Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New moves

Sometimes it's interesting to look at the stats on this site. Occasionally I'll see that an old post is getting a lot of attention. Often I have no idea why but sometimes it makes sense. Lately I've gotten a number of hits on a post I did last year on off season training. Seeing as how we're back into the off season it's reasonable that people are looking for ideas to stay or get in shape. The article itself is still good but since I wrote it I have added a couple of exercises to my routine that I think have made a real difference so I thought I would share them. These are both particularly well suited to kayakers but are great core exercises for anyone that does anything.

1. Planks. No, it's not just lying still in strange locations. It involves using your core muscles to hold your body straight in alignment instead of crunching to compact them. The basic technique is to prop yourself on your forearms and toes and hold your body straight just off the ground. This better simulates how we use our core and works all the muscles in the region. The variation of a side plank where you use one forearm (or straight arm) to extend the body off the ground helps focus on the obliques.

2. Mountain Climbers. It doesn't actually involve climbing. You start in a pushup position with arms straight and you alternate bringing one knee at a time to your chest. Twisting the right knee towards your left elbow and vice versa is great for paddlers wanting to improve their torso rotation. You can add to the workout by throwing in a pushup in between reps with the legs.

What I like best about these exercises is that it doesn't take any equipment to do them. You can do them anywhere and they don't take much time. And they translate very directly for kayaking.

Here is a site with a little more description and you can do a google search if you want to see video.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Assessing Risk Assessment

Risk assessment seems like the topic d'jour. Perhaps that's just my perception, but between the incident at Lumpy Waters, the record number of whitewater fatalities this year and the instructor training I've been doing, risk assessment and post-game dissection has been a recurrent theme in my world. Part of that is the growing trend in kayaking towards the extreme, part of it is a modern aesthetic of justification through analyses, and part of it is the nature of 'social' media and mass communication (all these damn blogs...). While there is lots of useful discussion, debating, debriefing, dialogue and deliberation, I would like to throw a little reality check into the mix.

First, all the Monday morning quarterbacking is just that - Monday morning. After the fact everything is different. Perceptions, recollections, and facts themselves change and distort over time and the complete reality of a situation is never the same. So we can learn general points, we can point out mistakes, we can say what we would have done, but in the end all we can do is move forward. Don't get tied up to the incident that happened and the people that were involved. That reality will never come again and the only wisdom of value is that which can be applied in the abstract.

Second, everything we learn will be forgotten. I say that as a teacher. All these valuable lessons we learn from analyzing mistakes made and planning for the future will be needed again when the same mistakes are made. It's human nature. We may take a different path to making the mistake and at the time it will look completely different (because each situation is unique); but it will be the same mistake. Some people will learn, some people will change, some mistakes will be avoided and our general knowledge will grow. We can develop systems and strategies and procedures to follow for safety; we can create a rubric to protect everyone. But it will fail, and here's why:

Kayaking is fun. People having fun will not follow a system or instructions or a checklist.  It goes against our nature - we want to be free and we want to have fun without burden of restrictions or control. It's what draws us to this sport. (aside: it's been shown that surgeons following a simple checklist, even those with hundreds of similar operations under their belt, will have better results and make fewer mistakes. But surgeons don't want to follow a checklist.) So mistakes and tragedies will still happen, and here's why:

Kayaking is risky. So go ahead and conduct the postmortems; have an incident review; develop a system of safety. It will help. But in the end it comes down to something much more basic: human nature. Some will evaluate at a subconscious level and make the safe call; some will ignore their intuition and take that risk. Safety is ultimately an individual choice and responsibility. The only advice I can offer that might be truly be of use is to be aware of that simple fact. Be aware in general.

Awareness at its most basic level is what allows us to assess risk and properly manage it. Awareness is what allows us to recognize a situation and connect it to lesson learned from previous experience. Awareness is a conscious effort to separate the actor from the action. Awareness is going outside yourself and gaining perspective in the process. Awareness is a skill, an ability and a habit. Awareness can be learned and developed. Awareness is individual but can be shared. Awareness is what allows for the understanding of risk and the assessment in its undertaking. It's not a system or a chart, it's not a tool or a plan, it's not a template or document. Awareness is sum of who we are: our skills, knowledge, training, experience and thoughts. Let that be your guide and your beacon and you will make the right choice.

But you will make mistakes. And the same ones again. There will be danger and harm. There will be regret and recriminations. But we'll go kayaking and have some fun.