It’s cold, the sun comes up late and goes down early and we’re all pretty busy with school or work. I was asked the other day about how to stay motivated through this off-season. “Off-season” is a bit of a misnomer; I think many of the senior national team members can attest to having made serious gains in technique and fitness in the “off-season”. It’s an important time of year to make technical changes and try new things. I always enjoy training at this time of year. Apart from the fact that the fall in eastern Canada is an incredibly beautiful time of year, it’s also relaxed. There should be no stress, no feeling of I’ve got to be fast or I’ve got to train like crazy. The fitness you gain in the fall can be so easily undone by a lazy winter that I choose to look at the fall as a time for technique more than anything else.
Almost every workout I do in the fall is devoted to improving and attempting to perfect my technique. When Mike can come out with me, we’ll spend the workout talking and discussing what I should be trying to do. He’ll have me try to manipulate the boat in different ways. Sometimes trying to bounce it, sometimes trying to be as smooth as possible. The goal of this type of thing is to develop boat skills. If I can control the way the boat moves I can then ensure that my paddling is controlled and, as always, efficient. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I tend to train alone. I especially like this in the fall. It can be really frustrating to be paddling along thinking of taking perfect strokes, when the person next to you is trying to “win a piece” and is pushing the pace. There are times for that, but the fall is not one of them. With the racing season seven months away, it’s not going to make a difference. Worse still is ending up in wash or riding wash. At a certain points and in certain workouts wash can be useful, but in all of my experience racing wash riding has not been a part of any race save the 6km at CKC’s. I have yet to see a canoe paddle as well on wash as they do off of it, except maybe Tamas Buday JR. But he is the most consistent paddler I’ve ever seen. If we don’t race it, why do it? That’s my training philosophy in a nutshell. If you have to paddle with someone in the fall because of the nature of your training group it’s essential that you do so with a focus on YOU. Don’t be afraid to go slow or peel off to the side and work on something specific.
A word of caution about my above, unsolicited, advice: Technique does not mean going easy!!!! When I focus on technique I am exhausted at the end of a work out. If you’re really trying to improve the way you paddle you are working very hard. While I’m on the water trying to force my body to break out of a habit and learn a new one, I’m in pain. My legs, back and hips are all working extremely hard to rotate, pull harder, sit-up faster or whatever it is I’m working on. The strokes I take during this type of practice are hard. Each one is full of mental and physical effort. Whenever you’re trying to do something new it is way harder at first and then gradually gets easier. My heart rate during a technical paddle is generally higher than it would be doing a base aerobic practice like 5×10 minutes. I usually can’t paddle continuously for longer than around 8 minutes. It usually is just too hard. The nice thing is the gains you make are evident because at first you can’t go for five minutes, and then a week later, still focusing on the technique, you can last a little longer. Before you know it you’ve made a successful change and have added a new, and hopefully, useful addition to your technique repertoire. On a related though unsubstantiated note, I remember reading somewhere that it takes about 3000 repetitions until your nervous system can repeat a movement “automatically”. If anyone has the actual numbers on that I’d love to know for sure. For younger athletes make sure you are not afraid to push yourselves. Too many people use technique as an excuse to go easy. I cannot stress this enough…it’s not. Don’t abuse the chance to make a change. Many coaches are hesitant to have strictly technical workouts because too many people slack off. It’s not a time to talk, it should be the most focused you are apart from racing.
Despite the effort that a proper technical workout requires, it’s not the same as doing a proper interval workout. Once again, I question the usefulness of this type workout in the fall, but that’s for a different post. I think the interval type of workout that is most useful in these months is done off the water. Or, if it must be done sur l’eau, don’t over do it.
Back to motivation: To stay motivated over the fall and winter it’s important to have goals. Goals should be written down and posted on the door in your bedroom where you will see them every time you enter or leave your room. The goals should be specific, short term mid-term and long term and most importantly under each how you will achieve the goal. EX: long term: London Olympics: I will get there by achieving my mid-term goals and staying focused. Mid-term: “I want to race at the world championships in Dartmouth. I will get there by improving my technique and my strength. Short Term: This winter I want to get my `1500m running time under 5 minutes. I will do this by making sure I go to every run. These aren’t detailed enough but should provide an example. You can and should have weekly goals (like I will go to every morning practice this week), as well as individual work out goals. For workout goals, it’s your coach’s job to make sure you know what the goal of the work out is. Is it to go hard and die, or is it to focus on technique. These are the types of things you should be asking your coach if they’re not automatically telling you before each work out. When Mike sends my programme out, it is usually written right on it what the weekly goal is. The Individual workouts are color coded so I know what the goal of the particular workout is. This allows me to know right away what I’m supposed to be doing.
I hope this helps. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any more questions.