Finding your Training Levels

In Training

by Coach Seychelle

This article will go over all of the factors that we have to determine which Level or Zone we are working in when we train and how to find that Level quickly and effectively during an interval session. This is great for anyone new to interval training or anyone still trying to properly gauge where they are at during a workout. These are the Levels as I define them as a coach and as an athlete. There can be some variation from Coach to Coach. If you are not training with me personally, please review the training zones as defined by your coach for comparison. Even though you can find some variability in the specific criteria, this will still be a helpful and informative article for defining those criteria.

My last article published was on how to read and understand your interval training program. After reading it you should know which level you need to be working in for each session and for how long. Now let’s look at how to find that level.

Your Coach’s notes should include some instructions on how to define your training levels. My Weekly programs for example come with a table that looks like this:

These are most (but not all) of the criteria that we have to look at as paddlers in order to determine what Level we are paddling in.

The most common of these is % of Max Heart Rate. (MHR) Using your % MHR is a great indicator of how hard your body is working, but it is not a be all end all for determining your zone.

Some common downsides of using MHR are

1.) Not everyone trains with a Heart Rate Monitor.

2.) HR Monitors can be erratic. Mine doesn’t work once it gets wet…which is like a lot of the time.

3.) Knowing your true Max Heart Rate is uncommon. The standard formulas for finding MHR is rarely accurate for trained individuals. Most athlete’s true MHR is higher than the standard. The only way to truly know is to do a MHR test.

4.) Heart Rates can fluctuate day to day based on your level of fatigue, stress, sleep, the conditions, etc.

I use % MHR during my workouts as baseline indicator of my training Level, but I then look at several other factors of my paddling.

The second most common and arguably the most important is Perceived Exertion. This goes hand in hand with training Intensity for me. The simplest way to look at this is on a scale of 1-10. (If you read proper coaching books, they will tell you 1-20…but I find that’s far too many numbers to think of while training)

Ask yourself: “On a scale of 1-10 what number am I at right now?”

Anything 1 – 5 is level 1. I call this 50% effort. Easy, relaxed, social paddle pace, or rest and recovery pace.

A 6 – 7 is Level 2. I call this 70% or your maximum effort. Now you’re working, but you are able to go this pace all day long. (if you had to) This is the pace where you can really focus on perfect technique, smooth glides, and deep breathing.

A 7 – 8 is Level 3. I call this 80% effort. Now you are working hard and breathing hard. This is somewhere around or a bit above your sustained 1 hour race pace.

A 9 is Level 4. 90% of your maximum effort. Really hard work. Lots of power on the blade. Increased stroke rate. Not quite an all-out sprint, but this level should leave you gasping for breath at the end.

A 10/10 is Level 5. 100% of your effort. Give it everything you’ve got! A true Level 5 is only sustainable for 30-60 seconds. Sometimes we ask you to do longer L5 intervals. During L5 interval longer than 60seconds, your speed and intensity will naturally drop, but you are still giving it 100% of your effort.

I also include the Strokes Per Minute for those of you using a speed coach. It can be helpful to know your average stroke rates in each zone so that you can gauge your personal consistency in that training zone when your body begins to fatigue. Sometimes the mind and even the heart rate can play tricks on us. I am considering taking that off because this number is very personal based on your level of experience, fitness, conditions, paddle blade and board size. I often get folks worried that they are not averaging the correct stroke rate. That’s not the point here. At least not in the beginning. Find your training Level, then find your average SPM in that level.

Each training Level has a training Objective and a relative speed as well. I include these in my table above so that you see why we practice in each Level and how these zones compare to your racing speed. I will save going over these in more detail for a different post.

It takes some time working through your Training Levels to really get them dialed in. Be patient with yourself. Study them each time before you go out for a paddle. I know there’s a lot to be thinking about while you are out for a training session, but if you are consistent, these levels become second nature. You will be able to get in to your zone without having to think about all different factors and efforts and scales. Consistency is key. It does become easier. And what’s even better is your levels progress with you! Your speed and stroke rate and perceived exertion improve over time as you improve. It’s a wonderful feeling. Trust the process and Keep it up!

I welcome any questions below in the comments or in a private convo. 

Happy Paddling!


Recent Posts

Leave a Comment