Enhancing the Performance of Canadian Paddlers via Inertial Measurement Units

Josh Goreham is a PhD in Health student studying sport biomechanics at Dalhousie University. He measures sport technique using inertial measurement units, with the goal of helping enhance the performance of Canadian canoe kayak sprint athletes

Josh Goreham is a PhD in Health student studying sport biomechanics at Dalhousie University. He measures sport technique using inertial measurement units, with the goal of helping enhance the performance of Canadian canoe kayak sprint athletes

Dating back to the early 1930’s, aerospace engineers created an innovative inertial sensor for use aboard future rocket prototypes. Moving forward, STEM institutions and researchers alike have perfected the advent of these inertial navigations, finding more applications for these sensors beyond their use for rockets. One such contributor is PhD student Josh Goreham with his involvement in using inertial sensors to provide human motion analysis in the canoe kayak sprint, in turn assisting athletes to improve their technique.

Goreham received funding for this research through Mitacs, a Canadian Network of Centers of Excellence established in 1999, their objective to aid in the pursuit of STEM related research. In 2003, Mitacs opened its doors to over 60 universities across Canada for their research internship program, designed to increase rates of highly educated graduates in the private sector through Mitacs-funded research.

The defining characteristic of this new technology is its ability to track athlete and boat movements in real time, relaying this information to coaches while their athletes are training on the water. Once completed and ready for use, this technology can be implemented at all levels of paddling and will hopefully be able to provide enough of an advantage for competitive Canadian canoe kayak sprint teams.

Technology Breakdown

Goreham’s developed technology for Canadian paddlers can be broken down into two distinct components, and when combined, it may better position Canadian canoe kayak sprint teams at competitive races around the globe.

Figure 1: Visual representation of the 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) present in the boat or body segment of a paddler [1]

Figure 1: Visual representation of the 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) present in the boat or body segment of a paddler [1]

The first part of the new training technology is attaching advanced inertial sensors onto the vessel (i.e. the kayak or canoe), as well as the athlete(s). Each sensor is placed to capture data points hundreds of times per second. Differing from the currently used tracking technology, which only measures boat velocity and stroke rate, inertial sensors or otherwise known as Inertial Measurement Units (IMU’s) capture much more data. These sensors are made up of several individual components: an accelerometer which measures accelerations, a gyroscope which tracks the pitch, yaw and roll (i.e. angular velocities) of the boat or body segment, and a magnetometer which measures orientation information that aides with positional data. These components work together to capture the velocity, stroke rate, pitch, yaw, roll and the physical body movements of athletes, presenting a clearer image of movement of the vessel and onboard athlete(s) for training coaches and teammates alike.

While the additional information these sensors provide is certainly useful for coaches and athletes, currently, the biggest issue is that data captured from traditional sensors isn't available until after the boats are out of the water. It can take up to a day for the coach to download all of the data manually and perform analytics to reveal anything that might be of use.  Unfortunately for coaches, the only ‘real-time’ data that can be measured and used to make changes in training immediately comes from the commonly used stopwatch. This allows basic timing for the time it takes to complete a certain number of strokes; however, this information is quite limited in its ability to enable coaches to critique and make corrections during training sessions.

The second part of Goreham's training technology is the act of downloading the collected data in real time to a local computer with specially designed software. His cutting-edge software will apply statistical analysis and mathematical modelling to determine each athlete’s performance in a quantitative manner. This will provide coaches and athletes ample information during training to allow them to adjust and look for performance hindrances that occur due to inefficient technique or other factors.

With the increased quantity of data being provided from the inertial sensors and the real time data analytics, Canadian teams will hopefully have more effective and efficient training as they prepare for the 2020 Olympics.

Future Implications of Gorehams technology

The technology Goreham has provided grants athletes and coaches a more cohesive comprehension of the sport and the mechanics involved. Currently, Goreham’s model has many sensors to track real-time data, including the aforementioned accelerometer and gyroscope to gather input. However, the issue with this current implementation is that there are many sensors in place during training. This could affect athlete performance as far as discomfort in wearing the sensors, and possibly restricting their range of motion. Finally, it is most likely that the data gathered at each input sensor is not all valuable. Goreham plans to simplify and consolidate these sensors based on the value of the sensors input with the hope of converging all the sensors into one unit at one location on the vessel or a given athlete.

Goreham’s research shows us what can be accomplished with a broad understanding of human kinematics and modern technology, as well as motivation, which to him is the positive impact he seeks to make on the team, which is critical while not actually being on the team as stated:

“Luckily I’ve travelled to a few events internationally and it’s really interesting because I’m not a canoe/kayak athlete — I’ve never been one — but when you get connected with the team and you work with them daily and then one of your athletes or one of the athletes you’ve been working for wins a medal or gets a personal best and you see that your work along with other people’s work helped them do that, it’s just a feeling you can’t really describe.”

Overall, Goreham brings together passion and knowledge to pave the future of paddling for our Canadian teams.



  1. Dalhousie University Alumni News, Josh Goreham (BScK’12, MSc’14) developing technology to improve canoe and kayaking performance. https://alumni.dal.ca/news/alumni/josh-goreham-bsck12-msc14/, Accessed August 2018.

  2. VectoNav Embedded Navigation Solutions, Inertial Measurement Units and Inertial Navigation. https://www.vectornav.com/support/library/imu-and-ins, Accessed September 2018.

  3. Wikipedia, 6 Degrees of Freedom. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:6DOF_en.jpg, Published June 6th, 2010, Accessed November 2018

  4. Sparkfun, Toni_K, Accelerometer Basics.https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/accelerometer-basics, Accessed August 2018

  5. Interesting Engineering, Christopher McFadden,Gyroscopes: What They Are, How They Work and Why They Are Important. https://interestingengineering.com/gyroscopes-what-they-are-how-they-work-and-why-they-are-important, Published September 4th, 2017, Accessed August 2018

  6. Engineersgarage, Preeti Jain, What is Magnetometer: Types & Applications. https://www.engineersgarage.com/articles/magnetometer, Accessed August 2018

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