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Wildwater: The Basics

by Doug Ritchie

When I decided to write this trainingngg article, I wanted to include as many theories of physiology and athletic trainingngg as I could. I thought that an article filled with complex theories and discussions of arcane technique would somehow get my point across better. The more complicated it was, I thought, the more legitimate it might seem.

Then I remembered that I was a racer once, too. I was young and ambitious and a member of a few U.S. whitewater water teams in the mid 1980ís. And I remembered that what I wanted to know then was what kind of trainingngg I needed to do to win races. Sure, I was interested in enzymes and volume of oxygen uptake and lactic acid response and all those things. But I wasnít a sports physiologist back then and I am not one now. And it occurred to me that todayís racers would be better served if I wrote from the perspective of an ex-U.S. team member, the way I wish someone had written about trainingngg for me, 25 years ago.

So with that in mind, I set out to try to distill my years of wildwater racing experience into something of use for todayís athletes. I fully expect argument and debate over every aspect of the trainingngg program that follows. I have no problem with that, and in fact I welcome it. Feel free to ask me questions or make comments. Iíll take the time to respond, but donít dismiss me out of hand. Yes Iím 45, and old school, and I donít have a degree in sports physiology. But! I was there when Chuck Lyda, Johnny Evans and Kent Ford won the silver medal in C-1 team at the 1979 World Championships in Canada. And I was a member of the U.S. menís kayak team when John Fishburn won the bronze at the World Championships in Garmisch in 1985. I have talked to every U.S. medal winner except Al Button who was bronze medalist in C-1 in 1973. I am friends with Andy Bridge, arguably one of the worldís top five C-1 racers (see Andyís bio on USA Wildwater Hall of Fame). I have raced and trainingng with Andy, who these days lives about a 30 minutes from me. Thereís also Brent Reitz, the famous wildwater-racer-turned-sea-kayak-instructor and producer of a great video on the forward stroke. Reitzy was 3rd in a world cup race in Landik in 1993; heís also one of my best friends. So the information that follows is based on trainingngg programs devised by coaches of the day and experience gained from trainingngg with top athletes of the time, athletes who won medals.

So, here we go. Let's start with some basic rules (that you can break later).

Rule Number One: Wildwater is about making a canoe or kayak go really fast down a river for 15 to 20 minutes. The more you focus on and understand this simple fact, the faster you will be.

Rule Number Two: Wildwater is not about running or cycling or lifting weights or plyometrics or cross country skiing or aerobics or mountain biking or swimming. These things fall under the heading of ďCross-TrainingĒ and will be discussed later. They will help you be a better athlete, but they probably wonít make you a faster wildwater racer.

Rule Number Three: If you donít paddle down a river A LOT, you wonít be as fast as someone who does. You have to trainingngs much as you can on the type of whitewater you will be racing on. The more difficult the race course, the more obvious this becomes. Even on an easy course, a racer with excellent whitewater skills can surpass a fitter athlete with average skills.

Rule Number Four: Donít ďBook EndĒ your trainingngg. Athletes need to focus on developing speed for a 20 minute race. Not an hour and not a minute, but 20 minutes as fast as you can go. Many racers do hours of low speed aerobic base trainingngg and later, a lot of sprint work with very little in the middle. But the race is all about that middle ground, the classic race anyway, the sprint event is short but weíll come to how to trainingngor that.

Rule Number Five: Itís consistent quality trainingngg that matters. It takes a few years to develop the musculature, form, and technique required to generate maximum speed for 20 minutes. Quality trainingngg is required all year long, and its lack cannot be made up for by a lot of quantity over a few months in the late winter and spring.


Wildwater athletes need a strong aerobic base. You cannot gain an aerobic base by cross trainingngg in some other sport. Well, you can but it wonít help you. You must develop an aerobic base of fitness IN YOUR BOAT! It is the hours spent paddling aerobically that gives the well-trainingng athlete the physiology necessary to develop speed.

Aerobic Base Workouts (Often called aerobic capacity)

CAUTION! Simply engaging in continuous paddling, albeit aerobically, can change your stroke. It is difficult to maintain proper stroke technique for long periods of time. Athletes tend to adopt more of a cruising style during long sessions. The workouts listed below are designed to give the athlete something to focus on to help maintain proper form.

#1: Two sets of ten times 1 minute on by 1 minute off

Start with a thorough warm up, 15 to 20 minutes including some accelerations to get your heart rate up. I like to take mine up to the mid 150s a couple of times during the warm up. The idea is that in a 20-minute section, you vary the pace between ďaerobic paddlingĒ and something slightly faster. So the one minute ďonĒ is maybe at 65% of maximum and the one minute ďoffĒ is maybe at 55% of maximum. The ďoffĒ part is not a rest and the ďonĒ part is not a sprint. You are trying to vary the pace. Iím at a heart rate of maybe 135 after my warm-up and for the ďonĒ minute my heart rate goes up to maybe 145. Then back down to 135 or so for the ďoffĒ minute. I do two sessions of this in the same workout, separated by 10 minutes of steady paddling. My heart rate gets higher during the workout. The workout lasts 70 minutes if you do a 20-minute warm-up.

#2: Four 15s (two times 15 minutes on by 15 minutes off)

A 15-minute warm-up (feel free to do 20 minutes) and a 15-minute piece very hard. Then a 15-minute piece easy, maybe at 50% then a 15-minute piece very hard, like race pace. The workout lasts 60 minutes.

#3: 3,500 to 4,500 meter time trial distances

If you donít have a measured course, anything will do, two bridges, a tree and a rock, whatever you can find. Ideally you want two time trial courses, one about17 minutes and one about 27 minutes. If you donít have a stable body of water, you paddle on a river for example, youíll have to make do with doing a timed piece. Warm up for 30 minutes on time trial days.

#4: Fartlek workout

Sounds like a word I made up but itís not. You can Google it if you donít believe me. In fact do Google it and read about it because there are a number of different ways to do it and Iím only going to suggest one. Warm up thoroughly (I canít overstate the importance of a good warm-up). Begin paddling at around 50 to 60%. When you feel like it, begin accelerating. I count strokes, 80 total, every 20 strokes I pick up the pace so that for the last 20 strokes Iím sprinting. Then slow it back down to the 50 to 60% level again. This helps build in some intensity but not so much that it becomes a sprint workout. Every two or three minutes repeat the process.

#5: Aerobic recovery workouts

These workouts are designed to help you build your bodyís aerobic system and, more importantly, to help you recover from strenuous workouts the day before. Generally they last 60 to 75 minutes and the whole workout is done at around 50% effort. How do you know if youíre going easy enough? You should be able to carry on a conversation with the person paddling next to you. I try to keep my heart rate around 130 to 140.

Aerobic Power Workouts

Racers need to develop something called aerobic power. Aerobic power is the ability for trainingng athletes to utilize their level of aerobic fitness in order to push themselves up to their maximum output. Maximum output is often referred to as VO2max, lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold. It relates to the maximum effort your body can produce WITHOUT going anaerobic. Anaerobic usually means the point at which your body is forced to produce energy without sufficient oxygen, a process that produces lactic acid. Lactic acid builds up in the muscles, causing fatigue. Most people who have done some type of athletic trainingngg have experienced ďgoing anaerobic.Ē Go for a paddle and slowly step it up, faster, faster, faster, and youíll reach a point where your muscles start to cramp, you're sucking air, and you totally run out of gas. Thatís going anaerobic. Youíve taken your body out of the aerobic phase and ďover the topĒ to the point where your muscles are overloaded with lactic acid. Boost into your anaerobic zone during a race and you can fly! For about two minutes. Then itís sayonara baby, youíre going to have to slow down. So aerobic power workouts are designed to help athletes find their level of maximum output. These workouts are often shorter, and are done at a higher intensity than aerobic base workouts. They tend to leave the athlete feeling depleted or thrashed and are often followed by a recovery workout the next day.

#1: Two sets of 3 times 5 minutes on with 1 minute rest

Thoroughly warm up for 20 minutes, then do three 5-minute pieces with a 1-minute rest between each one. Paddle easy for 10 minutes and do three 5-minute pieces with 1 minute off again. You need to do the 5-minute piece really hard, faster than race pace. You should be thrashed when this is over.

#2: Four 12s

Warm-up for at least 12 minutes, then do a 12- minute piece at maximum. Paddle easily for 12 minutes then do another 12-minute piece at maximum. This workout has only 24 minutes of ďonĒ time but if you do it hard you will be flagging at the end.

#3: 3,500 to 4,500 meter time trials, for time

This is the distance we typically race in Wildwater Classic. Warm up thoroughly and race the distance and keep track of your time. You should be toasted when itís over.

#4: Medium-length intervals with 1/4 to 1/3 rest

These workouts consist of 5- to-12 minute intervals with rest periods that are 1/4 to 1/3 of the ďonĒ time. For example; three times 9 x 3. Means that you do three 9-minute pieces with three minutes rest between each one. There are lots of examples using 5-, 7-, 8-minute pieces. Feel free to mix them up but go for a lot of intensity and speed when you do them.

#5: Intense fartlek workouts

If you Google the word ďfartlekĒ youíll find a number of explanations. An intense workout involves paddling aerobically and then increasing your speed over a minute or two until you reach maximum effort, then slowing down in a controlled fashion. You donít just stop paddling or paddle so slowly that youíre barely moving. Itís hard to do these but it really helps you learn about your own lactate tolerance level.

Specialized Aerobic Power Workouts: Street Fighter and Accelerator

These workouts require the use of a heart rate monitor and you must have a good idea of your own VO2max. They are very hard to do and will leave you whipped if done correctly.

#1: Street Fighter

This workout got its name from a cool video game. In order to do it you MUST have a heart rate monitor and you MUST have some idea of your own personal VO2max target. Heart rate isnít the only indicator of VO2max but unless you want to paddle around with a blood monitor hooked up to you, heart rate is the only thing we have to go by. Letís say you think the heart rate that you want to use as a maximum is 170. Hereís what you do. Warm up thoroughly, you're gonna need it. Take off paddling at race pace; you have 3 minutes to get your heart rate to 170. Hold at 170 for 1 minute. In a controlled fashion, slow down a little so that over about 60 seconds your heart rate drops to 95% of your maximum target, or about 162. When it hits 162 itís go time baby! You have 60 seconds to get back to 170. When you get to 170 hold there for 3 minutes and repeat the process. A 30-minute Street Fighter workout (not including warm-up) involves five or six ďattacksĒ where you are driving up to where you think your VO2max is and then holding there. You are trainingngg your body to deal with the stress imposed by racing. You get up to race pace (VO2max) and then back of for a bit (whitewater) then back up to max again.

If you can set a higher heart rate, do. If you canít then set a lower one, but the heart rate target you use should reflect what YOUR heart rate does during a race or time trial.

#2: Accelerator

Accelerator got its name because I needed a cool name to go with Street Fighter and you do a lot of accelerating in the workout. Letís use the same heart rate target of 170 again. Warm up thoroughly; if you donít youíll barf. Take off like this is a race or time trial. You have 3 minutes to get to 95% of VO2max or to a heart rate of 162. Hold at 162 for 60 seconds. At that point accelerate hard, you have 60 seconds to get to 103% of VO2max, or a heart rate of about 175. When you hit 175 slow down in as controlled a fashion as possible, easier said than done, take a minute or so to get back down to 162 and hold there for 3 minutes. Repeat the process. A 30-minute Accelerator will thrash you.

Both the above workouts have a degree of subjectivity, you have to come up with a target heart rate to use. But if you can find a target somewhere close to your actual anaerobic threshold, these workouts will help you trainingngo race at that level. You will find that your target rate changes depending on levels of fitness and fatigue. If you did this once when you were really rested and used 175 as the target you may only be able to get to 165 when youíre not as rested.

Also donít be surprised if the first couple of times you kind of fall apart when doing them. Itís really easy to go just a little too hard and go anaerobic, then you're fighting lactic acid and will probably have to slow down and regroup for a few minutes. But thatís actually the point, as a racer you have to find out just how hard you can go and then trainingngt that level in order to push it higher.

Anaerobic Power Workouts

This is where real boat speed comes from. Racers interested in developing maximum speed have to, at some point, start sacrificing some of their overall aerobic fitness for the sake of sheer power. This is done by utilizing what are often referred to as speed workouts or sprint workouts. The whole point of these workouts is to take the body beyond the aerobic phase and into the anaerobic phase, repeatedly. These workouts build the most sport-specific musculature you can attain because you are, after all, doing them in your boat. They are done at the highest intensity possible and they hurt. Recovery workouts and days off are needed to gain maximum benefit from speed workouts, the body must be allowed to recover in order to adapt to the stress imposed.

#1: Short sprints

ďShortĒ means 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Usually these sprints are done in some kind of set or group with the rest period between each sprint being Ĺ or equal to the length of the sprint. There is usually a longer rest of say 2 to 3 minutes between each set. The sprints are done at maximum effort. An example of a sprint workout would be; 6 times 30 seconds with 30 seconds of rest, followed by 3 minutes of easy paddling. Then six times 60 seconds with 60 seconds of rest followed by 3 minutes of easy paddling. Then three times 2 minutes with 60 seconds of rest, followed by 3 minutes of easy paddling. Then six 60s again, then six 30s again. It would read like this; 6 (30 x 30) x 3, 6 (60x60) x 3, 3 (2 x 1) x 3, 6 (60 x 60) x 3, 6 (30 x 30). You could also drop the ďx 3Ē because the rest between sets is assumed. How ever you write it, the object is to go like a bat out of hell. Go hard! If you blow up and have to slow down on some that means youíre doing the right thing. If you make it through the workout without frothing at the mouth and sucking air and building up lactic acid, you are wasting your time. The above workout contains 24 minutes of sprint ďonĒ time; thatís plenty. Feel free to make up workouts with various sets. Thereís no magic to it.

#2: Pyramids

You can do pyramids with any length piece you want but weíll look at workouts that are built around 2- and 3-minute pieces. An example would be 2 minutes on with a 1-minute rest, followed by 3 minutes on with a1-minute rest, then 2 minutes again. You might do that group three or four times with 3 minutes between each set, so the workout would read; 3 x (2,3,2 x 1) x 3. This workout contains 21 minutes of sprint ďonĒ time, 28 minutes if you do four sets. 2- and 3- minute sprints tend to be on the very outside edge of what most people can do anaerobically; anyone can learn to hang on for a minute, but dealing with all that lactic acid for 3 minutes is brutal. If you donít feel like itís brutal, then you arenít going hard enough. When sprints are done correctly, at maximum effort, it doesnít matter who you are or how fit, they hurt. They hurt by definition because they are done at such a high output of anaerobic power.

#3: 500 meter or 1,000 meter repeats.

Earlier we looked at an aerobic power workout where we did three 5-minute pieces with a 1-minute break between them and then easy paddling for 10 minutes then another set of three 5s. When we are in the anaerobic power phase we want to increase the rest period between the 5-minute pieces to allow us to recover more and paddle harder. So if you have a measured course and can do 500-meter and 1,000-meter sprints, you would want to rest 2 minutes between each 500 and maybe 3 minutes between each 1,000. The idea here is to get maximum effort and speed. If you donít have a measured course (join the club, most people donít) then do something like 3-minute and 6-minute pieces with 2 or 3 minutes of rest. 5 x 1,000 x 3, means five 1,000-meter sprints with 3 minutes of rest between each one, done in one big set. You can do 500s at the same time or separately. 2 x (5 x 500 x 2) x 10. Two sets of five 500s, with 2 minutes of rest and 10 minutes between sets. Again, go really hard or they are pointless. Well, not pointless, theyíll help you aerobically but youíll lack the top end speed necessary to win races.

Specialized Anaerobic power workouts


Okay this is such a no-brainer I canít believe that more people havenít figured it out. Take something big, like a Clorox bottle that is full of water and tie it to the back of your boat. Then do 1-minute sprints as hard as you can. Do six to ten of them with 3 minutes of rest between each one.

You sometimes hear about people tying ropes around their boats to get some resistance but Iíve never thought that was enough. Tie something big back there, something that will make you really struggle and put out some serious muscle-blasting energy to move it. Earlier I mentioned a way to trainingngor the Wildwater sprint event, well, this is it.

CAUTION. Ironically, we donít tow during the sprint phase, do it during the aerobic base phase and the aerobic power phase. Towing tends to be very strenuous and can slow you down a bit. It also changes your stroke slightly and you donít want that to happen as you get close to races.

WARNING. The thing your are towing could snag on something and you could drown because of that. ďDrownĒ means that you would be dead. Make sure you have a release of some type that you can reach from the cockpit.

Strength trainingngg:

ďImagine how fast Iíll be if I get really strong lifting weights and then use all that muscle for paddling!Ē Thatís my favorite line of all time, and sadly, to the unknowing it makes sense. Iíve heard it dozens of times over the years and in fact when I started racing wildwater seriously in 1980 thatís exactly what I thought. I spent 90 minutes lifting weights three to four times per week. So what was I trying to do? I was trying to do the impossible. I was trying to make my body develop tremendous anaerobic power from lifting weights AND be an aerobic animal from paddling, at the same time. What happened? I didnít excel at either weight lifting or paddling. Sure, I got a little better at both but not good at either. So after a couple of years of getting my butt kicked by people who didnít lift weights at all and talking to some excellent racers who did lift, I began to understand how and why strength trainingngg might help. The first thing you need is the right mind set; ďImagine how fast Iíll be if I get really fast in my boat and then slowly, judiciously, carefully strengthen muscle groups that are involved in the forward stroke.Ē Now thatís better; first you do the thing that you actually want and need to do, and if you can you give yourself a little boost by strengthening muscle groups involved in paddling great. Problem: try finding exercises (other than towing) that use your muscles the same way as paddling; itís almost impossible. Listed below are some exercises that might help strengthen muscles used in paddling.

Sit ups
Yes, ug, no one wants to do them, but you use your abs a lot in paddling.

Straight leg dead lift or back extensions
Wonít that hurt my lower back?! Noooo, not doing something to strengthen your lower back is what causes it to get injured. Start slowly under the supervision of someone who knows what they are doing. A strong lower back will help a lot.

Now you think Iím crazy for sure! But Iím not. You get more power from all the muscles in and around your waist and lower back and gluteus maximus than from your shoulders and arms. But shoulders and arms are what paddlers tend to focus on. Do some squats, but not too many; great big legs ainít gonna help none either.

Power clean
Do the first half of the Olympic-style clean and jerk and then put the bar back down. What muscles do you use? Glutes, lower back, lats and shoulders. What muscles do you paddle with? Glutes, lower back, lats and shoulders. Do some if you have a big Olympic bar.

1-arm bent over rowing
Stand on something so your feet are about ten inches off the ground. Bend forward so your upper body is parallel to the ground. Reach out with one hand and support yourself on a bench or chair or something stable. Reach down to a dumbbell with the other hand; you should have to twist at the waist to reach the weight. In one motion, untwist at the waist and use your arm to pull the dumbbell up and out to the side slightly like you were taking a strokeÖOh the heck with this nonsense, go tie a Clorox bottle to the back of your boat and do sprints.

Pushups might help, maybe, I suppose, canít hurt too much I guess. Okay thatís pretty clear, do two sets of pushups a couple of times a week.

Listed below are exercises people love to do that donít have much to do with paddling;

  • Bench press
  • Chin ups
  • Military or shoulder press
  • Bicep curls
  • Triceps extensions
  • Pull downs (lat pulls)

The first group of exercises strengthens your core, your abdominals, gluteus maximus and others. The notable exception is pushups, which donít work core muscles but might help because in a canoe or kayak you should be trying to get some leverage on the shaft with your top hand.

The second group strengthens other muscles and if you think about it, the forward stroke does not resemble, in any way, a chin up or a bicep curl or lat pull downs. And letís be realistic, if you are paddling correctly your arms are along for the ride. They donít do much compared to the core muscles- that really generate the torque necessary to go fast. Biceps? Most racers donít even bend their arms to 90 degrees. Pump Ďem up if you want, but they wonít help you go fast.

There is a really great article written by Chris Hipgrave on the USA Wildwater site. Chris is a U.S. team member in menís kayak, past U.S. National Champion, and a certified International Sports Science Association Fitness instructor. Go to and look under the Training and Technique tab in the middle of the home page.

Sample Training Program

Base phase sample trainingngg program using the workouts mentioned above. 6 workouts per week in your boat. Total trainingngg (including some cross training) 460 to 500 minutes per week. Do the base trainingngg phase for about 6 weeks then move on to the next phase.

A note about cross trainingngg: Earlier I made a big deal about what wildwater was and I made a negative comment about cross trainingngg. I did that so people would understand that you have to become a fit wildwater racer in order to be good at wildwater racing. But there are a couple of reasons you want to add some other athletic trainingngg into your overall program. One, you need to be fit at something else, running for example, so you have something to do to maintain your athleticism when you canít paddle. And two, itís true that some other exercises might help you a little. The problem many people have is they get into a gym environment and the next thing you know they are doing all kinds of resistance exercises and heavy weight trainingngg with multiple sets of increasing loads with declining reps. Man! They look great! But they almost never go fast. Those are not the kinds of muscles you want! You want muscle developed from hours spent in your boat, muscles that are so deep in your bodyís core that you may never see them. So yes, strength trainingngg may help you but take it easy and be careful how much you do. And donít tell me about the guy who is on the Chinese flat-water team who can bench press 350 pounds and won the menís 10,000 meters at the last world championships, I know that guy and heís a freak of nature.

Monday: Aerobic recovery workout. 60 to 75 minutes paddling at about 50% of maximum. You should be able to feel fairly relaxed at this pace.

Tuesday: Four 15s. 15-minute warm up (or more), 15 minutes hard (race pace), 15 minutes easy (10 minutes easy if you want), and 15 minutes hard. Workout lasts 55 to 65 minutes. Go hard or it wonít work.

Wednesday: Fartlek, 20-minute warm up followed by 10- to 20-minute sections of fartlek work with 5-minute breaks between the sections. Workout lasts 60 to 70 minutes. You should be paddling at around 60% and then maybe up to 70% during the fartlek piece. Not too hard yet.

Thursday: OFF.

Friday: two times, 20 minutes of 1 minute on 1 minute off. This is similar to a fartlek workout but the ďon and offĒ time vary only slightly. You are trying to add a little intensity and give yourself something to focus on.

Saturday: Time Trial distances. Warm up for 20 to 30 minutes and do at least one time trial distance. Two would be better; do them at around 80 to 85%. Write down your times but donít worry about the time. You are trainingngg the distance, not racing it yet. If you donít have a time trial set up then do a warm up and one 20-minute piece or two 15-minute pieces. Workout lasts about an hour, more if you do two pieces. If youíre on the river, even better!

Saturday P.M.: Towing. Thorough warm-up and five to ten times 1 minute towing with 3 minutes of rest between each ďonĒ piece, more rest if you want. This is about building muscle. Total workout lasts an hour or so, but a lot of the time you are sitting doing nothing. Rest here means not paddling at all or very easy. Towing is mostly anaerobic, ironically, you should do it during the aerobic trainingngg phase and aerobic power phase and stop doing it during the anaerobic power phase. The reason? It slows you down. Yes, it builds paddling muscle better than any other exercise but it slows you down and later, when youíre really going for speed you want to take that muscle and shape it into a very fast machine.

Sunday: Off, unless you can get on the river, in which case do so and take some other day off.

Add to this a couple of running workouts of 30 to 40 minutes and a couple of strength sessions of 20 to 30 minutes and your total for the week (including the cross trainingngg) is around 460 to 500 minutes. During the aerobic base phase you can sacrifice a little intensity to add more volume. If you want to add in a little more, thatís fine; lengthen the workouts or do a workout on Sunday, for example. Also, if you are out doing river runs on the weekends then donít take Sunday off and move the time trials around to fit your schedule or do the distance on whitewater.

Do this for six weeks then move to the next phase. By the way, six weeks is not long enough to build an aerobic base. But donít worry; this program is based on the concept of periodisation. Weíll be back doing these workouts again in a few weeks and that way you wonít get bored doing the same thing for six months.

Next phaseÖ

Aerobic Power; Flirting with Disaster.

Aerobic power phase: We change the workouts to help you find your VO2max. The idea is to get the intensity up to the point where you find out just how hard you can go without going anaerobic. You do that by really pushing yourself and then realizing ďÖooops, Mongo tired cannot go so fast for 8 minutesĒ and then your workout falls apart but thatís okay. Recover for a couple of minutes and go again.

It really helps if you have a heart rate monitor.

Monday: Aerobic recovery workout.
60 to 75 minutes not too hard

Tuesday: Lactate tolerance workout, Street Fighter or Accelerator
If you donít want to do one of those, you need to do some very intense pieces, like two 15-minute pieces.

Wednesday: A.M. two sets of three times 5 minutes on with 1 minute off
Again, you're looking to push up to the top of your aerobic zone. Intensity with not much rest.

Wednesday: P.M. Towing
If youíve never done this, take it slow, but you can really add some serious speed by trainingngg this way.

Thursday: OFF

Friday: Four 12s
A short but tough workout. The two 12-minute ďonĒ pieces should be done very hard.

Saturday: A.M. Time Trial
If you donít have a time trial, itís back to some other length piece or you can use Accelerator here.

Saturday: P.M. Fartlek
Should last about 60 minutes and not be too intense.

Sunday: A.M. Off

Sunday: P.M. Sprint Workout
30-second to 120-second sprints, totaling around 24 minutes of ďonĒ time

Okay hereís what weíre doing. Monday is easy so you can recover from the weekend. Tuesday is hard, Wednesday is really hard, therefore you get Thursday off. Friday is not too hard but Saturday is really hard so you get Sunday morning off but Sunday afternoon is hard.

The concept behind these workouts is that you are going to drive yourself to the very top of the aerobic zone, VO2max. The lactate tolerance workouts (Accelerator, for example) should take you into the anaerobic zone and make you deal with lactic acid building up. If you are not thrashed after a lactate tolerance workout you didnít do it right. Go harder next time. The sprint workout must take you into the anaerobic zone. Sprint workouts are hard and nasty. You should really feel it after the sprint workout.

During this phase you are in the boat eight times per week. Thatís around 480 minutes if the workouts average an hour each. If you add a couple of foot runs and a couple of strength trainingngg sessions youíre at about 600 minutes. If you want or need to cut back take out the Wednesday P.M. towing workout and the Saturday P.M. fartlek workout. If you feel like adding more, you really need to assess whether itís better to add more volume or to go harder. 600 minutes total trainingngg is a lot.

Absolutely move things around to accommodate time on the river. If you can get on the river, try to do a lot of sections (1/4s and 1/2s ) for time to increase the intensity.

When youíve done a workout, if you feel like you want to go to the gym and do a full weight lifting routine you are not paddling anywhere near hard enough. You should get off the water and think ďIím not sure Iím gonna be able to recover in time for the next workout,Ē not ďletís go lift weights for an hour, fun!Ē

Do this for about 4 weeks then move on to the next phase.

Next PhaseÖ

Anaerobic Power Phase

We change the type of workouts again and focus more on speed than anything else. We sacrifice some of the aerobic conditioning we were working on in the first phase in order to get as fast as possible. These are the kind of workouts you want to be doing in the weeks leading into a big race. The success you have here is dependent upon how well you trainingng in phase one and two. During this speed phase you will get faster but if you didnít lay down a strong base you wonít be able to hold your speed for an entire race.

Monday: Aerobic recovery
60 to 75 minutes of paddling at 50 to 60%

Tuesday: Lactate tolerance
A workout that takes you up to the danger zone of anaerobic threshold, Street Fighter, Accelerator, or 2 x (3 x 5 x 1) x 10

Wednesday: A.M. Speed workout
Sets of 30-second to 120-second sprints, totaling roughly 24 minutes of ďonĒ time.

Wednesday: P.M. 4. 12s
Two 12-minute pieces done at very high intensity, separated by a 12-minute break

Thursday: OFF

Friday: Pyramid 2,3,2 x 1, three to four sets.
Another sprint workout, but this one with slightly longer pieces. You could do 500 meter sprints instead.

Saturday: A.M. Time Trial
If you donít have a measured course, do a race-length piece

Saturday: P.M. 2 x (3 x 5 x3) x 10
Intense intervals with a longer rest time than before. You could also do 8- or 9-minute pieces. 3 x 9 with 3 minutes rest for example.

Sunday: A.M. OFF

Sunday: P.M. Speed workout
Back to a speed workout with short sprints again. 30 seconds to 120 seconds with rest of at least half the on time to as much as equal the on time.

Once again, Monday is easy because youíll need to recover from the weekend. Tuesday is tough because itís a lactate tolerance workout like Street Fighter or something equally hard. Wednesday is very hard because itís a full-on speed workout in the morning and then two 12-minute pieces in the afternoon. Thursday is off. Friday is hard because itís 2- to 3-minute sprints done in groups. Saturday morning is a time trial (lactate tolerance again); the afternoon is a hard set of five minute pieces or 1,000 meter repeats. Sunday morning you get off but Sunday afternoon you really have to go hard for another speed workout.

This is eight workouts per week in the boat. At an hour each, thatís 480 minutes total in the boat plus whatever else you do, maybe 600 minutes total. Again, this should be really hard, if you want to add more be careful not to sacrifice intensity for volume. If this is too much, start by cutting out the Wednesday P.M. workout, then the Saturday P.M. workout.

Do the speed phase for about 4 weeks, but itís a good idea to give yourself a break by doing the full workout for a week then cutting out about ? of the workouts and having and easy week, then a week or two of full schedule.

After about 4 weeks of this, if there are no big races coming up, go back to the base phase and start over.

Notes on Monsters

Yes they are out there! Big, scary monsters who actually do trainingngwice a day, six or seven days a week, and run and lift weights. They paddle for an hour to an hour and a half in the morning and the same amount in the evening. Thatís 2 to 3 hours a day, averaging something like 20 hours a week in the boat! They lift weights and run and do all kinds of physical testing. Who are they? They are state-sponsored athletes, with professional coaches. The former Eastern Block countries of Europe have a reputation for having their athletes spend incredible amounts of time trainingngg. Why do they do it? They think it makes them faster. The Croatians are really fast right now and they have a reputation for piling on huge numbers of hours, but they arenít really blowing everyone else away. The French and Italians and Germans and Brits donít have the same reputation, but they win medals too.

Another reason the monsters may trainingngo much is they have to justify their existence. If you are a professional athlete, the people paying you expect you to be doing something all the time! So coaches tend to design trainingngg plans that include high numbers of hours at relatively low intensity. Trust me, Iíve trainingng with some of the toughest hammer-heads who ever paddled, and you canít blast away on yourself for 1,200 minutes a week. Youíll never recover. Thereís something else to think about too; their reputation precedes them. If they show up at a race and win, and everyone thinks they trainingngo days on end with no rest, itís very intimidating to the other racers. And thereís one last thing, Sometimes the coaches donít really know what the athletes are doing. Let me share a little story.

I was talking once to a member of the Hungarian flat-water team. He spoke English well enough for us to get by and we got to talking about long workouts and how they fit into trainingngg for the flat-water sprint events. He talked about how in the fall, his coaches would have the team put on great heavy wool sweaters and go out for these long paddles. I mean long, like 3 hours or more. The theory was that the body would respond to this type of stress by producing certain enzymes that it didnít normally make, and that those enzymes would ultimately help the athleteís performance. Well, weíll never know if it worked because the paddlers thought the whole thing was idiotic and never actually did the super-long workouts. Yes, they wore the sweaters and set out on their journey, but when they had paddled about 20 minutes and were out of sight, they all pulled over, got out of their boats and sat around on a dock for 2 hours or so before paddling back. When it came time to race they did well, probably won some medals and were then stuck doing these laughable marathons in the fall. Which, of course, they didnít actually do. So sometimes when you hear about monster trainingngg programs you really have to look deep and find out what the whole story is.

If you have questions or comments the easiest way to contact me is via the listserve. If you haven't already signed up for this listserve, you can join by logging on to

Best regards and good luck racing,

Doug Ritchie
Vice Chairman USA Wildwater
O) 206-686-4243
C) 425-736-8094