In June of 2014, we had the opportunity to study one of the world’s best paddlers,
Travis Grant, about one month before his impressive 2nd place finish in Molokai to Oahu.


Elite racer Travis Grant.

Current World Ranking:



Pier 40, The New York Kayak Company, New York City.
Board: NSP brushed Carbon 12’6’’


BTS Bio Engineer Davide Pesenti Barili, Physical Therapist Kathryn VanDamme,
Exercise Physiologist Allison Carhart.


Randall Henriksen, Founder of New York Kayak Co., NSP, and SUPLOGIX.

Special Thanks To:

Chase Kosterlitz, Founder of SUPAA. Captain Jim Gill Hudson
River Park.

Protocols: We studied 3 areas at 3 intensities:

Target Regions

  • Trunk / Core
  • Arms
  • Legs


  • Base Pace
  • Endurance Pace
  • Sprint Pace
To interpret the data we utilized the standard EMG protocol of comparing muscle activity generated while performing a sport to activity produced in Maximal Voluntary Contractions or (MVC’s,) against static resistance. On water EMG output was analyzed and quantified relative to the MVC for specific muscle groups. Additionally, ratios comparing EMG activity of one intensity to another (i.e. base vs. sprint) were produced for the targeted muscle groups.The results, which include some surprises, reveal a tremendous amount about actual muscle activation in professional level SUP paddling.
Key points are summarized below.


The torso muscle activity Travis generated supports the claim that efficient, powerful SUP paddling involves using the core and large muscles of the trunk.Travis has a classic forward stroke style involving torso and some hip rotation, along with hip and slight trunk flexion to generate force. To execute his technique he uses his core in a major way. At moderate intensity paddling his abdominal and oblique muscles are already just above MVC. At sprint effort his obliques stay just above MVC and his abdominal contractions reach a similar level.

He also engages his pecs and lats considerably. Pec major activity was slightly higher overall than lat activation at each intensity relative to the respective MVC’s. This makes sense. Simply put, anything that the lats do, the pecs do and more. At sprint speed the pecs were just above MVC whereas the lats were just below. Pec activation occurs at the shoulder joint in the transfer of trunk force through both the upper and lower arms.

The lower trapezius muscle , which depresses and pulls the shoulder blades down and in towards the spine, was also working a lot. It is recruited as the paddle side shoulder blade is retracted and set through the power phase of the stroke. Starting at close to half of MVC at light intensity, with each speed increment activation increased by about 25 percent reaching just above MVC during sprinting.

Overall with the trunk there were varying levels of right / left discrepancy depending on the muscle group.


Travis’ data shows that his arms work as relatively fixed levers to transfer the force he generates with his body. The stand out information is the considerable amount of tricep activity he produced. According to the EMG output, he is engaging the long head of the triceps which acts at the shoulder joint, specifically extension. The action of applying force to the paddle through the “pulling arm” as it moves from the catch towards the body explains this activity.

Although compared to the triceps, bicep activity was at lower levels, the difference between how much this muscle group works at light versus sprint pace is significant. For example, the data shows that Travis’s right bicep engages about 6 times more during his sprint pace than base effort. As cadence and force increase, so does bicep contractile activity -­ flexing the elbow slightly and maintaining the engaged arm position through the power phase of the stroke.

As with the trunk, we observed some variance in muscle activity between right and left.


As the intensity increased, Travis’s quadriceps showed the most EMG activity in the lower body protocol. The data suggests that engaging his quads allows him to use his body to put out maximum propulsive forces. We tested the rectus femoris, which extends the knee and flexes the hip. The muscle kicks in at moderate effort and activation is just above MVC at sprint speed.

At high intensity Travis’ weight is forward for reach at the catch. His position then lowers and centers for mechanical advantage and power with hip and knee flexion. The rec fem is involved in these motions both concentrically and eccentrically.

The glutes, calves and hamstring muscle groups were all activated at moderate levels from about a third of MVC at moderate intensity to approximately two thirds of MVC at sprint paddling. The lingering effects of his 2013 knee injury were also present in right/left activation variance.


The important thing to understand from the data is that specific body movements such as torso rotation and hip flexion and the muscle activation they generate can contribute to efficient transfer of force in the forward stroke. Travis’ EMG information demonstrates that certain skeletal movements produced by muscle groups like the abs, obliques and pecs can be harnessed for optimal, propulsive paddling mechanics.

The goal of studying elite SUP athletes is to gain objective information on what is actually occurring on a neuromuscular level during highly proficient paddling. This data is valuable for the athletes themselves to gain greater understanding of their biomechanics. It is advantageous in creating effective training and conditioning programs -­ both on and off the water -­ that address muscular imbalances, prevent injuries, and build general along with sports-­specific strength, power, and flexibility.

As evident in the analysis of Travis, greater understanding of muscular use in efficient paddling provides a strong foundation for teaching paddlers of all levels how to engage physically and mentally for maximum benefit and enjoyment of the sport.