Wednesday 16 September 2015

Training for SUP Part 7 – The Specific Preparatory Phase

As you’ll recall from part 4 of the Training for SUP series, the Specific Preparatory Phase is the macrocycle which follows the General Preparatory Phase, with the objective of converting the general fitness built in that phase to specific fitness that is useful on the board in preparation for the competitive season. It is also the phase in which sound technique is developed and consolidated. If you’re a warm weather paddler and have been on the water a couple of times a week all winter, you’ll be building on the technique you’ve been working on and only need to ensure that you maintain sound movement patterns during the high volume of work you’ll be doing on your board in this phase. If you’re a cold climate paddler and have been off the water through the General Preparatory Phase, you’ll want to be fairly deliberate in your execution of technique in this phase to ensure sound movement patterns are established. You will probably want to devote a portion of each paddle to technical drills.

This phase is approximately 12 to 14 weeks in duration and runs from approximately March 1st to the end of May, although it can be lengthened and adjusted to fit within your personal race schedule. You’ll most definitely need to adjust some of the work you do in this phase if you are going to race in the Carolina Cup at the end of April, however I don’t recommend shortening this phase as it serves as the foundation for a long paddling season that can stretch into October.

Remember, as with the description of the last two macrocycles we’ve examined, 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 then 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 specific endurance and technical abilities required to support successful high level competition in the stand up paddling racing season. As such, the vast majority of the work is done on the water with the work on land consisting of strength training designed to maintain strength and power gains made in the General Preparatory Phase as well as cardiovascular work that is more aimed at aiding recovery than maintaining or developing cardiovascular fitness.

All work in this phase should be directed towards achieving the following objectives:
  • Establishing effective technique based on sound movement principles
  • Neuromuscular adaptation that allows for sound technique to be applied at increasing speed/stroke rate throughout the phase
  • Establishment of a comprehensive base of specific aerobic endurance
  • Introduction of training for specific aerobic power
  • Development of specific strength and power through use of resistance
  • Maintenance of max strength and power
  • Continued development of power endurance
  • Maintenance of flexibility developed on land
  • Development of flexibility/range of motion on board
  • Introduction to race distance work and development of tactical and pacing strategies
The first 3-week mesocycle of this phase should be transitional in nature, moving from the dry land focus of the last phase to the on water focus of this phase somewhat carefully. I would suggest gradually increasing the paddling volume over these three weeks in order to avoid injury and to ensure that technique is always good and not compromised by muscles and a nervous system that are fatigued because they are not yet used to high volume paddling. Dry land work should consist of power endurance strength training 2 to 3 times per week and one or two light runs or cycles which elevate heart rate only to a maximum of 50% to 60% of max in order to increase blood flow to the main paddling muscles while they are not acting as the primary movers. This should facilitate the removal of waste products and delivery of nutrients to muscles that are fatigued by the new stimulus of daily paddling.

The paddling in this first mesocycle should be low level aerobic in nature, designed to develop specific aerobic paddling fitness and transfer general aerobic abilities developed in the General Preparatory Phase to on water work. There should also be a great deal of technical work done in this mesocycle. Each training session can have a 20 minute component of technical drills. Once the drills are completed and the actual work commences it will be performed at a low enough level to still allow for a high level of attention to detail on technique. Care should be taken in this paddling to ensure that while technique is a focus, it does not impede natural, flowing movements essential to effective paddling. You don’t want to force movements, you want them to come to you naturally.

At the end of this first 3-week mesocycle I would suggest doing the first testing of the phase. I’d suggest a longer on water test like a 5 km or 3 mile time control and a shorter test like 2 to 3 times 2 km or 1 mile. These of course should be done on different days with adequate recovery, and in neutral conditions. You can read more on this type of testing here.  These tests results will serve as a benchmark to measure progress against through the rest of the phase and the competitive season that follows.

On-water Development of Specific Aerobic Abilities

The main aerobic ability developed in this phase is aerobic endurance with only an introduction to aerobic power training which is designed to maximize one’s aerobic capacity (% of VO2 max which can be sustained for endurance exercise). Aerobic power work is much more intense than that which develops an aerobic base.

If you consider a phase lasting approximately 12 weeks it is practical to divide it into 4 mesocycles of three weeks duration. The first mesocycle, as described above should be introductory in nature and focus solely on lower level aerobic paddling with lots of technical drills to establish strong technique fundamentals. Successive mesocycles can see the introduction of more intense aerobic work or more structured aerobic workouts.

The first table below summarizes on-water training zones in a simplified manner. It defines each training zone by the percentage of VO2 max, percentage of max HR and blood lactate level that you work at in that zone. It also provides guidelines for workout duration within the training zone and offers examples of workouts for each zone. It is important to recognize that these are guidelines for each zone. As we’re all different we’re all going to have slightly different relationships between the indicators of effort (%VO2, HR, and lactate). As such you’ll have to work with the zones a little to determine the best method to define each training level for you. I would suggest HR is likely the easiest indicator of training level to use, and a HR monitor is not an outrageous investment for someone who is relatively serious about training. You should also remember the concept of polarized training when considering the zones in this table (see “Polarize your Training Program” ). Zone 4 represents the type of “in the middle” threshold training you should be careful of and minimize in a polarized program. While it is necessary to train in this zone for SUP you should probably consider doing it in one “block” or mesocycle rather than doing this type of training to excess throughout the entire phase.

It is important to note that there are many methods to define training zones. While the terminology you’ll see used is different and the number of zones may differ depending on how precisely the zones are defined, the concept remains unchanged from method to method. The key is to find a method that you’re comfortable with and stick to it so that there is some level of organization to the approach to aerobic work in your training program.

Using the training zones provided it is possible to structure the training for each mesocycle within the phase. We already know that the objectives of the first phase involve transitioning from dry land to on water training, development of a specific aerobic base and establishment of sound technique fundamentals. Most of the water work in this block should come from zone 1 with some work from zone 2 introduced in weeks two and three. Technical drills should be conducted at the beginning of each paddle and, since the work is mostly low level, you can do entire paddles with a technical focus a couple of times per week if you choose. What should the other mesocycles look like?

The second 3-week mesocycle should build on the first, with continued development of the specific aerobic base and consolidation of sound technique. Technical drills should be continued as required and technique closely monitored. It is important to finish workouts paddling just as well as when you started in order to develop sound movement patterns. Level 3 work should be introduced into the training program in this mesocycle a couple of times per week and should be well spaced out with level 1 and 2 work in between. Recovery paddles can be used after harder level 3 training sessions to facilitate recovery and maximize readiness for the next hard session. Recovery paddles should be shorter in duration and HR and technique should be carefully monitored to ensure that you stay within the training zone and maintain good movement patterns. Common mistakes in recovery sessions are a) going too hard and b) paddling with lazy technique since it is easy to lose focus when you are paddling with minimal effort. It would be appropriate to test towards the end of the last week of the block.

If you’re going to add a block of training at threshold, mesocycle 3 is the time to do it, with one to two workouts from level 4 in week 1, two in week 2 and one in week 3. Objectives in this block involve developing endurance at anaerobic threshold and maintenance and consolidation of technique at progressively higher intensities. Multiple workouts from level 4 should we well spread out through the week and recovery paddles or level 1 workouts can follow level 4 sessions to facilitate recovery. Workouts at threshold should be done as hard as you can go without rapidly accumulating high amounts of blood lactate. In this phase it is important to maintain technique as intensity increases. Technical drills, performed as required, can prevent slippage in technique or development of bad habits due to increased effort or fatigue.

Mesocycle 4 should see a return to a focus on specific aerobic base development with the introduction of aerobic capacity/aerobic power training from zone 5. This training involves high intensity work that maximizes the use of one’s aerobic capacity, and promotes the physiological adaptation that involves increasing the percentage of VO2 max that can be maintained for extended periods of time. This work should be performed at higher than race pace and is of course much shorter in duration. As always, these high intensity sessions should be well spaced out with lower level specific base work in between. By this time it should be possible to do zone 1 or 2 work rather than recovery paddles, however fatigue levels should be carefully monitored and recovery paddles are always useful when warranted. Testing at the end of this mesocycle is a must, and both the longer and shorter distance tests should be performed.

Table 2 summarizes the paddling objectives for each mesocycle within this phase and provides suggestions for weekly totals for on water work. Again, it is important to recognize that these are guidelines. A range of volume has been offered for each week, with the minimum load based on 5 to 6 paddles per week and maximum based on 8 to 10 paddles per week. Whether you choose to train at the lower or higher end of the volume spectrum, it is important to remember that the recommended ratio between lower and higher intensity work in a polarized program is about 8:2, meaning one of every five workouts should be higher intensity. For shorter periods, like one or two weeks within a block it is fine for those paddling at the lower end of the volume spectrum to do two higher intensity workouts in every five sessions. However care should be taken to respect the concept of polarized training as well as periodization and recovery or easy weeks within each mesocycle. You’ll note that the last week in each mesocycle sees both a drop in total volume and in the amount of more intense work. It is essential to follow this pattern in order to get the most out of the training block that follows.

An outline of a fifth mesocycle is included in the table for those that choose to prolong this phase. It should look much like mesocycle 4, with continued aerobic base development and more work aerobic power work.

Strength Training in the Specific Preparatory Phase

The objective of strength training in this phase is to maintain power and power endurance developed in the General Preparatory Phase. For those training at a higher level, strength work should be done 3 times per week. Those training at a lower level should do strength work a minimum of 2 times per week. The simple truth is that SUP paddling requires a high level of strength to do it well, and the strength and power developed in the General Preparatory Phase cannot be maintained if training in the gym is done less than twice per week.

At the end of the General Preparatory Phase there were two 3-week blocks of power and power endurance. I would suggest continuing with this type of training through the Specific Preparatory Phase as outlined in table 3. The focus should be on power endurance, however to maintain a reserve of max power the middle two mesocycles can be a split focus between max power and power endurance. Strength workouts can be slightly shorter than in the General Preparatory Phase; each workout should last approximately forty-five minutes.

Ancillary Training

In addition to technical drills, three other types of training should be added to your program and similarly be incorporated into other workouts.

Flexibility work should be added to the end of each on-water session. This type of training is often ignored and easily forgotten in busy lives. We have a limited amount of time to train and tend to use it all up on the water. Then, when we’re finished, we jump in the car and head off to work or home and carry on with our busy lives. It is especially important when getting back on the water after a period of focus on dry land training that time be made for ten to fifteen minutes of stretching at the end of each paddling session. This will help maintain flexibility and range of motion in your paddling stroke. If these short stretching sessions are missed, you’ll find that you get progressively tighter, especially after long paddles, and this can over time limit range of motion in your paddling, causing regression in technique and an increased risk of injury. It is also very important to do this stretching after level 4 and 5 workouts of higher intensity.

Some additional flexibility should be done during short, dynamic, dry land warm-ups before on water workouts. However the purpose of these brief warms-ups is more to increase blood flow to muscles that will be used in the paddling workout rather than to maintain or develop flexibility.

The other type of training that should be incorporated into your on water work is resistance training (see “Use a Resistor to Improve Technique and Develop Specific Strength” ). This can be built into the on water warm up, your technical drills or you can chose to do part of the workout with a resistor. I would not do more than 20 minutes of resistor work per workout, and would only do it two to three times a week max. As usual this type of work, if done multiple times per week, should be well spaced out.

Lastly, easy running or cycling should be added as needed for recovery. Heart rate should remain low; approximately 50% – 60% of maximum, and work should last for only about 20 minutes. These recovery sessions are extremely useful for aiding clearance of waste products from paddling muscles and supplying nutrients to them, both via increased blood flow. There is enough aerobic work being done on the water to maintain a high level of aerobic fitness, and since paddling volume is so high in this phase there is no need to do more aerobic work on land. In the competitive season, running or other dry land aerobic work should be reintroduced into the training plan at specific times.

Hopefully this information will help give you some idea of how to structure your return to the water if you have been frozen off the water for the winter or you’ve taken a break from high volume paddling for any other reason. It is important to note that, if necessary, this phase can be extended for another 3-week block or mesocycle to stretch it out to 15 weeks.. It really depends on you and what your upcoming competitive season looks like. In this case you can continue with development of your specific aerobic base while doing more aerobic power work

Next, we’ll look at the Competitive Phase and training within the competitive season.