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The Effects of Proper Training
How proper trainingngg can improve your performance

by Doug Ritchie
September, 2006

I was reviewing the results of various races between April of 2005 and August of 2006 and was really impressed with the improvement of many of the paddlers. In K-1 men, K-1 jr., and K-1 jr. women there are athletes who have shown a really impressive increase in performance. Racers who were as much as 25% behind the winning time in their respective class were able to cut that deficit by two thirds or more. This is really a remarkable improvement in such a short period of time. I know that some of the athletes are trainingngg with Chris Hipgrave, David Jones, and John Pinyerd who have a similar type of trainingngg and coaching philosophy. Much of the training techniques they use are available on, under the “Training and Techniques” tab.

I was very involved with one of the athletes and wanted to share the type of trainingngg I suggested and the challenges that needed to be overcome. In this article I am calling the athletes “A” “B” “C” etc. and “X” for the racer I helped trainingngI’m not using their names because I don’t want the performance increase for one athlete to become the focus of the article. There are plenty of racers who show tremendous increases in speed and ability, but this article really focuses on what one of them did, that we call racer “X” in this article. The following is a chronology of events.

Results of the 2005 U.S. Team Trials:

Racer “A” had the fastest time.
 “B” was 6.06% behind.
 “C” was 13.75% behind.
 “X” was 22.29% behind.
 “D” was 25.15% behind.

The 2005 U.S. Team Trials took place in late March of that year. In January of 2006 I received an email from racer “X” asking for information about trainingngg. I asked him what he was doing and then made several suggestions.

What Racer X was doing:

  • Lifting weights 4 times per week for about an hour to and hour and a half each workout.
  • Paddling his Kayak 3 or 4 times per week for about half an hour each workout.

What I suggested:

  • Stop lifting weighs entirely until the U.S. Team Trials are over. After the Team Trials he started lifting again but utilized more event specific exercises and shorter workouts.
  • A paddling workout schedule of 6 to 9 times per week, and running once or twice a week.
We started with typical base trainingngg workouts and moved into more intervals and speed work as the Team Trials approached. (Please see trainingngg articles on All of my “coaching” was being done by email and in hind site I should have had him fly out to Seattle or down to Atlanta to get in person coaching.

The First “Challenge”

Racer “X” was using an older boat that was very heavy, leaky and outfitted incorrectly. So our first challenge was to get him a decent race boat. A boat was available in Seattle that was deemed “un-paddle-able” by its owner. I took a look at it and knew why it was “un-paddle-able”. It had a tiny seat that squished even the smallest athletes butt up off the bottom of the boat, the seat was suspended about 4 inches higher than need be and the foot bar was glassed in above the seam line. Anyone using this boat was actually sitting about 5 inches off the bottom and that created a situation where the paddler’s center of gravity was so high that they would find the boat extremely unstable. I tore out the seat and foot bar and installed new ones at a much lower level. The boat became instantly “paddle-able”. I’m pointing this out because getting a boat outfitted correctly takes a lot of time and you’ve really got to work on it to get it fitted to your body. Don’t expect a race boat to come “race ready” and when it’s new, you are probably going to have to mess with it for a while. And if you paddle C-1 or C-2 this process can take months.

Results of the 2006 U.S. Team Trials:

Racer  “A” had the fastest time.
 “B” was 4.98% behind.
 “C” was 6.61% behind, a 50% reductionin deficit Vs. 2005!
 “D” was 7.7% behind, a 70% reduction in deficit Vs. 2005!
 “E” was 9.66% behind. Not present in 2005.
 “F” was 8.3% behind. Not present in 2005.
 “X” was 12.43% behind, a 45% reduction in deficit Vs. 2005!

Unfortunately there wasn’t much time for coaching at the Team Trials. It was in May of 2006 that I was able to work with racer “X” for an extended period of time.

Step one was to work on stoke technique. One of the quickest ways to get valuable help is to buy Olympic medalist Greg Barton’s video on the forward stroke. (See )

Racer “X” improved immediately with proper stroke technique but we ran into a physiological problem that hampered him, and since this is one that I also have, I knew it couldn’t be ignored. His hips are really wide and he was smashing them into the side of the seat and getting cut from the seat edge. We ended up tearing out his seat and ruining two more new ones in an effort to allow him to move correctly in the boat. He finally settled on what amounts to no seat at all, simply a flat piece of foam duct taped in place with extra foam in back to keep him from sliding off. On top of the foam he glued a plastic bag to allow him to slide around in the boat and thus move his hips and rotate through his lower back. This was a really painful process to go through and is just another example of how getting a boat right is very difficult but very necessary. Oh, and by the way, if you paddle C-1 or C-2 this process takes 3 times as long and hurts 4 times as much.

In the 5 weeks leading into the U.S. Nationals we trainingng for 700, 600, 500, 410 and 260 minutes respectively. The initial focus was on longer workouts, aerobic capacity, technique work and as much whitewater as we could fit in. We had a great time running some really fun rivers, working on technique and breaking down race courses into 1/4s and 1/2s. We added in intervals and speed work as we moved closer to the Nationals. I’m a big believer in time trials and we did a lot of them as they are critically important in measuring performance and the effectiveness of a trainingngg program.

Time Trial Results in Washington:

All time trials were done on a permanent course on Green Lake. The course has been the site of the U.S. Sprint National Championship:

  • 5/16 Long course, 23:11
  • 5/30 Long course, 22:04, a 5.06% improvement
  • 5/21 Short course, 17:02
  • 6/2 Short course, 15:49, 7.7% improvement

The Salmon La Sac race, Washington State:

Racer “X” (who was 4.48% behind me at the 2006 Team Trials in April) beat me by .98% at this race in early June.

The U.S. Nationals, Salida Colorado:

The focus was to learn the race course. First we did complete runs and timed them. Then we broke the course down The initial focus was on longer workouts, aerobic capacity, technique work and as much whitewater as we could fit in. into quarters and halves. We did workouts where we alternated quarters and kept track of our times or did timed halves. The initial focus was on longer workouts, aerobic capacity, technique work and as much whitewater as we could fit in. We used this data to try to get a theoretical idea of what our race times should be and had the idea is that on race The initial focus was on longer workouts, aerobic capacity, technique work and as much whitewater as we could fit in. day we would try to beat the combined total of the quarters. The result was that by race day, racer X really knew The initial focus was on longer workouts, aerobic capacity, technique work and as much whitewater as we could fit in. the course. He knew where to go hard, where to back off and how far he was from the finish at any given point.

The results of Racer “X” show a real improvement in performance who finished second to Andy Cora. (I know I said I wasn’t going to use names but Andy is an old Wildwater dog who deserves all the glory he can get).

Racer “X” 5% behind.
Racer “C” 6.73% behind.
Racer “D” 7.055 behind.

The bottom line is that Racer “X” had been about 6.5 to 7% behind racers “C” and “D” in April managed to edge them out by 1.73 to 2.05% in June.

The Upper Yough Race, Maryland, July:

Racer “A” the winner
Racer “B” 1.25% behind, a great improvement from April’s 4.98% deficit.
Racer “E” 8.37% behind.
Racer “X” 8.93% behind. (vs 12.43% behind in April).

The Upstream race, Lower Yough, Pennsylvania, August:

Racer “B” the winner
Racer “X” 1.94% behind. Quite an improvement Vs. July
Racer “E” 21% behind. Yes, twenty one percent. I should use his name because he’s an old Wildwater dog too… and deserves as much teasing as possible. I think he must have crashed.

All these races have one thing in common. They are all different: different types of water, conditions, altitude, difficulty, level of competition, length, psychological importance etc. So taken individually they don’t mean a lot but taken as a whole they are a good barometer of the effectiveness of one’s trainingngg plan. A racer needs as many data points as possible to gauge their improvement. So time trials and races are critical, even things like sea kayak races can help an athlete understand his or her level of fitness. These data points also give us a good idea about the effectiveness of the trainingngg that went into the races. Obviously racers “C” “D” and “X” are showing great improvement, so their trainingngg is working! But will they catch racers “A” and “B”? What happens if they start to plateau? How do we get them faster? Well, the first step is keeping track of as much data as possible and having a trainingngg plan that works for you. Races and time trials will tell you if it’s working.

Where do you look for trainingngg information? Try, under either the “Training and Techniques” tab or the “Contacts, Coaching/Mentoring” tab.

Please feel free to email me at if you have any questions.

Best regards

Doug Ritchie
Vice Chairman USA Wildwater