Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Training for SUP Part 3 - Goal Setting, Assessing Performance and Choosing Races

In the last post I described the main fitness components that you need to consider in developing a periodized training program for stand up paddling.  The structure of your program, the degree to which you train these components, and the amount of time you actually spend in the gym and on the water should all depend on your paddling goals.

So what should you consider when setting your goals?   I’ve always thought that you should start by asking yourself a number of questions:

  • How important is SUP to you?  How much of your life are you willing or able to devote to training  and paddling? 
  • What is your current level of performance?  How did you do in your most recent race(s)?
  • What is your current level of fitness?  Who are the athletes performing at the level you aspire to?  What is your impression of their fitness level?  What skills and areas of fitness do you need to improve to get to their level?  Is it realistic to get to their level in the time you are considering?
  • What is the timeline for your goal(s)?  What major race do you want to perform best at?  What other races would you like to do (or maybe are committed to do)?  Are you prepared to train through many of them and sacrifice performance in them for even better results in your major race(s)?

Where does SUP fit in your life?

Whether I am coaching kids at the canoe club or talking to adults who do stand up paddling, I always say the same thing - train appropriately for your goals.  I could just as easily say it the other way round – set goals that are appropriate for the amount of time and effort you are willing to devote to training. 

I think the first thing you should do in the process of setting your goals is take a look at your life and determine honestly what kind of commitment you can, or are willing, to make to training.  You’ll be a lot happier person and enjoy your paddling much more if you’re honest with yourself right from the start.  It is totally unrealistic for someone who is only able to train, or worse still only wants to train, four times a week to have the goal of a top twenty finish at the Battle of the Paddle.  Having raced against and paddled with the top SUP guys like Danny Ching and Jamie Mitchell I can tell you that they are similar level athletes to Adam Van Koeverden, an Olympic champion kayak paddler from my club.   Athletes at this level are incredible and aren’t that way by accident.  They train hard – up to 10x/week, at times even more, and have done so for years.

On the other hand you can enter races and meet your performance goals even if you only want to train 4x/week.  You just have to set realistic goals and develop an intelligent training plan.   I suggest considering all the commitments that you have – family, work, etc.  Look at the other things you like to do with your free time and ask yourself how much time you have to devote to SUP training.  If you can only paddle 4x/week and can’t commit to doing much of the dryland training I’ve discussed in the last post, then your goal should probably be as simple as entering and completing races.  You don’t have to win to make racing fun and worthwhile, but if you decide you really want to step up your level of performance then you are going to have to increase your training volume and intensity.  Start by increasing it a little.  Add one extra paddle/week or maybe a couple of strength sessions.  See how you make out with that small additional training commitment.  Can you consistently handle that commitment and still get everything else you want out of life?  If you can, then set a cautiously more ambitious goal for yourself. 

It takes a while to find a sense of balance in your life when you increase your training load.  Take some time to see if you can handle the new load, even if you’ve only bumped it up a little, before considering adding even more to your training program.   It also takes a fairly long time to see the benefits of an increased training load.  Don’t expect to see instant results.  Set relatively long term goals and give yourself time to achieve them.

Assessing your current level of performance

This should be the easiest thing to consider in the goal setting process.  Results are results.  You can’t really debate them.  If you’ve done a bunch of races you should have a pretty good idea of the group within the race that you are usually competing most closely with.   These are the paddlers you should be aiming to best when you start putting your training plan together.  You should also have some idea of who the paddlers are in the level just above yours.  If you want to make a big push to improve, then these are the guys you should be aiming to try to beat in your races next season. 

Of course the other measure of performance is your own paddling speed.  If you use a GPS you should know the speed you usually travel at.  Some people use miles or kilometers per hour.  I actually prefer pace per kilometer.  Whatever measure you use, a good year goal is to lower your travelling pace or increase your travelling speed by a small yet significant amount. 

If you don’t use a GPS a great way to assess speed is to perform periodic time controls.  Chose a standard distance on water that is pretty consistent in terms of offering neutral conditions.  Get a baseline time for that distance and then set a target time that you’d like to achieve over the course of the season.  Repeat the test every month or so to monitor your progress.  I think a great distance is 2000m.  It is long enough to be heavily aerobic but still has a significant anaerobic component to it.  It isn’t excessively long, so it is a relatively easy test to fit into your training program and it is a very good measure of your likely travelling speed in a longer race.  For example, from 2 km to 4 km my pace is only about 1% slower and from 2 km to 15 km only about 3% slower in neutral conditions.  If you can lower your 2 km time substantially you’ll likely be going a lot faster over a longer race.

Assessing your current level of fitness

Besides paddling technique and your board skills, fitness is a decisive, major factor influencing your speed and thus your performance.

You’ll recall in my last post I discussed strength, power, and aerobic and anaerobic training.   If you are an experienced SUP racer that has a good foundation of training behind you, then you should try to find a test or tests for each of these elements of fitness.  These tests will help you assess where your baseline is in each area, will help you monitor the quality and effectiveness of your training, and help you set some fitness goals for the preparatory phase of your periodized program.  Your baseline tests will help you determine your fitness strengths and weaknesses and help you determine areas you should focus more heavily on in your training plan.

If you are new to training for SUP then you don’t need to test yourself in all of the elements of fitness that I have described.  My advice would be to choose tests that test basic strength and aerobic fitness, and wait until you have a greater training background before testing power and your anaerobic capability.

Listed below are some examples of tests that I’ve used in the past for each element of sprint canoe and SUP related fitness.  I’ve indicated whether the test is appropriate for novice or more advanced SUP trainers.  At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter which tests you choose to do as long as you do them in a consistent, controlled fashion each time you perform them.  If you don’t take care to do them the same way each time they really won’t be giving you any useful information.  Find some tests that work for you, and keep a record of your results so you can monitor improvement within a season and from year to year.  I am willing to bet you’ll start to see a pretty strong correlation between your test results and your performance on the water.
  • Basic Strength
    o   Push ups – max number (novice)
    o   Chin ups – max number (novice and advanced)
    o   Bench press with body weight – max number (advanced)
  • Maximum Strength
    o   3 rep bench press max (advanced)
  • Strength Endurance
    o   Push ups – max number (advanced)
    o   110 lbs. (or 60% body weight) bench press – max number (advanced)
    o   Body row – max number (advanced)
    o   110 lbs. (or 60% body weight) bench pull – max number (advanced)
  • Relative Strength
    o   Any of above tests using body weight only (novice or advanced)
    o   Parallel bar dips – max number (novice or advanced)
  • Power Endurance
    o   Push ups – max number in 1 minute (novice or advanced – good for testing
        relative strength as well)
    o   Chin ups – max number in 1 minute (novice or advanced – good for testing relative
        strength as well)
    o   Abdominal crunches – max number in 1 minute (novice or advanced – good for testing
        relative strength as well)
    o   110 lbs. (or 60% body weight) bench press – max number in one minute (advanced)
    o   110 lbs. (or 60% body weight) bench pull – max number in one minute (advanced)
    o   135 lbs. bench press – max number in 30 seconds (advanced)
  • Maximum Power
    o   Body weight bench press – time for 15 repetitions (advanced)
    o   Body weight + 25% bench press - time for 15 repetitions (advanced)
  • Aerobic Capacity
    o   1500m run for time (novice and advanced)
    o   300m swim for time (novice and advanced)
    o   5 km run for time (novice and advanced)
  •  Anaerobic Capacity
    o   400m run for time (novice and advanced)

These tests are examples of how you can assess each area of fitness.  If you are an experienced trainer you’ll undoubtedly have some tests of your own that you already use.  Performing these tests will give you some idea of your level of fitness in strength, power and cardiovascular fitness.  Again, if you are a novice trainer with little training background I suggest you only do the tests identified for novices.  The bulk of your training should be devoted to bringing your basic strength and aerobic fitness to a higher level before starting to spend a lot of time training the other elements of fitness I’ve identified.  If you are more advanced you can test in each area and evaluate your progress in each phase of training.  Whether you are novice or more experienced, once you have some baseline data from these tests it is much easier to set realistic yet challenging goals.

Selecting Races

When you are setting your goals and starting to think about your periodized yearlong training plan you should determine the event you’d like to make your main focus.  Your performance at this event represents your main performance goal for the season.  Ideally this race should be towards the end of your season so that it represents the culmination of all the training, both on water and dryland, that you’ve done all year.  For example, for relatively elite level SUP paddlers the Battle of the Paddle is a great event to focus on as it is the biggest, most prestigious event in SUP and occurs towards the end of the summer.  In sprint canoe, the world championships or the Olympics are the ones that paddlers generally focus on.   Whatever race you choose it should be towards the end of your training year so you have the benefit of the entire year of training behind you. 

Does choosing one main race to focus on mean you can’t or shouldn’t do others?  Of course not!  You can chose a few other big races to aim for, but if you want to peak fully for your main race you should know it is easier to peak for one than it is for many.  I strongly suggest choosing one you want to fully peak for and then looking at maybe adding a couple more and seeing if you can do a mini peak for them.  If you are one of those paddlers who like to race every week I suggest a couple of things:

·      Cut back on your racing.  You don’t need to race so often.  In fact it is counterproductive if you cut back on training to rest for races, do a lot of extra travel to get to races, or run yourself down by doing too many long races with insufficient recovery in between.
·      If you must race often because you’ve made commitments to events or sponsors then you should identify races you want to perform at and ones you are going to train through.  You can’t be concerned about your performance in the races you train through.   You need to be comfortable with results that seem subpar and maintain your confidence in what you are doing.   Remember these races are just training exercises.  Because they are in a competitive environment it might be possible to use these races to gauge aspects of your training, but not its overall effectiveness. 

When I structure my year I try to aim at one main race late in the season.  For SUP it’s the BOP.  I try to pick one race in May, June or early July that I can do a mini peak for.  The rest of the races I won’t alter my training for, although for the odd big race (like the Carolina Cup in late April) I’ll cut my training back a little in the week leading up to it.  The other handful of races I do I train through.  I don’t miss a workout and I don’t back off at all to save it for a race.  My results may be compromised at those races a little or a lot, depending on what phase of training I’m in and how tired I am, but it’s worth it in the long run.  This philosophy mirrors exactly what I used to do when I raced C1 and prepared for the Worlds or the Olympics.   When done correctly this process has always yielded a superior performance when it matters most.

In my next post I’ll put everything I’ve discussed so far together in an example of a periodized year plan.  I’ll show you the basic format of a periodized year and how the various elements fit together.  It won’t be a plan that you can just copy and do, as I hope that I’ve made it clear that since we all have different goals, strengths, weaknesses, and fitness and technical needs we should all be on different individualized programs.  But it will give you an idea of how you can take everything into account and develop your own periodized plan.  Stay tuned!