What to Expect in 2018 Training with Coach Larry Cain

Every good coach that’s writing a training program should be periodizing the work so that the various physical capabilities necessary for success in the sport can be developed in proper sequence and to their maximum. 

I wouldn’t go so far to say that if your coach isn’t periodizing your work in some way you should run away, but you should certainly hope there is some type of plan to the work the coach is giving you.  Building foundational aspects of fitness and then developing the fitness that supports high intensity effort on top of that is much more effective than just doing work in a random way with no master plan.  Similarly, progressively increasing the training load with periods of recovery for consolidation of skills and capabilities trained allows athletes to continue to improve throughout an entire season and perform optimally when it matters most. 

Every coach is going to take a different approach to their periodization plan and it should be determined largely by when the athletes they’re coaching want or need to perform at their best.  I can’t speak for other coaches and the approach that they are taking for 2018, but I’m happy to share the approach I’m taking with my Northern Hemisphere Paddle Monster trainers.

General Preparatory Phase

This phase of training began in mid November 2017 after a short period of active rest to allow for recovery from the 2017 competitive season and races at the culminating events like Chattajack and the Pacific Paddle Games. 

Typical of this phase is “accumulation” training in which volume is the focus and the aim is to develop a sound aerobic base.  Most of the work is lower level work – level 2 or 3 – during which adaptations occur at the level of individual muscle fibers that increase aerobic performance, and the general efficiency of the cardiorespiratory oxygen delivery system is improved.

I believe that most of the work in this phase should be in land-based activities to provide a bit of a break from high volume paddling and because it’s often easier to engage large muscles to a greater degree in certain types of land-based work.  The use of larger muscles results in a greater demand for oxygen by skeletal muscles which puts a greater load on oxygen delivery systems, making this type of work very effective aerobic training.  At the same time strength training is introduced with a program designed by strength coach Chris Chapman, with foundational work that prepares paddlers for more intense training to come and then progresses into max strength and then, eventually, power.

Paddling takes a bit of a back seat in this phase, with only two to three workouts per week aimed at developing specific aerobic base, refining elements of technique and keeping a good feel for connection with the water. 

This phase lasts 11 weeks or until January 21 for those preparing for optimal performance at major races in the spring like the Carolina Cup, and for 16 weeks (February 25) for those without access to open water during the winter and who aren’t making early season races like Carolina a priority.

Spring Competitive Phase

For those with consistent access to open water and racing major early season events like the Carolina Cup at the end of April, this phase begins on January 22.  Here is where we start to ramp up work on the water, with anywhere from 4 to 6 paddling sessions per week depending on the level of the program.  This work is supported by 2 to 3 strength sessions per week, again depending on the level of strength program, and 1 to 2 land-based cardio sessions. 

This training phase is divided into two blocks, the first of which focuses on “accumulation”, in which development of specific (paddling) aerobic base is the main objective and is accomplished through high volume training which is for the most part at lower intensity.   Refinements of paddling technique continue through this phase, and are tested and consolidated through the high volume of paddling that’s done.

Through this block there is a gradual introduction of paddling at increased intensity to allow the body to adapt to the more intense work slowly and safely.  At the same time, this slow introduction of intensity allows the nervous system to adapt to higher intensity paddling at a pace that allows effective movement patterns and sound technique developed at lower intensities to be maintained at faster speeds. 

The second block of training in this phase focuses on “intensification”, where development of high-level aerobic and anaerobic capabilities is the objective.  This phase typically sees three extremely intense on-water sessions each week with one to three additional lower intensity sessions aimed at maintaining the specific aerobic base.  These intense on-water sessions focus on anaerobic threshold work, aerobic power, lactate tolerance and alactic/neuromuscular power work.  This is where paddlers develop their sprinting speed and their ability to grind out high-level efforts for extended periods of time. 

Lastly, this phase sees a ten-day to two-week peaking process, in which the training load is gradually reduced allowing for “super-compensation” to occur.  This can be likened to a spring being compressed.  Consider all of the training stimuli presented in the training program as the force exerted that compresses a spring.  This training comes at a cost in terms of fatigue, which is cumulative during each week and, though mitigated by well placed “recovery weeks”, is cumulative through the entire block as well.  However when training load begins to be reduced the body begins to rebound from this fatigue, feeling stronger every day in the process.  Ultimately the response to this greatly reduced training load is a level of strength, energy and nervous system control of muscles which is greater than normal and analogous to the spring as it expands to a length greater than normal when the compressing forces are removed and it is allow to rebound.   

Throughout this block strength work continues two to three times per week working on the power endurance that we need to pull hard and dynamically on our paddles for sustained periods while racing.  This 14-week block should see paddlers optimally prepared for races at the end of April/beginning of May.

Spring Base Phase

This training phase is for those paddlers who did not have open water to paddle on in January and February and who, while they may still be racing at major events at the end of April/beginning of May, aren’t able to do a full 14-week block to prepare for them.

It begins on February 26 and is 9 weeks in length.  It’s basically a condensed version of the Spring Competitive Phase, with a little less time spent in accumulation of specific base and development of high-level fitness developed through intensification of training.  Both the “accumulation” block and the “intensification” block are shortened and, as such only a shorter one-week “peaking” period is required.  While the less work completed in the shorter phase means that when it comes to peaking the “spring may not have been compressed as much”, there will still be some super-compensation as a result of the peaking process and these paddlers should still be able to perform at a considerably high level in early season (late April/early May) races. 

Summer Competitive Phase

After the major spring races at the end of April/beginning of May (like the Carolina Cup and the Key West Classic) we’ll be starting another training phase focused on races in early August like the NY SEA Paddle, OABI and the Gorge.  This training phase is very similar to the Spring Competitive Phase, but as it is the second time through an on-water training phase the work we’ll do will build on what we did in the previous phase and include sessions that are a bit more challenging, while providing some options for more work for those that really feel they can handle it.

This training phase is 14 to 16 weeks in length, depending on which races paddlers are making their priority.  Again, the phase will be divided into blocks focusing on accumulation, intensity, and finally, peaking.  Strength work through this phase is more directed at maintenance to ensure that gains made through the year to date are kept at a high level, allowing you to be strong on your paddle in the August races. 

Fall Competitive Phase

This training phase is shorter than the previous two, running from 8 to 12 weeks and focuses on optimal preparation for fall races like the Pacific Paddle Games and Chattajack.  As these two events are approximately four weeks apart, the programs will become increasingly personalized in this phase depending on which race paddlers are competing in. 

Again, the work will be divided into blocks focusing on accumulation, intensity, and peaking so that paddlers can perform optimally at the race or races of their choice.  Strength work continues to have a maintenance focus.

Personalization of Programming

Obviously the cookie cutter approach for training programs is not ideal as paddlers all have their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses and their own unique race schedules.  This merits a certain degree of personalization to the training program.

The training phases described above represent work aimed at major events on the SUP calendar that most of our paddlers will be doing.  However we recognize that not everyone will do these races and that many will have other priority races that fall at different points on the calendar.  My job as the coach is to work with paddlers to modify the programs provided to best meet their own personal competitive and training needs.  By working with me in the training forum, paddlers can share their unique race schedules and real-life conflicts that might interfere with some of their training.  My job is to personalize whichever of the novice, intermediate or advanced level programs the paddler is on to better meet their needs and goals.  Paddlers have unlimited access to me through the forums to ask questions about the program, or anything else related to training, racing, technique, equipment, etc.  In this way they have access to a coach in the same fashion that I had as an Olympic athlete, it’s just that in this case it is in a virtual or on-line format.

When setting up Paddle Monster I thought long and hard about how best to work with paddlers.  I wanted to provide a high level of quality in my contact with them but at the same time not confine the coaching provided to a very tiny group.  So John Beausang and I came up with the idea of a forum based “training group” where paddlers could access the coaching as if it were a virtual classroom, learning from each other’s questions and the coach’s answers much like students in school.  On top of this, we hoped this collegial training environment would develop into a “training community” in which paddlers could develop new friendships and relationships with other paddlers, enriching their experience in the process.  This is exactly what we’ve seen and we’re stoked and thankful that everyone has embraced this aspect of it.

As far as programs are concerned, my goal was to present programs much as canoe club, Provincial Team, and National Team coaches throughout my paddling career have presented them to me.  In my experience coaches have posted two or three different levels of programs for all of the athletes who are training under them.  The coaches then work with the individual athletes to modify and personalize the programs where necessary to help the athletes be optimally prepared to reach their own personal goals.  This method is not only very successful but is also more efficient, allowing coaches to provide higher quality assistance to more athletes.  I’m really pleased that this method has worked equally well for SUP paddlers with Paddle Monster as it did in my sprint-canoeing career.

2018 is going to be an exciting season!  I’m stoked you’ve chosen to train with me and am looking forward to helping you achieve your goals!

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