One
Side vs. Switching Sides:
Some dragon boat
teams finish a practice round without allowing paddlers to
switch sides or some dragon boaters prefer to train only on
their stronger side. Prolonged training on only one side of your
body is not healthy for your spine, posture and overall balance.
A healthier way of training is switching sides midway through
the round, one row at a time. The drawback, of course, is
slowing down during the switching. Another method is keeping
track of which side you paddle each week and making sure that
you switch every week. Finally, if you really prefer to paddle
on one side in order to, say, become a "left side expert" for
racing, compensate by doing more conditioning exercises for
muscles on the other side.
Verticality vs. Outrigger Style
Keeping your paddle
vertical against the side of the dragon boat (aka. the "gunno")
enhances the speed of the "recovery" phase and hence, the stroke
rate. Verticality also makes full submersion of the blades
easier and thus enhance the propulsion of the boat. However, the
biggest drawback of keep the paddle vertical is its impact on
your shoulders as your stroke, particularly if you stroke fast.
If you use this technique, it is crucial to perform shoulder
conditioning exercises to build up your shoulder muscles and
protect your shoulder joints. Leaning out of the gunno will make
it easier for you to accomplish verticality, however, that will
require strong oblique abs as well as switching sides to protect
your spine - see above.
If your team's
paddling style is tilting the paddles, you might protect your
shoulders and spine more but the drawback is a slower "recovery"
phase. The outrigger tilting technique is good for people who
have weak shoulders from a prior injury. To enhance the
"recovery" phase, you will need to reduce the air drag (i.e. air
resistance) by turning the paddle so that the blade is
horizontal to the water and "slicing" the air as you reach
forward. This requires frequent wrist turning, particularly if
you stroke fast. If you use this technique, you need to build up
your wrist strength to prevent injuries. When you do
conditioning exercises, include wrist curls using light weight
dumbbells. I find it convenient to incorporate wrist curls in
between sets as I do bicep curls.
dragon boat racers train year round, even in the
coldest winter months. When the icy temperature makes
on-water practice prohibitive, some teams have indoor practice
sessions using a community swimming pool. Indoor practice
equipment includes stand up mirrors and small "poolboats":
Exercises to Get Ready for Races:
Have you ever
observed heat results posted on bulletin boards at races? There
is a consistent pattern: the first heat is when teams post their
best times and the final heat is when they post their worst
times. This is the natural effect of fatigue. However, this is
not the whole story. Observing the race results of two teams in
close rivalry sometimes tells a different story: while both
teams exhibit gradual decline in speed through several heats,
Team A posts faster time thanTeam B during first two heats but Team B beats Team
A in the final race. The reason? Team A runs out of gas more
quickly than Team B.
How much endurance
and strength you and your teammates have is a key factor
determining whether your team can sustain multiple heats and
beat a close rival at the right moment - the final race. This is
where physical conditioning plays a role in addition to on-water
The best conditioning exercises are tailored to your team's
Carefully designed, conditioning exercises not only build your
strength and cardiovascular capacity but also simulate the
muscle movements, breathing pattern and heart rates during a
In the weeks leading
to a race, it is important to tailor your exercises to your
team's stroke strategy. Common stroke strategies begin with a
launch sequence that includes a couple of short strokes (with
3/4 of the normal sweep range), followed by 3 or 4 regular
strokes and then by a series of ultra fast, short strokes. After
this launch sequence, some common stroke series used in races
stroke speed every 25-30 seconds;
(B) Alternating slow
and fast strokes;
(C) Keeping stroke
speed constant but varying the pressure applied to the paddles
every 15-20 strokes. For instance, you can alternate 20 regular strokes
with 20 high-pressured "power strokes";
(D) A combination of
the B and C above.
Many teams also have
a "finish" series, which is a series of ultra fast strokes in
the last 50-100m.
breathing pattern and heart rate, try the following:
cardiovascular exercises, mentally visualize your team's
stroke strategy and alternate your cardio pace or intensity accordingly.
If the stroke strategy involves alternating 20 slow strokes
and 20 fast strokes, do the same with your cardio training.
For instance, if you are riding a stationary bike, ride
at a normal pace while counting to 20, then bring up the speed and
count to 20, then bring the speed back down and count to
20... If your team's usual race time is 2:30 minutes,
alternate the slow and fast paces for 2:30 minutes. After
that, go into a brief "rest" mode for no more than a minute.
The "rest" mode means riding at an easy pace such that you
don't feel that your muscles are working. If you are running
instead of biking, the rest mode can
be walking or slow jogging. NO STOPPING! After the brief rest mode, begin
alternating slow and fast paces again. If you are preparing
for a race that has four heats, perform the sequence at
times consecutively. Keep in mind that this drill involves
visualizing your dragon boat strokes the whole time. Do NOT
perform the drill if you are running or biking on streets
where you have to constantly look out for other people and
conditioning with weights, configure the number of sets and
number of repetitions per set according to the number of
strokes in your paddling series. For example, if your stroke
strategy calls for two series of 20 power strokes, set your
weight training exercises to 20 repetitions per set and
perform two sets per exercise. If you find it difficult to
complete the same number of repetitions as you have for
paddling strokes, you are lifting inappropriate weight -
try lowering the weight. On the other hand, if you are not
feeling any resistance while lifting or, after completing
the repetitions and sets, you are not sweating even a little
bit, your weights are too light - try incrementing the
To look for
exercises that simulate muscle movements in dragon boating, go
to the strength training chart on the
"Conditioning for Dragon Boating" section of this website.
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