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  • Paddle Monster coach, Larry Cain

Periodize Your Training

If you’re competing seriously in any sport you should be following a training program of some sort. And if that program is going to lead to successful performances, particularly in high-level endurance sports that also involve a lot of power (like SUP, kayak, surfski and outrigger racing), it had better be well planned and properly periodized.

So what is a periodized program? Simply put, it’s a training program that is systematically arranged into cycles of progressively increasing training loads with periodic periods of decreased load to allow for consolidation of gains made, replenishment of energy stores, and recovery of muscles, connective tissue and the central nervous system. In complex sports like paddle sport racing, that require that a wide range of physical and technical abilities be developed to a high level, a periodized program is also arranged into larger cycles of training which focus on one or two fitness components at a time. These are developed to a very high level (the most foundational ones first) before focus is switched to another component or components. This is necessary because some of the components of fitness required to race successfully in paddle sports are difficult to train concurrently. In fact they are often thought of as being somewhat opposite each other, like anaerobic power training and endurance training.

I can’t think of a successful high performance athlete anywhere that trains randomly, with no organization or periodization to his or her training. Periodization is probably the most basic, fundamental, thing to consider when training for anything.

Let’s briefly take a look at how to put together a periodized program for an event like Chattajack.

Setting the periodization for an event like Chattajack

The easiest way to go about setting up a periodized program for any event is to work backwards from its date. Chattajack is on October 28 this year. That means when setting up your program you’re working backwards from that date.

Clearly the more time you have to train for an event like this, the better. You can’t just start to train in August or September and expect to do very well. If you can start in November the year before it’s best, but since registration opens May 1st, let’s set up your periodization from May 1st onward.

Grab your calendar and count out the weeks between May 1 and October 28. I count 26, meaning there’s 26 weeks between Monday, May 1st when you start your training and Saturday, October 28 when you race. That’s plenty of time to train comprehensively.

Take a piece of graph paper or an excel spreadsheet and let each vertical column represent one week. Call the week of Chattajack week 1. That’s the last week of training leading into the event. Call the week of May 1 – 7 week 26, meaning when you start the week you are 26 weeks away from the race. Your task is to divide those 26 weeks up into training blocks or cycles that allow you to work on all the components of fitness and technique you need for the race in the progressive, step-by-step fashion described above. You’re looking to sequentially develop the different components of fitness required for the race with periods of recovery and consolidation separating cycles of progressive increases in training load. Sound confusing? Wait, there’s more…

What type of periodization? Linear or block?

You’re going to have to decide what type of periodization you want to use – traditional “linear” periodization or “block” periodization.

Linear periodization lends itself really well to preparation for one major event in a year, like the Olympic Games or a World Championship. If Chattajack is your Olympics and every other event you do in 2017 is just a stepping-stone to that event, then linear periodization might well be the best option for you. It is certainly easier to divide the 26 weeks into just three large chunks that lead to one big peak at Chattajack. Traditionally linear periodization runs the length of a full year and can be broken into “macrocycles” that might focus on things like “specific base preparation” (on water base work usually done in the fall), “general base preparation” (primarily land-based cardiovascular and strength work), “specific pre-competitive preparation” (on water pre-competitive season work focusing primarily on accumulation of base endurance work) and specific competitive season preparation (focusing primarily on in-season, higher intensity work on the water).

Since you’re starting your Chattajack preparation on May 1st you’ll structure your program a little differently, into training phases or “mesocycles” that look something like this:

  • Accumulation (focus on water work developing an endurance base) starting May 1st

  • Intensification (focus on water work developing higher intensity endurance, lactic tolerance, and speed)

  • Realization or Peaking (focus on refining and sharpening abilities developed in intensification while building energy reserves and allowing muscles, connective tissue and the nervous system to recover to facilitate optimal performance at Chattajack on October 28th.

You’ll need to decide how long to make each phase and how to structure the sequence of individual weeks or “microcycles” of training. Generally the format is to use 3 or 4-week cycles with the following pattern:

3-week cycle

Week 1 – hard

Week 2 - harder

Week 3 – easier (recovery and consolidation)

Week 4 – repeat 3-week cycle, starting with training load slightly higher than week 1

Week 5 – harder than week 4

Week 6 – easier (recovery and consolidation)

4-week cycle

Week 1 – hard

Week 2 – harder

Week 3 - hardest

Week 4 – easier (recovery and consolidation)

Week 5 – repeat 4 week cycle, starting with training load slightly higher than week 1

Week 6 – harder than week 5

Week 7 – harder than week 6

Week 8 – easier (recovery and consolidation)

Finally, you’ll need to figure out how to structure each week. What workouts are you going to do and how to you spread them out through the week so that they have maximal effect?

In contrast, block periodization is called for when you’ve got a few big events in a season that you want to perform optimally at, each spread out by anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks apart. In the SUP racing world at least, where there are big events throughout the year, block periodization might make a lot more sense for most people. In block periodization each event that you’re peaking for dictates where a “block” ends and the next one starts. So for example, if you’re also entering the Sea Paddle in NYC on August 5th, block one might run 15 weeks from May 1st to August 5th, and block two might then run 11 weeks from August 6th to October 28th.

In this case, your Chattajack periodizaton might look something like this:

  • Block 1: Accumulation starting on May 1st

  • Block 1: Intensification

  • Block 1: Realization/Peaking for Sea Paddle on August 5th

  • Block 2: Accumulation starting August 7th

  • Block 2: Intensification

  • Block 2: Realization/Peaking for Chattajack on October 28th

As with the linear model of periodization, you’re going to have to decide how long to make each phase in each block and whether to use 3-week or 4-week cycling, or some combination of both. Lastly, you’ll need to identify individual workouts and where to place them within the week to maximize the impact they have on your development.

There’s definitely a lot to consider when setting your training program. While I’ve given you some idea of the overall structure of a periodized program it’s the day-to-day work in each week or microcycle that makes a difference. Finding workouts that are the appropriate length, difficulty and provide maximal results can be a challenge. You’ve also got to decide how much training you’re capable of doing. We’ve all got other commitments that preclude us from training like professional athletes or kids with nothing else to do. And even if we can find unlimited time to train, what is the optimal load for the level of fitness we have? There’s nothing worse than starting off too aggressively and hitting the wall before you’ve even completed a training cycle.

While taking a stab at designing your own periodized program can be fun and very rewarding, if you don’t have a strong sport or physical fitness background it can be overwhelming and intimidating. There’s a lot to try to figure out, and it’s often hard to commit to the program you’ve developed without second-guessing it as you progress through it. For this reason I strongly advocate working with another individual (preferably one that paddles) as you set your program. Vet ideas through them and ask them if they think your plans are realistic. Better still, find a coach.

There are lots of coaches around that can help you with your plan or set one for you. I recommend staying away from “one-size fits all” programs, and hence have avoided trying to provide one here. Instead look for a coach like those at Paddle Monster that are prepared to work with you to modify existing programs and personalize them to best meet your specific needs, or develop a personalized program for you from scratch. If you’re serious about your Chattajack performance I guarantee you won’t regret it.


2014 womens 12'6 SUP draft train in the gorge

2014 womens 12'6 SUP draft train in the gorge

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