Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Training for SUP Part 2 - Essential Elements of Fitness

In Part 1 I introduced the concept of periodization in the design of a training program.  Not only does following a periodized program help maximize performance, but because such a program introduces new elements of training in a sequential fashion and allows for proper rest and consolidation it also helps to minimize the risk of injury and enhance athletic longevity.   Athletes are much less subject to burnout, both physical and mental, when following a periodized program.

In order to put together a periodized program for yourself, you’ll need to understand the various types of fitness required for SUP – what they are, their role in making your board move, and how to train them.  I’ve put together a chart that lists all the fitness abilities and various skills needed to be successful in SUP.  These are the things you’ll need to consider in your training, both on and off the water, as you become increasingly serious about the sport.  I’ll focus primarily on strength, power and energy systems here, as they should comprise the bulk of your fitness training.  

Link to downloadable chart

Intuitively every paddler understands the value of strength in SUP.   Anyone that has secured their paddle in the water and tried to pull their board past their paddle understands that you use muscles throughout your body.  Clearly anything that can help those muscles become stronger and work longer before exhaustion is good, but it is important to have an understanding of exactly what can accomplish that.  Here is a summary of the various types of strength and power required in SUP:

Basic Strength is the foundation on which all other forms of strength and power development are based.  It is the first element that should be trained in the gym and includes strengthening of muscles and connective tissue like tendons and ligaments.  The main objective of a cycle of basic strength training in a periodized program is to increase your ability to perform high volume strength training work without injury in future phases of training.  Obviously athletes who already have sufficient muscle mass and a strong weight training background don’t need to spend a lot of time training basic strength beyond that required to get their connective tissue prepared for more intense types of strength and power training which follow.  However if you’re a more novice trainer with less of a strength training background then you should train basic strength for a longer period, as you probably need to build more muscle and a sound foundation before moving onto other types of strength and power training.  Basic strength weight training is similar to body building training in that movements should be preformed in a slow and controlled manner, for 10 to 15 repetitions with about 3 minutes of active rest between sets.  Exercises need not be sport specific but should train the muscle groups used in SUP.  Typical exercises include bench press, seating rowing, and squats.

Maximum Strength is built on the foundation of basic strength.  It can basically be defined as the ability to perform heavy lifts, and readies the athlete for training power in future phases of training by requiring greater neural recruitment of muscle fibers than basic strength training.  Essentially if basic strength training readies you for high volume work in coming phases, maximum strength training prepares you for high intensity training.  Exercises are performed without consideration for speed of contraction, in controlled movements and for 3 to 6 repetitions with 3 to 5 minutes of active rest between sets.

Strength Endurance is the ability to perform movements repeatedly.  Again movements are controlled and precise and done for more than 15 -20 repetitions with rest of one minute or less between sets.  This work encourages changes within the muscle fiber that allow them to be more efficient in repeated movement.  Once again, this type of training is done without consideration for speed of muscle contraction and in controlled movements.  This work helps prepare the muscles for power endurance training in future phases. 

Relative Strength can be defined as strength measured against body weight.  In a sport like stand up paddling relative strength is extremely important as the paddler not only has to move the weight of the board, but also his or her own body, through the water.   Relative strength is developed during the other types of strength training already discussed, as basic and maximum strength training build lean muscle mass.  Muscle is highly metabolic tissue and burns tremendous amounts of energy just to maintain itself so increases in muscle mass should help diminish body fat.  The resulting increased ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat automatically results in improved relative strength.   Specific exercises, such as chin-ups, dips, etc., in which the resistance is provided by your own body weight, can be chosen as part of your basic strength and strength endurance work and can help you monitor your progress in the development of relative strength.

Common to each of these types of training is that they are performed without regard to time and the speed of muscle contraction.  However practical sport applications of strength almost always involve time and the speed at which muscles are required to contract.  For almost all athletes these are major concerns.  If we accept the idea that lifting or moving a weight represents work, then power can be defined as the amount of work done per unit of time.  Power is measured in Watts according to the formula Watts = work/time.  In a specific sport application of power, SUP athletes are interested in performing the highest amount of work in the least amount of time in each stroke they take.

Power Endurance can be defined as the ability to consistently and repeatedly perform dynamic high wattage output movements.  It’s the type of strength you need to pull your best, dynamic paddling strokes consistently for an hour or more in a race without tiring excessively.  In the development of power endurance the time it takes to perform a repetition or set is important.  Many of the same exercises performed in basic strength training can be performed in rapid dynamic movements to develop power.  One example I’ve used to develop power endurance is to perform circuit training in which the exercises are performed as rapidly as possible with precise movements.  New exercises, such as power cleans and clean and jerk etc, which by their very nature require dynamic movements should be introduced.  High repetition plyometric training is also useful.  In performing this type of training higher repetitions are used to develop the ability to perform these high wattage output movements repeatedly.

Maximum or Explosive Power is the ability to produce maximum or peak power for short periods of time.   This is the type of power that allows you to blast off at the start, charge past someone in a race or sprint to the finish.  It is also extremely important in enabling you to pull yourself onto a wave when going downwind or pulling onto somebody’s draft.  Maximum power can be trained by doing more intense lifts, such as power cleans, for fewer reps or doing traditional body building exercises with heavy weights as dynamically as possible.   Six to eight repetitions should be performed. 

As important as strength and power training is in preparation for SUP racing, if you don’t train your energy systems your performance will be disappointing.   Muscle contraction requires energy which allows the processes within the muscle fiber responsible for that contraction to occur.  There are three different systems which produce the energy used in muscle contraction and you should be making two of them big parts of your fitness training.

The energy currency for almost all processes in the human body is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate or ATP.  It is produced locally in the muscle fiber, either in the mitochondria or the cytoplasm, and is essential for the process by which muscles contact.  When a phosphate is ripped off the ATP a high-energy bond is broken releasing energy that drives the contraction process.  Clearly we want to do things in our training that enhance the production of ATP in our muscles.   This can be accomplished to a degree through strength and power training however it can be enhanced most effectively by doing aerobic and anaerobic endurance training.

Aerobic training is simply training that affects the aerobic energy system.  This is the energy system your muscles rely on for ATP when you are doing long steady work in training or are in the middle of a long race.   This energy system relies on glucose (stored as glycogen) and fats for fuel, occurs in the mitochondria of the muscle fiber and can last indefinitely.   It is efficient in that it produces relatively large amounts of ATP for each molecule of glucose used and it produces only water and carbon dioxide as by-products so there is no negative impact on performance from using it.  The only drawback with this system is that it requires oxygen; hence if your cardiorespiratory system (heart and lungs) cannot deliver enough oxygen to the muscle to meet the demand, then another energy system will have to make up the shortfall.  

Anaerobic lactic training affects the anaerobic lactic system.  This is the main energy system the body uses to produce energy when there is a negative balance of oxygen or oxygen deficit.  It requires glycogen as fuel, occurs in the cytoplasm of the muscle fiber and its advantage is that it provides ATP in rapid response to need.   The drawback of this system is that it is effective for a limited time of around 2 minutes maximum (more commonly in most people 40 seconds to 1 minute) and it produces a by-product called lactic acid that builds up in the muscle, inhibiting performance and eventually causing muscle failure.  This is the energy system you use when you take your speed up to a higher level off the start, at the finish or when passing someone in the middle of a race.  It’s also the energy system that kicks in to meet the energy shortfall when the cardiorespiratory system cannot supply enough oxygen to the muscle to meet the demand.  You need to use it carefully in a long SUP race to prevent too much lactic acid from accumulating in your muscles. 

A third energy system exists called the anaerobic alactic system, but it is of little consequence in SUP paddling except for very short sprints.  It relies on a compound called creatine phosphate to produce ATP without oxygen.  It does not produce lactic acid and hence has no negative consequences, however it only lasts for 10 to 15 seconds maximum and takes a relatively long period to recover.  It is the primary energy system used by someone in jumping, throwing or sprinting events in athletics but is responsible for only a very small amount of the ATP produced during a typical SUP race.

Training aerobically leads to changes in the muscle fiber that allow for more efficient production of ATP, including an increased number of mitochondria, increased oxygen carrying capacity inside the muscle fiber (via a substance called myoglobin) and increased activity of enzymes involved in the breakdown of glucose in the production of ATP.  It also leads to an improved ability of your lungs to get oxygen into your blood stream and your heart to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.  This increased efficiency of the heart and lungs and an increased vascularity of muscle tissue increases the amount of oxygen that can be supplied to the working muscles.  This in turn allows you to paddle harder and still be working aerobically.

No matter how well developed your aerobic system is, at some point as you increase your effort you will reach a point where your aerobic system is maxed out and your anaerobic lactic system is called upon to pick up the slack.  At this point lactic acid begins to accumulate in your muscles and in your blood as the blood tries to carry it away from the muscle.  This point, where the anaerobic lactic system kicks in, is called the anaerobic threshold (AT).   The goal of your aerobic training should be to try to push your AT to a higher level.  This is most effectively done by doing aerobic training close to, but below, that threshold.

You can train your energy systems effectively on the water, however you can more easily train close to your anaerobic threshold doing dryland aerobic training like running, cycling or cross country skiing.  In these activities it is easier to raise and maintain your heart rate than it is while paddling, primarily because they use the large muscles of the legs to a greater degree than SUP.   You can therefore put a much greater load on your cardiorespiratory system and develop it to a higher degree on land than on the water.  Even if you have not been training specific paddling muscles in a padding motion, when you return to the water after a phase of dryland aerobic training your ability to deliver oxygen to paddling muscles will be improved.   This will allow you to paddler harder and still be working aerobically, avoiding any build up of performance limiting lactic acid.

Hopefully you now have an understanding of the types of strength, power and energy system training you need to do for stand up paddling.  In my next post I’ll discuss how to assess your fitness in each area so you know your strengths and weaknesses before you start training.  I’ll also discuss how to set some season goals, for both your fitness level and race performances, and how to select races to peak for and to train through.  Stay tuned!