Saturday, December 18, 2010

Off-Season Training

OK, in California there is no real off season.  We can (and do) paddle year round.  But the pace does slow down in the winter and is more dependent upon the storms that come through.  Early Fall is great weather on the coast and early Spring is when the rivers start running so I paddle the least November through January.  I like to take that time to get some rest and recover from the previous year's adventures and to do some training to help prepare for the following year's opportunities.  So I thought I would share a little of my training philosophy on what it takes to be 'in shape' for paddling.

The first thing you need in any training program is a goal.  It doesn't have to be very specific but you need to know what you are trying to accomplish.  Are you trying to get faster?  go further?  recover from an injury?  Are you preparing for an expedition?  long hikes in?  a local race?  Or do you just want to be able to paddle more often without getting tired or injured?  With a goal in mind you can customize your training to achieve that goal most efficiently.  Fitness is different than strength, endurance different than power, injury prevention different than health.

Personally, I do a wide variety of paddling and need a bit of everything.  But I tend to focus my off season training on building strength (mainly endurance) and fitness (cardio).  Strength training can be done with weights in the gym or with simple exercises and equipment at home.  For kayaking there are some obvious areas to work on:  shoulders, core, back - and some not so obvious:  chest and legs.  It's very important to strengthen the muscles you don't use when paddling.  This prevents your body from getting unbalanced - the muscles you build up when paddling will be much stronger than others and this will ultimately lead more stress on the weaker muscles.  I also focus on endurance training vs. power lifting:  I go with high reps and push muscles to exhaustion.  Unless you are a sprint paddler you don't really need to bulk up - it's more about making the muscle mass you have more durable.

And while strength training does help with injury prevention (or recovery) I think the best thing for that is stretching.  Flexibility is key to allowing your body to use proper technique and to absorb forces when out of position.  During the paddling season I don't have the energy to do separate strength training so I focus mostly on stretching - yoga is probably the best thing you can do to stay healthy and paddling.  The older you get the more important this becomes.

The other training I do is cardio.  I have bad knees so I don't run; I hate biking in the cold and rain; so my cardio is generally done in a boat.  Anything that gets your heart rate up for a steady period of time will work.  And if the focus is endurance you need at least 30 minutes of hard paddling to get any benefit.  An hour or two is even better.  Works great for both whitewater and sea kayaking.  But I will also get in my polo kayak and do some sprinting and interval training.  I find this really helps for situations where I have to push all out for a matter of seconds - must make ferries or fighting a tide race. 

And the overall key to any training program:  consistency.  Your body improves when it is subject to repetitive stresses with time in between to recover.  If you have too much time between the stress sessions then your body reverts back to what it was.  It needs routine workouts and each time you need to push a little harder - an extra rep, a slightly longer distance or shorter time - to make your body improve.  Even small efforts of 30 minutes twice a week will show improvements, but if you skip a week or ten days then you will lose the gains you have just made.

So if you can't get out there and paddle at least get ready for when you can.  If you are out there paddling, use the opportunity to prepare for even more paddling when the weather turns and the options abound.

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