Active Rest

One of the most important things you can do when you’ve finished a training block (and particularly after competing in the most important event of your season) is take a little time away from your board and normal day-to-day training.

In sprint canoe-kayak athletes generally take two to three weeks “off” training after the major event of the season.  However this doesn’t mean they sit idle.  On the contrary, they’re generally extremely active but engaged in activities they don’t normally do throughout the training year.   These activities are sufficiently different enough from day-to-day paddling training that the specific muscles used in paddling get a break.  The energy systems used to fuel paddling muscles still get trained to a degree, but the activities are generally lower in intensity meaning it is primarily the aerobic system gets trained rather than anaerobic systems.

Perhaps more important than anything else, the break away from normal paddling training provides a great psychological break for athletes who have worked hard all season.  By doing non-specific activities they don’t normally get to do the athletes remain enthusiastic about being active but get a break from the monotony and pressure they might feel from on-water training.  This is important, as after a brief period of active rest serious training starts again with new goals to pursue and a renewed commitment to high-level work required to achieve them.  A refreshed mental outlook is just as important as a rested body when starting a new training cycle.

What does this mean for paddlers on a Paddle Monster program?  Well, if you’ve just completed your major event of the year or an entire training cycle a few days easy at the very least should be in order.  In a jam-packed year like the one we’ve just completed a full week of active rest is probably worthwhile.

We’re about to start the Winter Training Cycle on November 7th.  Those in northern climates will be spending most of their time doing land-based training complimented by technical focus paddles once or twice a week.  Those in warmer climates who don’t have any major races until spring should also be focusing more on land-based work, but can paddle a bit more, simply because it is easier to do so.  This allows them the opportunity to do more in terms of technique work while still focusing on important components of fitness that can only be addressed effectively on land. 

Before starting this new cycle it’s important to decompress a little after a long challenging training block or paddling season.  Being physically rested is important.  Muscles have time to rest and nagging injuries heal.  Connective tissue has time to recover.  The central nervous system has time to recover and “recharge”.  This is particularly important to get the most out of technique work you’ll do in the new training cycle and for land-based strength development.  And of course being mentally and psychologically recharged is hugely important – you want to be approaching workouts in your new cycle with enthusiasm, passion and intensity.

Of course some paddlers are not going to be able build active rest into their program at this point.  With everyone on different race schedules, some people will have events in the very near future and feel compelled to continue pushing it on the water in preparation.  My advice to those paddlers would be to cut back a little on the water before these events and build in some other healthy activities that you don’t normally get a chance to enjoy.  Unless your upcoming event is an A-race, I honestly believe you can perform at a very respectable level even with a more relaxed focus in terms of water work in your training.

If you have an A-race in the near future, you need to remain on the water continuing the type of training you’ve been doing.  Active rest is still important, you just need to find another time to do it.

What are the consequences of not taking a brief break from “normal” training with a week or so of active rest?  In the short term there may not be any.  Even if you’re tired, both physically and mentally from a long year, you can pull it together and charge on.  It might even help you in the near term.  However if you’re looking for any type of longevity in this sport I’m convinced these periodic breaks are essential.  I’ve seen too many athletes go stale by training year round, often for consecutive years, without a break.  Often the only way for them to get back on track is to take some forced time off, usually for more than just a week or two.  In my book it’s much better to take short periodic breaks on your own terms than be forced later on to take a longer one because you have to. 

So what does active rest look like?  The idea is to do things you don’t normally do.  If they train your aerobic system it’s fantastic.  If they don’t but have you using your central nervous system to learn new skills that is great too.  Here are some of the activities I’ve done over the years or I’ve encouraged athletes I’ve coached to do:

  • Cycling (road or mountain bike)
  • Hiking
  • Surfing
  • Games (soccer, hockey, squash, tennis, golf, etc)
  • Camping/canoe tripping
  • Swimming
  • Roller skiing/roller blading

Use your imagination.  If it’s active, it’s appropriate.  The only thing I’d offer caution about is activities with a high risk of injury.  If you’ve never done a particular high-risk activity before, you might want to start with some basic lessons before throwing yourself into it with abandon. 

How much should you do?  That’s entirely up to you.  I tend to do more than a lot of people do, and that means I’m generally active doing something every day.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “workout”.  Sometimes I just decide to do something like ride my bike somewhere instead of drive.   Some people chose to do something less frequently, perhaps every other day.  That’s fine too.  If you don’t feel like doing anything on a given day it’s fine.  You just don’t want to be sedentary for an entire week or more.   Basically you want to use this time to relax and recharge, but be active while doing so. 

So take a week.  Take two if you need to.  Relax, refresh, recharge.  Take some time to layout your goals and objectives for the coming season.  Take a look at the race schedule for the coming year and consider which events you’d like to do.  Choose some different, enjoyable activities to do that keep you moving.  And get ready for the next challenges that lay right around the corner!

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