With the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival fast approaching on June 9th, we wanted to share some exclusive tips for those competing or interested in learning more about dragon boating. We speak to Hydro International owner Simon, who coaches and trains teams that have placed Top 7 in their competitions. Here are his guidelines for competing and training for dragon boat:
- Use good form! Bad form places you at higher risk of injury, and is also less effective. With incorrect posture or movements, your body uses more energy to accomplish the same actions, and you put your muscles and joints at risk – not a worthwhile tradeoff.
- Learn the correct body rotation. A common misconception is that dragon boat is an upper-body sport. In reality, dragon boaters should use all their muscle groups. Core and abdominal muscles help stabilize and lend extra power to each row, and legs are important for maintaining a stable position so your arms and torso can be more explosive. When rowing, you should turn your entire body when rowing. Imagine your shoulders facing out in parallel on each iteration.
- Active recovery. Active recovery is a mindset that everyone should adopt, and is a principle that can be implemented in micro and macro ways. A good example of active recovery on the micro scale is the rest period between strokes. Simon suggests watching the 2008 Olympics 400 meter butterfly race, swam by Michael Phelps. Phelp’s first place finish can be attributed to his mindful recovery stage even in the refractory period, when he brings his arm back in front of his head and above the water, his movements are deliberate and relaxed, allowing him to exert maximum force for the next underwater stroke. On the macro level, active recovery involves rest days and mindful exercise. Listen to your body. If something is hurting or sore, it’s ok to take a day off or engage in some milder exercise. In the long run, active recovery prevents injuries.
- Short strokes. For dragon boat specifically, many beginners overextend their paddles. The initial stroke is much shorter than you would think, most coaches recommend a stroke that is less than two feet in length. Longer strokes create drag and water resistance, which ultimately slow you down. The correct stroke length should result in a “popping” noise.
- Breathe loudly. Being a team sport, dragon boat requires tight coordination between teammates. A loud, deliberate exhale can help improve timing and serves as a communication of your speed and pace.
- Cross-train. Like in the Michael Phelps example, any athlete can learn from different sports. Cross-training with different activities prevents you from getting into an exercise rut, and allows you to build better muscles by working muscles that you usually don’t hit. Avid dragon boaters could try soccer or pilates.