Thursday 21 August 2014

Training for SUP Part 6 – The General Preparatory Phase

As you’ll recall from parts 4 and 5 of the Training for SUP series, the second macrocyle in the periodized yearlong training plan is the General Preparatory Phase.  This is a 12 to 16 week phase that runs from approximately December 1st to March 1st, although it can be adjusted to fit within your personal race schedule.  Remember, as with the description of the Specific Base Development Phase in part 5, what follows is a guideline for the type of training you should consider doing and the rationale for doing it.  You need to consider your own goals and objectives, strengths and weaknesses, time available to train and level of experience, and develop your own plan that works for you.   I’ll outline the types of training you should think about doing in each mesocycle of this phase, and then summarize things and give you some suggestions on how to put it all together.

The main focus of this training phase is the maximization of the general (non specific or dry-land) fitness abilities required to support successful high level competition in stand up paddling.  As such the vast majority of the work should be done off the board and on land.  If you have the ability to paddle everyday I honestly believe it is worth staying away from the board to a degree and focusing on this fitness work for at least part of this period.  It allows you to refresh and recharge mentally while addressing crucial components of fitness that too often go ignored.    It also allows you time to address paddling specific injuries you may have incurred during your racing season.  In general I think it is safe to say that it is a long paddling season and without careful planning the potential for burnout is high.  Taking time off the water or periods of reduced paddling volume helps to reduce this risk.

In an ideal world I think paddling a couple of times a week through the entire General Preparatory Phase would be optimal, so if you live in a warm climate you can paddle throughout, but limit yourself to a couple of times/week.  Those paddles should be low level, technical sessions with the objective being to maintain feel for the water and to consolidate changes or adjustments made to technique during the Specific Base Development Phase.  If you are a cold climate paddler you are likely frozen off the water for much of this time anyway.  Don’t lament that.  There’s still lots that you can do that will make you a better racer!

The two main focuses of this phase are the development of strength/power and aerobic endurance.  Since you laid the groundwork for intense training in these areas in the Specific Base Development Phase you should be ready to train at a high level from the beginning of the cycle. 

The objectives of this phase are:

• Development of muscle size (where necessary)
• Development of max strength
• Development of max power
• Development of strength endurance
• Development of power endurance
• Development of general aerobic endurance
• Development of aerobic power
• Increased anaerobic threshold
• Development (where necessary) or maintenance of flexibility
• Consolidation of technique (if possible) 2x/week

The first thing I would do in this cycle is test.  You’ll want to establish your current level of fitness and use the data collected as baselines you can measure your progress against as you proceed though the rest of the phase.  I’ll cover testing thoroughly in a future post, but for now you can look at the section on Assessing Performance in Part 3 of the Training for SUP series to get some idea of the tests you should be considering.  Basically you’ll want information about max strength, power, power endurance, and aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Strength Development
In the Specific Base Development Phase you were doing basic strength weights – typical body-building types of exercises of 15 repetitions performed with good control at a moderate pace.  This serves to prepare muscles and connective tissue for the intense load they’ll face in the General Preparatory Phase, so if you did the training in the previous phase properly you should be ready to train intensively from the beginning of this phase without fear of injury and with maximal benefit.  I’ll describe each type of training and the rationale for it below.   As everybody has different goals, training backgrounds and time available, I’ll refrain from commenting on how many times per week you should be training.  Instead what I’ll do is summarize everything in a chart that provides suggested training loads for novice, intermediate and advanced trainers and you can place yourself at the level that works best for you.

 If you are a strong athlete with considerable background in strength training you may decide to go directly into max strength training.  However if you lack background in strength training or feel that you need to make considerable strength gains I would begin with a three-week cycle of hypertrophy training.  In fact what I usually do is train a hypertrophy cycle while still on the water towards the end of the Specific Base Development Phase.

 The goal of hypertrophy training is to increase muscle size by increasing cross sectional area of individual muscle fibers.  Stand up paddlers should not be huge with large bulky muscles.  Though I believe strength is extremely important for SUP paddlers, we don’t want to be big.  High strength relative to body weight is what we’re after.  We don’t want to be carrying extra weight on our boards and the reality is that large muscles require a lot of oxygen just to maintain them.  When we’re racing in an endurance event we don’t want to be diverting any blood to large, non-essential muscles from the essential ones we require most.  However if we are interested in improving and developing strength it is beneficial for most people to spend a little time doing hypertrophy training.  Increasing muscle fiber size by the small degree that will be accomplished in one or two 3 week cycles will allow you greater capacity to build maximum strength, power and power endurance in later cycles.  Think of this cycle as building a strong foundation upon which you can build a really awesome house.

In this hypertrophy phase I’d continue to do the general body building exercises you were doing in the last phase but I would slow the speed of contraction considerably to 2-3 seconds in the concentric (up) phase and 4-5 seconds in the eccentric (down) phase.  The idea is to maximize the time the muscle is under tension.  The weights you use will be lighter than what you used in the basic strength weights of the last cycle due to the slower speed of contraction and you’ll want to do 10-12 repetitions.  Your technique should be controlled (as you’d expect with the slow speed of contraction) and flawless.  Do 6 to 8 exercises per workout for 3 sets and be sure to touch upon pushing, pulling, core and leg muscles in each session.  These workouts will be long due to the time it takes to complete each set so don’t feel bad if you only complete 6 exercises.

Following this mesocycle of hypertrophy work, you should move into max strength training.  Your max strength training can involve anywhere from as many as 6 repetitions to as few as one.  If you’re older I’d probably stay on the high side and if you’re younger, with a greater capacity to respond to this stimulus and develop strength I wouldn’t hesitate to do sets of as few as 3 reps in your workouts.  I honestly don’t see the need to go lower for a SUP paddler.  At the age of 51, with an extensive training background, I never go below 6 reps except when testing.  Speed of contraction for max strength is moderate speed, but as you are often flirting with failure it isn’t unusual for reps to take 2-3 seconds to complete towards the end of a set.  For max strength I do mostly major pushing (bench press, dumbbell press, incline press, dips) and pulling exercises (bench pull, seated rowing, chin ups, lat pulldown), squats and deadlifts.  To maximize the hormonal response to your training you shouldn’t be lifting for more than 45 minutes to one hour so as few as 6 exercises is okay.  You’ll also want substantial recovery between sets so don’t rush from set to set.  I’d suggest starting a set every 2 to 4 minutes.  I frequently fill time between sets with a set of a core exercise, and sometimes will alternate sets of a pushing and pulling exercise on less rest to fit more work into a given chunk of time.  The important thing is to allow adequate recovery of the muscle groups being used between sets.

As core strength is of great value to SUP paddlers I try to do some type of core circuit once a week through this phase but do not attempt to make it max strength.  Instead I usually do 15 to 30 reps.  I usually do a three-week max strength cycle and would definitely test at the end of the cycle to measure strength gains.  If you don’t have a big training background and your test results don’t show much improvement I’d even consider doing another 3-week cycle.  Eventually you’ll start to see noticeable strength gains.

Once you’ve completed the max strength mesocycle you’ve got most of the foundational strength you need to begin training the real capabilities you need for SUP – max power and power endurance.  Power is defined as work performed against time so now we are concerned about speed of contraction.  This training develops the power needed to work dynamically with your paddle blade against the water, allowing you to accelerate your board through the stroke.  You’ll want to be performing lifts explosively at high velocity which is very demanding on your neuromuscular system, so you’ll need to be taking a lot of rest between sets.  In max power weights you’ll be using heavy weights that you can still move explosively for 8 – 10 reps.  You’ll want to be doing these in a controlled manner so pay attention to your technique, but the objective is to do the reps as fast as you can in the concentric (up) phase.  You should pause very briefly between each rep to minimize the affect of elastic recoil of your muscles and maximize the load on the muscles themselves.  You should also not be reaching failure as that generally involves some very slow reps at the end of the set.  Remember here we are interested in doing fast, explosive contractions.  Whereas in max strength we were trying to recruit the maximum number of available muscle fibers to the lift, in max power we are trying to get those fibers to contract as explosively as possible.  This explosive speed of contraction mirrors the explosive nature of the SUP stroke required to accelerate the board through the water with speed.

Let’s review where we’re at so far.  If you began with hypertrophy you’ve done 3 weeks of hypertrophy, 3 weeks of max strength and 3 weeks of max power.  If you started immediately with max strength then you’ve done 6 weeks of max strength and 3 weeks of max power.    I’d now do another 3-week cycle combining max power with strength endurance.  We’ll eventually want to convert our max power abilities to power endurance, which allows us to work dynamically against the water for the extended period of time a race takes.  Strength endurance is part of the foundation for power endurance.  In strength endurance I usually do my weights circuit style, moving from station to station rather than completing all the sets at one station before moving to the next.  I try to do at least 10 exercises and include pushing, pulling, core and legs for 3 to 5 rounds or complete circuits.  I take little to no rest between exercises, often taking only as long as it takes to move from one station to the next.  Repetitions in strength endurance are performed at a moderate and continuous speed with good form and you should be doing at least 20-30 reps per exercise.  Be sure to spread the training sessions out.  An example for a four-times/week trainer would be to do max power on Monday, strength endurance on Wednesday, max power on Friday and strength endurance again on Saturday.  If you’re only going to do weights 3x/week or less I’d probably simply alternate between max power and strength endurance from workout to workout.
If you’ve structured your program in a similar fashion to what’s outlined here by this point you’ve been training for 12 weeks.  If you aren’t back on the water yet you’ve got 2 to 3 more weeks in this phase to introduce power endurance.  If you’re back on the water you’ll need to be doing your power endurance in the next phase while you are on the water.  It is absolutely essential to address power endurance, as it is the most important strength related ability needed in SUP paddling and if you want to address it while you aren’t yet on the water you can, if necessary, move everything back 3 weeks or more so you are actually starting the strength component of the General Preparatory Phase while you are still on the water in the Specific Base Development Phase.  As I mentioned earlier this is what I do as I start my hypertrophy training towards the end of the Specific Base Development Phase.

Your power endurance cycle should consist of exercises performed explosively for 15 to 20 or more reps.  You need to do these exercises in a controlled yet very dynamic fashion.  Remember to develop power you need to be trying to perform each exercise at maximum velocity in the concentric phase of the lift.  You can do all of the exercises you did throughout some of the other cycles in this phase, but this is a great cycle to introduce some new exercises that are particularly effective at developing power endurance.  Try adding plyometric exercises to your workouts such as frog jumps, skate striding, squat jumps, etc.  Remember in plyometric exercises it isn’t just the explosive acceleration of the jumping which is important, but also the controlled deceleration of smooth, quiet landings.  I make plyometric exercises for my legs a big part of my routines for power endurance.  In this last cycle I do power endurance 2-3 times well spaced out each week.  Since endurance is the focus, rest isn’t as important here as it was in max power so you can cut your rest time down.  I often alternate between push and pull or leg and core sets with minimal rest in between.   One of my favorite workouts is to do 5 sets of 30 reps starting every minute, which is great for power endurance and lactic acid tolerance.  During power endurance workouts choose a weight that is as heavy as you can lift while still maintaining the targeted speed of contraction.

Power and power endurance training should be carried on throughout much of the next two macrocycles – the Specific Preparatory and Competitive phases, with max strength being revisited from time to time to ensure that it doesn’t erode as the volume of work on the water increases.  I’ll talk more about developing and maintaining strength while on the water in Parts 7 and 8 of the Training for SUP series.  For now it is enough to understand that dry-land strength and power training during the paddling season is important for SUP paddlers and that you’ll have to keep addressing it.

In summary, we’ve divided the macrocycle into 5 three-week mesocycles, each with a different strength focus.  Take a look at the chart that summarizes the suggested weekly training for novice, intermediate and advanced racers.

Aerobic Endurance Development
In the Specific Base Development Phase I suggested 30-minute runs 2 to 3 times/week.  This served to prepare the trainer for the increased volume and intensity of running work in the General Preparatory Phase.
In the first 3-week mesocycle I’d begin to increase the volume of the dry-land aerobic training.   I’d suggest upping the volume of work by increasing training time of each workout to 40 minutes, then 45 minutes, then 50 minutes, etc. from week to week.  Your ability to increase your workload will be determined largely by your training background.  For those that like to swim you can substitute swims for some of the runs and if you are an advanced trainer and elite racer you should probably be adding the swims to the runs rather than replacing them.  Although swimming uses upper body and SUP paddling is largely an upper body sport, I would not recommend replacing all of the runs with swims.  When swimming the water is supporting much of your body weight, which is not the case when you are on a SUP board.
Your aerobic training should be periodized as well.  In the first 3 week mesocycle I’d recommend a focus on level 1 endurance base work performed at steady state with heart rate between 140-160 beats/minute for an athlete in their 20s and decreasing by 5 to 10 beats/minute for every decade of age above that.  On a perceived exertion scale of 1-20 you should be training somewhere between 11-15.  In this cycle I’d be aiming at 40 to 50 minutes of work per session.  It could be 40 minutes steady or broken into intervals with short periods of active rest between sets.   An example might be a run workout of 4 x 10 minutes with 1 to 3 minutes of walking or easy jogging between sets.   Swimming workouts, if you choose to do them, should follow the same guidelines.

In the next mesocycle you should still be working on level 1 endurance base but adding volume.  Most SUP races last longer than an hour so you’ll want to increase the work time from mesocycle to mesocycle to more closely resemble the time of your races.  Again, steady state training or long intervals with active rest are in order.  Doing this type of training not only develops the efficiency of your heart and lungs at delivering oxygen to your working muscles but also leads to changes at the level of the individual muscle fibers that improve their ability to use oxygen and produce energy.  As a minimum novice racers should be doing this a couple of times per week, while advanced racers should be doing this type of training 4 to 5 times per week.  This is summarized in the chart summarizing aerobic training for novice, intermediate and advanced racers.  Remember, if you are doing 4 or more workouts/week try to vary your training between steady state and intervals of various lengths.

In this second mesocycle I’d also introduce higher intensity level 2 anaerobic threshold work once each week.  This is performed at a perceived exertion level of 15-17 on a 1-20 scale and a heart rate of 165 to 180 for an athlete in their 20s, decreasing by 5 to 10 beats/minute for each extra decade of age.   Basically this work is performed at the highest level you can perform at without developing lactic acid in your muscles.  You can do this in a steady workout if you wish or with intervals similar to those for level 1 endurance base.  Just be sure to carefully monitor your intensity to ensure you are working in the right range.  Rest between intervals should be active and you should be prepared to adjust your pace to keep within the prescribed training zone.
In the third three-week mesocycle you’ll want to start introducing other aspects of aerobic fitness required for high level performance in stand up paddling.  While continuing with your level 1 endurance base work you’ll want to introduce some aerobic power work.  This work is performed at a significantly higher intensity (17-19 on a 1-20 scale of perceived exertion).  Using heart rate as a guideline it should be max HR minus 10-20 beats/minute.  Think of how hard you’d work for a relatively short 10-minute race and this is the level you should be working at.  I’d do this once per week.  Shorter, more intense intervals with 2-3 minutes of active rest are excellent for developing aerobic power and you can do them on the road by time (for example 6 to 8 times 5 minutes) or on the track (1500m to 3000m intervals).  If you’re looking at doing this in the pool you can determine the nature of your intervals by considering the target time and the speed of your swimming. 

Level 1 endurance base work should still dominate your training and at least a couple of your workouts each week should consist of over one hour of work.  I’d also suggest adding one “recovery” workout each week that is performed at a very low level for a relatively short 20 minutes or so.  You can refer to the summary chart for a breakdown of each type of training.

In the fourth mesocycle you’ll want to increase the intensity of your aerobic power workout to what I’d call max aerobic power and do it once per week while still maintaining a focus on level 1 endurance base.  These max aerobic power workouts should be done in interval format at max HR minus 0-10 beats/minute and a perceived exertion of 19-20.  These intervals are very intense and your rest will need to be longer.  The best place to do this work is on the track and 800m to 1500m distances are excellent.  Record the time it takes for each piece you do and stop or adjust your intensity downward if/when you see a 5-10% decrease in performance.  Be sure to take enough rest, allowing your HR to go below 100 beats/minute before starting another piece.  Rest should be active which on the track means you’re walking around the track at the end of each piece.  Don’t overdo this type of training.  The maximum amount of work in the target range that you’ll need to do in a training session is 9 to 12 minutes.
In the fifth and last mesocycle I would suggest continuing to maintain your focus on level 1 endurance base work while adding one workout per week that focuses on anaerobic fitness.  In this type of training you will be working at maximal heart rate and perceived exertion.  Track or pool intervals of approximately one-minute duration are excellent for this type of work if they are performed at a very high level.  One of my favorite workouts is repeats of 400m on the track.  Record your time for each piece and monitor your ability to maintain your target speed range.  When your speed begins to drop significantly (5-10%), I’d do one more piece and then stop the workout.  Rest between intervals should be active but very low intensity.  This type of work helps you develop your anaerobic capacity and ability to both tolerate and remove lactic acid from your muscles, which is something that is useful in SUP races and allows you to sprint when necessary without paying too high a price which affects the rest of your race.

You’ll notice that most of the work throughout this phase is done on level 1 endurance base training or at high intensity.   There is very little work done at mid range intensity.  Interestingly, in sprint canoe and most other sports of similar duration (with similar energy system profiles) studies have shown that polarized training programs working at base level and high level zones produce better results than those with the majority of the work in the mid range anaerobic threshold zones.  Unless you are training specifically for 200m racing on your SUP you really can’t go wrong with a focus on endurance base for most of your aerobic training.


Putting it all Together

In any training program balance is the key.  When you build your own training program in the General Preparatory Phase be sure to space out your workouts.  Don’t do all your strength workouts on consecutive days and then your cardiovascular workouts.  Alternate strength and cardio and make sure that you are spacing out the most difficult, highest volume workouts or workouts with similar objectives to allow a degree of recovery before the next workout of that type.  Beyond that here are some other things to remember:

 •Remember the basic principles of periodization. Build volume and intensity from week
  to week within each mesocycle and from mesocycle to mesocycle.

 •Remember to cut workload in the last half week of each mesocycle to consolidate gains
  and regenerate in preparation for increased volume and/or load in the next mesocycle.
   •If you’re training 2x/day take one day/week off and a half-day off midweek.

 •Stretch! Flexibility is important, especially when you’re doing high volume and high
  intensity work. You may not need to do separate, dedicated flexibility sessions, but you
  should be doing flexibility at the end of every session and stretching the muscles
  you’ve used before they get cold.

 •Nutrition is important and supplementation may be necessary. I’d recommend some
  type of electrolyte replacement after aerobic work and protein supplementation after
  strength work. Beyond that I’d encourage you to eat a balanced diet of quality food
  from each food group. They don’t put low octane gas in Formula 1 cars. If you want to
  be a high performance machine you should only be putting the best fuel into your body.

 •Accept the fact that the dry-land training you’re doing in this phase may negatively
  impact the paddles you do in this phase. Don’t expect to feel great in an afternoon
  paddle after you ran 90 minutes in the morning or did a hard power endurance workout.
  Remember that what you’re doing on land now will make you faster on the water

 •Watch closely for signs of injury and address them as soon as possible by consulting a
  professional. Don’t expect an injury to go away on it’s own and missing training time is
  not a desirable option. Working with a professional can minimize the impact an injury
  has on your training and maximize the speed at which you recover.

 •Remember that everything I’ve suggested here should be considered a guideline.
  Training programs need to be personalized to your own strengths, weaknesses, needs
  and lifestyle. Hopefully this gives you a good place to start from when developing your
  own program.

 •Test at the end of each mesocycle to monitor your progress. Your test protocol should
  be standard and repeatable so that you are able to as accurately as possible assess
  developments in your fitness.

As always HAVE FUN in your training and stay tuned for a look at the Specific Preparatory and Competitive Phases.