Friday, June 28, 2013

Laying the Foundation for Paddling Stronger: Cardiovascular Training Part II


by Stephen Knight

In the previous entry we began laying the groundwork for improving paddling fitness by ranking the changes in breathing due increased effort.  These changes were listed on a 1 to 10 scale to produce the Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Table.  We then assigned Training Zones (TZ) to the RPE scale in the second table as an abbreviated way of describing our efforts in order to train consistently. A benefit of using the RPE-TZ Table is that there’s no instrumentation – you are the “on-board computer”.

That’s not to say a Heart Rate Monitor  (HRM) isn’t useful, but it only generates numbers if you don’t know what’s driving them. Beats per minute (BPM) become useful when they’re coupled with the physiologic responses to increased effort like those described in the RPE Table.  This correlation lets us  devise fairly accurate TZs based on BPM at levels of exertion up to RPE 8.  Beyond that level of effort it’s not possible to determine an accurate lactate threshold and maximum heart rate outside of controlled testing conditions. Each person’s heart rate and response to exertion will be unique due to age, conditioning, state of rest, and innate physiology. That kind of precision is a lot more in-depth than we need.  For now, the RPE-TZ table and a sports watch are all that are needed.


Before getting started with any performance training,  meet with your physician for an objective evaluation of your overall health to ensure there aren’t any underlying conditions you need to know about, especially as we get older.  Read http://www.surfski.info/getting-started/tips-training/item/1025-atrial-fibrillation-and-the-athlete.html.  Furthermore, you need to establish a baseline to measure improvements over time.  You can expect positive changes in your health with consistent training. 

Time to get started.  Let’s assume that you fall into one of two groups, the first being relatively untrained and paddle infrequently or at a low intensity.  If this is the case and your goal is to improve your aerobic endurance then you’ve got to spend more time paddling outside of your comfort zone.

According to the RPE –TZ table, that’s going to require paddling at RPE 3-4 / TZ 2, where your effort is hard enough to make conversation difficult or in mostly short, broken sentences.  These are the long, steady sessions lasting one to four hours with few if any rest stops.  Start with 30 minutes to one hour at this level of paddling at least two times a week; more often will bring faster improvements. Keep extending your paddling at the same intensity until you literally feel that you can paddle all day.  Be patient, it could take several weeks before it gets easier and the full benefits may not be apparent for a month or longer. Can’t get out on the water as often as you’d like? You can get much the same benefit from cycling, running or swimming at the same RPE.  Personally, I encourage running or jogging on trails because in addition to an aerobic workout (yes, it’s OK to walk the hills), the uneven terrain improves your sense of balance and awareness while in motion.

If you fall into the second group where the goal is to improve speed and long-distance endurance then the intensity has to increase. A lot. Training must continue to build aerobic conditioning as well as adapt paddle specific muscles to long periods of endurance. 

There are two thoughts on how to achieve this goal, the first being to paddle at RPE 5 or TZ 3 for long steady efforts lasting one or more hours. At this level of effort your breathing is heavy but limited conversation is still possible.  Rest periods, if any, are kept very short. For many paddlers this level of conditioning is good enough but it can come up short if you are challenged by weather, currents or a heavily loaded kayak.

The second approach is where the effort is harder but the rewards are greater. You can expect substantial changes in endurance and power. Extended intervals at RPE 6-7/TZ4 will push your muscles to a point where they are just below the point of having sufficient oxygen to perform efficiently. This is the sub-lactate threshold, and training at this level may take 6-12 weeks before you see the benefits, assuming you have good aerobic fitness to start with.

Here’s an interval workout that takes a little over an hour. Warm up thoroughly for 15-30 minutes emphasizing good forward stroke form, leaving the socializing and skills practice for later. The first interval is 12 minutes at RPE 6-7 /TZ4. Your breathing will quickly become very deep and hard - talking will not be something you want to do, but you still can. This is not a sprint or all out effort. Your goal is to be able to complete the entire 12 minutes in the training zone.  Recovery! Three minutes of easy paddling. Now go again at the same high intensity for 10 minutes and recover for 2.5 minutes. Repeat for 8 minutes and recover for 2 minutes.  See a pattern? Now go for 6 minutes and recover for 1.5 minutes.  Last one, go for 4 minutes and cool down. You’re done for this session.  Interval workouts like this can be done two to three times a week as long as you allow 1-2 days of recovery time between sessions.

If at anytime you feel faint, or your breathing doesn’t seem to slow down when you let up, then stop.  You’re not ready for this level of workout.  Drop back to the RPE 5/TZ 3 workouts for several weeks before trying the higher intensity workout again. 

 “I don’t know. All of this sounds too much like race training”.  Well, you’re right. It is race training. However, your body doesn’t know the difference between competing in a race and paddling in challenging conditions. Skip even the least amount of conditioning and eventually fatigue leads to being left behind or you risk developing an injury. Those are reasons enough to incorporate some “race training” into your paddling.


Thanks for reading my blog entry for the Carolina Kayak Club.  I’ve been engaged in a number of outdoor activities for most all of my life as a participant and instructor. When not competing in trail running, bicycle and kayak races, I’m a USA Canoe and Kayak Team Paracanoe Coach and work with the Bridge-II-Sports Foundation for Adaptive Sports as the Parakayak Racing Club coach.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Forward Momentum; Cutting the Brake Lines

One of the greatest assets of a kayak over other forms of human powered vessels is the kayaks' efficiency in the water. The human that is paddling the kayak however, needs to be proficient in forward momentum skills and corrective steering maneuvers in order for the kayak to work in the manner in which it was created 4,000 years ago. It was created to be a fast, stealthy, efficient hunting machine. Oh, don't be fooled, we still hunt from our kayaks, some of us are hunting certain bird species, the elusive river otter or beaver, or chasing other forms of wildlife. Perhaps we are hunting MONSTER fish, or we are hunting that amazing sunset, sunrise, or special get away place where we feel complete peace or maybe that isolated campsite that you can only reach by water. Yes, we still hunt from them for sure, the targets may be just a bit different now.

We all aspire to work on our efficiency and endurance, which allows us to go farther therefore experiencing more. When teaching new paddlers or even veteran paddlers from time to time, helping them learn to master efficient forward momentum is one of the most challenging tasks I encounter. Some paddlers tend to consistently revert back to "putting on the brakes" to turn their boats, which forces the paddler to "re-start their engine" to get going again in forward motion. This takes a lot of energy. This morning after taking my son to basketball camp for the day,  I was driving in "rush hour traffic" and noticed that as I accelerated and decelerated over and over, driving is much like paddling. When we press hard on the gas in our cars and then hit the brakes to slow down then hit the gas again, those are the actions that suck the gas right out of our gas tanks. It is the most inefficient driving time. We get the best gas mileage when out on the open road, cruise control on, at a steady pace. If you want to waste gas, we all know how to do that, stomp the gas pedal and accelerate quickly and then slam on the brakes so you can do it all over again. As we mature in our driving, we learn to drive at a more relaxed, even pace, saving energy with our cars as well as our state of mind. It's the same with sea kayaking or flat water kayaking. If we are fighting the water and trying  to accelerate too quickly, using bad form (i.e. allowing the paddle to exit past our hips), and then slam on the brakes to turn the bow of our boats (putting the paddle blade down into the water behind you to slow your boat), then we are greatly sucking the energy out of our gas tanks, our energy reserves, our muscles, and diminishing the joy of kayaking overall! Our goal should be to learn how to keep forward momentum at all times, NEVER using slowing maneuvers unless you need to stop or avoid hitting something. By utilizing skill and simple maneuvers, anyone can master maximum forward momentum. Personally, as we mature in our paddling, I believe it's something we will always be working on, always honing and perfecting. 

It is SO FUN to watch students whom I've given the "secret tips" to and all of a sudden the woman who started the class saying "this boat will not go straight no matter what I do", to paddling not only in a straight line in her 10.5 hybrid kayak, but with efficiency and a smile on her face at her unexpected success. So, CUT THOSE BRAKE LINES and be sure to work on efficient forward momentum, resist the urge to use any slowing maneuvers to turn your boat. I won't give away all the secrets, you need to master the basics before moving on the the next maneuvers anyhow, but I will give you just a couple of starter tips here to have fun working on:

1. Make sure you are showing the judges on your left your name and your number with EVERY STROKE.This ensures you are using your CORE, not your upper body. It's like a 4 cylinder vs. an 8 cylinder engine. Your CORE is the 8 cylinder engine, your arms and shoulders are the 4 cylinder and prone to sputtering or breakdowns! 
2. Be sure you are exiting the paddle at your hip, going past your hip turns your boat which causes you to exert more energy to turn your boat back on track. We would never stop our cars every time we needed to turn the wheels to make a curve, if we stopped every time we needed to steer we'd never get anywhere!
3. Keep your eyes on your target (where you are going). Not on your bow or your paddle. You will go      where you are looking and you can make quick corrective strokes/maneuvers as soon as you get off track.Keep your bow lined up with your target while looking at the target. When you were in drivers ed, remember looking just over the hood trying to look at the pavement directly in front of the car? That didn't go too well did it? You had to look BEYOND the hood and out and up. Same with paddling.
3. Use your forward sweep on the move stroke to correct your direction. Resolve to ONLY use forward maneuvers to keep forward momentum. 
4. Constantly edge your boat while continuing your forward paddling motion, the more you practice this the easier it gets. It gets downright FUN to edge while you are accelerating! Be sure to keep your eyes up while edging and on your target. You can certainly pair your edging with a forward on the move sweep stroke if you need a big correction in steering. 
5. Foot pedal your feet. When your blade catches at your feet into the water, press hard on that same foot peg. Then the same on the other side. This gives you maximum bracing and helps with forward momentum. 
6. Push/pull with your hands. The blade that is in the air, push with your top hand, and then vice versa on the other side. Keep your eyes on your target. Resist the urge to look at your hands. We tend to look at whatever skill we are focusing on but train yourself to use these skills while keeping your eyes on your target. 
7. Make sure you have warmed up and stretched before hitting the water, especially spinal twists, hip looseners, and shoulder stretches! 

I hope these tips help you with forward momentum and cutting those brake lines! It's also always a good idea to pair up with an instructor or skilled paddler and ask them to observe your skill set to give you feedback. They may be able to see how you can perform the skills even better. 

Happy paddling! 
Kay-Yoga Jo