Archive for March, 2012

Getting Ready to Paddle – Off Season

Monday, March 12th, 2012

One of the things about living in the upper midwest is that paddling in the winter is not something you can count on. This past winter was different, it enabled paddlers, especially to the south to get out often. But one cannot count on paddling as a way to maintain physical fitness.

Training for me involves three goals.

Goal of strength training is to get stronger for paddling. Weights are a good way to do that. Focusing on core fitness is important for a paddler. Pilates workshops can be found at various gyms or one can use a dvd. Using a balance ball closely resembles what one needs to do in a boat. Have the woman hold a paddle and do various strokes will stress the balance muscles even more. Finally Dubside and Greenland rope exercises are great for the core.

Goals with aerobic fitness is to get heart and lungs in shape. Living where there is snow, getting out for xc-skiing is a great way to exercise the whole body.  In gyms you want to look for machines that involve the upper body. Finally swimming, that is THE best training for paddling, outside of paddling. Guiding, I found swimmers to be far less tired at the end of the day than runners or bikers who don’t use their arms at all.

Flexibility exercises are necessary as strength and aerobic training will leave muscles tight, this will allow the muscles to relax. Though tough to prove, I believe it also helps to prevent injuries. Yoga (specifically a style that emphasizes stretching) and Tai Chi both are common and will help. Anderson’s book on Stretching has really helped me. There is a section on stretches for different sports including kayaking.

Recovery is often what amateur athletes skip, often to their detriment. I do sports massage and have worked with 30-40 Olympians and 20-30 NCAA All Americans in addition to high level athletes such as marathoners, Iron Men/Women, etc. The biggest difference I see is in managing recovery. As you workout you tear down your muscles. Recovery allows your body to repair itself and get stronger. If you continue working out without recovery, your body will eventually fall apart. The first signs of this is fatigue. Not the ‘oh I’m tired’ variety, the falling asleep at work, driving, during dinner etc. Often your appetite will start decreasing too. To recover from this will take 1-2 weeks. If you don’t address fatigue, you will backslide into burn out. This will cost you the season to recover from. Burn out will make you miserable, paddling will be very unappealing. Falling into either stage can set you up for injury as well as poor decision making, something dangerous in conditions.

Recovery is how to allow you body to get stronger.

Rest is important for physically active people and expect your need for rest to increase if you are not currently active. On overnight trips where I am cranking out the miles, I’ll sleep 8-9 hours a night and nap for 20-30 minutes. This is key for me to recover.

Food is fuel. As your muscles rebuild, what you are eating is going to be used. Even if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you will need more protein than what you eat in your regular diet. Protein is what will be used to rebuild muscle.

Sport bars have come a long way. The companies listed are putting a lot of research into what bodies need while exercising. For trips, Clif in particular makes a variety of products that offers a difference not only in flavor but textures as well.

Sports drinks have come a long way since the early days of Gatorade. They not only help to hydrate, they get the sugars and electrolytes you need to keep your muscles happy and cramp free. In addition to this, they help with recovery. Some companies have drinks specifically for post exercise.

As a massage therapist I have worked with many different levels of active people, from weekend warriors to Olympians to someone just starting out. All of them talk about the above benefits. If you haven’t tried it, do. If you have and the above didn’t happen, find another massage therapist. Massage is especially important when ramping up the volume in your training. Once your training volume plateaus, you will need massage less.

Off season training will build/maintain the base level fitness to keep your body ready to go for occasional winter paddles and then to start paddling regularly in the early season.





Getting Ready for Paddling – Early Season Fitness

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Since 2005 or so I have been increasingly structuring my early season paddles to build fitness and skills to accommodate increasingly higher goals during the paddling season. Below is what I currently do in the early season.

These are the areas I think about getting ready for heading into the season.

Make sure to make the first paddles fun. It is a time to enjoy getting back to paddling regularly on the water. Get use to paddling again and sort out the equipment issues you need to.

This is the heart of early season training for me, this is what gets me into shape physically. Jim Tibensky, a kayak racer out of the Chicago area provide some of the back ground and inspiration for this area.

This is what I end up doing the most, getting out and paddling to raise my heart rate. The variable is time with shorter sessions early on that build into longer sessions.

Paddling out of Marquette near Presque Isle gives me a choice of routes. Having a variety of lengths locally allows me to paddle various distances (I plan for 4 miles in an hour) and not cover the same territory. Paddle different routes keeps the paddling interesting.

Intervals, Jim really likes these. They are tough but they do build aerobic capacity. Fun thing is, there are various ways to do them.

You can add variety easily.

You can share the fun when out paddling with friends.

One of the exercises that helps me transition to paddling longer distances. Important to emphasize slow, going fast is not the goal. I find just being in the boat and paddling for a longer amount of time than the usual training session, helps me to transition my fitness to a longer distance. Without this, my pace and other skills to cover a long distance is not working.

These are the courses that work out to covering 25 miles, the distance I eventually aim my long slow distance paddles to cover (I expect to cover 20 miles a day on a trip). Leaving from Marquettes Presque Isle I head up to Little Presque Isle ten cross out to Granite Island and return. Going around Grand Island near Munising and cutting off the bays, allows me to cover 25 miles as well. Having a place that is nearby and different from the daily paddling helps to keep things interesting.

This is how I structure a week of training.

This is how to structure multiple weeks of paddling and schedule time for recovery. This I learned from working with Olympians, NCAA All Americans and high level athletes in my massage practice. Recovery helps your body to repair itself as you tear it down during workout sessions. This is what makes you strong and avoids the pitfalls or fatigue and burnout. Click here to read more about recovery.

Changing up the size of blades and types of paddles helps. Jim liked it because you used different muscles. I like it because my cadence (number of strokes per minute) increases. The Lendal Nordkapp on the bottom is what I use most of the year. The Kinetic Touring is what I carry as a spare. It is smaller and my cadence goes up when paddling with it. The top paddle is a Greenland paddle and to maintain the same speed, ones cadence is roughly doubles compared to the other blades. all this adds up to my cadence going up with the Nordkapp blade just by switching around paddles.

Setting up a schedule, even a perfect one, will rarely go by without having to adjust for the weather. Interval training is great on a day with surf. Going out against the wind then coming back does help to build strength. Whatever you get, work with it as this is what will happen during the regular season as well.

Navigation skills stay current when they are practiced. After a winter of skiing around in the woods, practicing in a boat is needed. These are the areas I work on.

Developing a working knowledge of speed is an important navigation skill. GPS can tell you that and your precise position, but that assumes you have enough batteries to be running it all the time and that the marine environment (ie salt) hasn’t damaged it.

I’ve got two routes that I know the distance traveled. Early in the season I work to be able to meet my time goals 4 miles in 60 minutes and 3 miles in 45 minutes. After a while I put the watch away and start estimating my speed given the winds, waves and perceived effort.

This is what I do when out paddling. I will have established a fix (ie known) position then paddling along an area with few landmarks, I use the equation:
Distance = Speed * Time
I know the time and by estimating my speed, I can establish a deduced (guessed) postion on my chart. This is called ded reckoning.

Using a deck compass, I’ll start making crossings, going from land across a body of water to another piece of land. By using a compass I get (re) use to paddling a course heading. It also gets me use to course planning – plotting a course out, getting the magnetic heading and measuring the distance. This also lets me practice with speed and predicting the time when I will arrive at my destination.

Another run in the Marquette area, I can use buoys which are where the arrowheads are located. Most areas, even inland lakes, have landmarks you can use in this type of exercise.

Not shown is practicing these same compass exercises in conditions. Wind and waves will require you to compensate further testing your boat handling but for this exercise, test your navigation. You hit the jackpot with fog, nothings tests you navigation skills better than fog. Having wind, waves and fog to practice on your home waters, gives you a confidence boost when/if you actually need these when paddling on a trip.

Paddle Strokes

Getting out into the wind and waves in the early season complements the skill base built in the early season. Here is Nancy out in some small surf click here. Braces, sweeps rudders and more get practiced in these conditions. Sometimes the surf is too small, but one can go look for areas where the wave energy is focused that builds up the wave size click here.

Doing this gets one ready for when the waves are at a good size for playing or a bigger size for building skills.

Trip Preparation

Every Memorial Day I head out for a paddling trip. This does several things. Allows me to test out my fitness level; allows me to get familiar again with packing boats and setting up camp. It also allows for testing out any new paddling partners. Later in the season when I actually do head out, the practice in packing, setting up camp, etc is all there giving a level of comfort and familiarity.

This is also a good time to test out any new menu additions. One yer I found out the mac and cheese I was using was not filling at all. Fortunately I didn’t have it on the menu for a 2-3 week long trip.

These exercises helps to rebuild fitness and navigation skills. Building fitness using this structure allows you to efficiently use your time and maximize your paddling time during the summer. Having current navigation skills allows you  to have confidence and accurately navigate on strange waters/coastlines during a trip.

This has worked well for me over the years…



Getting Ready for Paddling

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Summers in the midwest are short. They are even shorter when you live in the north. Paddling fitness is lost and skills such as rescues, paddle strokes and navigation disappear over the course of a winter. What can one do to get ready? Pool sessions are a popular way. Can you get more out of the sessions? Absolutely. Can you do things outside of the pool? Yes. Can you structure early season paddles so you end up closer to where the previous season ended? You bet.

This isn’t easy. It takes time, the good thing it is mostly time in a boat. Since 2004/05, I’ve been building a set of pool exercises, early season fitness exercises and early season skill building exercises so I am ready for paddling early on. Why? Instructor workshops are one reason, one must not only be fit but also have your skills at a high level. Doing trips, one needs to have a fitness base so one can push hard during trips and to avoid the pitfalls that fatigue brings. Instructor workshops start as early as april for me. Trips have started as early as june 1. Mind you some years we still have ice on the lake here till may.

A talk on this topic was presented during Canoecopia 2012 in Madison, WI USA. These blog posts are for folks to use as a reference.

This topic is broken up into off season and early season as listed here:

Off season (winter)

  • Fitness training (click here)
  • Pool Sessions (click here)
    • Rescues
    • Rolling
    • Paddle Strokes
    • Balance
  • Trip Prep
  • Paddling in Winter

Early Season (spring) (click here)

  • First Paddles
  • Paddling Workouts
  • Navigation Exercises
  • Paddle Strokes
  • Trip Prep

My experience is these exercises work, they work well enough that I’ve been able to push my limits earlier in the season than I thought possible. Here are three videos that back that up:

Rock Hopping – early april video of Sam playing in the rocks
Surf Jive – Nancy out in surf in early may
Middle Bay Mayhem – Sam out in early may in some big waves, watch for the ender in the first scene!



Getting Ready for Paddling – Pool Sessions

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Pool session

If there is a second season for paddling in the midwest, it takes place in pools. Some sessions start in the fall others in winter and still others in the spring. Common to all is people rolling. I’ve even seen canoeists there rolling in canoes rigged for whitewater.

Locally in Marquette we get two hour sessions 2-4 times a month. I’ve found these to be very valuable, in fact my skills would not be at the level they are without pool time. Repetition makes a skill second nature, a reaction instead of a thought process. Reacting to a capsize motion with a brace or a capsize with a rescue, will happen faster and have higher chance of success than if you had to think through the process. This happens because practice burns it into you and at pool sessions you have time to practice.

So I was surprised when a blogger commented they were bored at pool sessions. Really? Rarely can I get to everything I want in the pool sessions, even when they were every week. Below breaks down the pool sessions and different goals for different parts.


A big big reason for the sessions. Rescue practice makes sure I am ready to go in the spring by having a backup to the unexpected happening. I cover paddle float and T/Tx rescues primarily as well as Eskimo rescues.


Eskimo Roll
This is what most think of when thinking of heading to a pool click here.

Rolling on both sides
This what most want after the pool season, a roll on both sides click here. This takes practice. Once you have that, push on towards a more advanced roll as you see Nancy doing Angel Wings for the last two.

Multiple rolls
So you got a roll you can do on both sides, stress test it click here. Do repeated rolls, once you come up go into setup and capsize on the other side. This will stress your technique, your boat fit and your fitness. It is getting close to what it is like to have to roll multiple times for real.

Half paddle roll
Take away some of the leverage – click here. Roll with only half of your spare paddle. Got that down? Store the half where you normally do, for me its the front deck, then capsize, pull it out and roll. This is realistic to what one could do if you  lose your own paddle.

Swim Roll
Another stress test click here. Take your paddle, throw to the side. Capsize and swim with your boat to the paddle, grab it, setup and roll. This will stress getting a proper hand placement, proper setup and your fitness as the farther the paddle is away, the more your lungs will be bursting. Closest I’ve found to what it is actually like when you get knocked over in replicating setup and lung capacity.

Re-enter and roll
Re-enter and roll click here. This is what you need to have in advanced surf, rock gardens and places where an assistant rescue/any other rescue takes too long. You end up with a boat full of water but there is a balance exercise to get ready for that. That is also why I have a foot pump.

Hand roll
Hand roll practice click here. Rolling without a paddle is an advanced skill. Practicing it helps to build your hip snap which helps to strengthen your roll. Practice as seen in the video using a small float, a throwing stick, etc helps build this skill and hip snap.

Rolling with a swimmer on the back
And finally, a fun way to stress test your roll click here. Rolling with a swimmer on the back deck will stress test your technique and boat fit. It is also practical in case you capsize when rescuing a swimmer.

Paddle Strokes

I started this in the pool to bring my paddle stroke modeling up to par in preparation for instructor workshops. I’ve found that my early season boat handling in wind, waves and surf improved as well making this rewarding for the recreational paddler to practice as well.

Forward, reverse & stop
The classics for an instructor click here. Reversing a kayak in a straight line is harder than it looks. I’ve seen many a candidate struggle. Being able to stop in a precise and controlled manner is needed for eskimo bow rescues. Try your stop on the pool edge, or a foam floating. Do this a bunch of times and push hard, you will sweat…

Draw Strokes
A stroke made for practice in a pool click here. The goal of a draw stroke is to move straight sideways in situations such as helping during a rescue or rafting up. There are three types demo’d here. Check to see if you are going straight. Test yourself by putting your bow or stern on the edge of the pool, then draw along it. Another test is seeing if the bow and stern move at the same speeds by seeing if the boat stays parallel to the pool walls.

This is critical practice click here. The only way low & high braces are effective are if they are practiced enough to make them a reaction. The pool offers the perfect place. Testing oneself by going farther over helps with technique as does having the boat moving then bracing. Points for getting the boat over 90 degrees. Sculling for support, the stroke that makes you look cool also can help with your roll. Going extreme helped me with debugging my roll as I worked to make it reliable.

Hanging Draw
Another great stroke for the pool click here. Pick a spot on the side of the pool and try to draw yourself to it as you would to get alongside someone or to draw away from someone or thing like a rock. Silly practice is to try it in reverse, good for pushing your boat and blade handling.

Bow rudder
A challenge in the tight spaces of some pools click here. This is a great maneuvering stroke that tests sweeps, edging and paddle placement. Thrown in some floaties to go around or corners in the pool. Also practice reverse, in the videos case using a sweep and edging.

Silly draw strokes
If there was a stroke that can be done many ways click here. Why do em differently? To be silly of course. It also helps with blade and boat control.

Single and hand paddling
Different ways to move the kayak click here. For a canoeist, there isn’t a challenge to have half a paddle, different story for kayakers. Go to moving your boat with hands. Really breaks down what technique works well and what doesn’t.


Initially balance exercises seem silly. Well they are. But they also help you get more familiar with your boat and build your balance skill. Here are a couple of photos of classic balance exercises.

Classic balance exercise, sit on the back deck and paddle around

Upping the challenge, standing in a kayak and twirling a paddle over head.

Crawling out on the deck to kiss the bow is another classic click here. A new spin is to sit in the cockpit and spin around.

Adding something realistic to the balance exercises is to paddle with a swimmer on the back deck click here. Want more challenge, have the swimmer sit up and move around, you will feel tippy!

Combine balance exercises and silly strokes, you end up with this click here.

So is this everything you can do in a pool? No way, there is lots more and the limit is only in your imagination. Take this as a start, there is no way you should get bored in a pool!