Endurance & Strength


Early development of ‘General Endurance’ for long duration activities is necessary to allow us to train more efficiently, overcome fatigue during long competitions and to improve recovery time. This is why a pre-season low intensity AEROBIC fitness regime is so important. It is also important slow down and maintain ‘General Endurance’ levels during off season by cross-training so that the body can recover from the extremes of race season exertion.

In preparing for a race, however, work must focus on a more ‘Specific Anaerobic Endurance’ of medium duration, which resists the onset of Oxygen debt experienced in a Dragon Boat race; where the oxygen supply cannot totally meet the demands of the paddler. For this reason both AEROBIC and ANAEROBIC conditioning is of paramount importance to the
Training Programme.

Specific Power Endurance is also partly related to high strength development
which will be discussed further in the section covering Strength.

Speed Endurance relating to our ability to overcome fatigue under conditions of maximal
intensity will also be discussed further in the section covering Speed.

Other factors which normally effect endurance are the Central Nervous System (CNS)
conditioning, athletic willpower and development of the Speed Reserve.

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic Capacity effects the amount of oxygen transported to the muscles which controls how much energy is available during a race and how quickly you can recover from work in a training session. The oxygen demand of the upper body and arms when paddling is only about 85% of that for the legs when the same athlete is running. This suggests that good cardio-vascular base can be provided by off-season running, rowing or swimming since
these forms of exercise will build up heart and lung capacity faster and more efficiently than paddling. The focus of a water training program should be more on Specific Muscle Endurance related to local muscle Aerobic Capacity. This will relate to how much oxygen the specific muscles can actually utilize when working by training to increase blood capillary
density and as well as the number of local mitochondrial enzymes which are necessary to transfer oxygen into the energy making processes.

Normally a training programme should develop Aerobic Capacity early on in the training season and gradually replace these workouts with higher intensity Anaerobic activities. One should be careful, however, that too much emphasis on maximal intensity stressful work may reduce consistency of Anaerobic performance from one day to the next. This will impacting the stability of an athlete's capacity for speed and will ultimately reduce Aerobic Endurance due to the damaging effects of high levels of lactic acid on muscle cells. It is good practice that an Aerobic training component of varying intensities alternate with
periods of high intensity Anaerobic in weekly micro-cycles to allow muscles to regenerate and increase the durability of Anaerobic Power.

a) Long Interval Training (Maximal Aerobic)

A good exercise to perfect Aerobic Endurance early in the training season are
long repetitions of work for 3-10 minutes when oxygen consumption is maximal ie. at the Anaerobic Threshold. Intervals of this duration will make improvements to cardiac output, the control of blood distribution and the control of the rate of glycogen mobilization in the muscle. Long intervals should be performed as fast as possible without causing total exhaustion so that several repetitions are possible ie. high heart rate but no burn.

Intensity of work for long intervals should result in lactate concentrations just over 4mM/l where heart rates will typically measure between 150-164 bpm. Be aware that as fatigue sets in, an athlete's heart rate will increase, even though the intensity of the work-out does not change. The work-out should cease if heart rates reaches 180 bpm.

The rest period between intervals should involve low intensity muscle movement,
at about 50% capacity, to stimulate biological recuperation and be sufficiently long to flush out any lactic acid. A rest period longer than 3-4 minutes will begin to effect the quality of work in the next interval since the blood capillaries will begin to shrink.

This type of training is extremely beneficial to making improvements in performance
for longer distance races and marathons by ultimately raising Threshold heart-rate levels. In many respects long intervals could form the basis of a marathon distance training programme such as for outriggers, relying on longer distance workouts to improve energy management aspects.

b) Short Interval Training (Lactic Tolerance/Maximal Aerobic)

Surprisingly very short interval training aimed at developing ‘Anaerobic Capacity’ plays an important role in building up ‘Aerobic Capacity’ since it appears the greatest improvement to the aerobic system is achieved when muscles are used close to their maximal aerobic limit. Even work intervals as short as 15-20 seconds with a 30 second rest will improve ‘Aerobic Capacity’ if performed at a blood pumping, aerobically fast pace, but just below
lactate generating intensities. The levels of oxygen consumption will be very high, forcing the body to adapt by improving oxidative pathways in the muscle structure.

Longer ‘short’ intervals of 60-90 seconds will stress the oxygen supply system to the muscles increasing capillary density and increasing blood flow to the muscles effecting the rate at which lactic acid is dissipated. At this intensity of work, a degree of anaerobic metabolism is affected and an exercise will inevitably become impaired due to lactic acid intolerance. The importance of the ‘Interval’ rest is vital where continuous muscle
movement with 50% effort assists in flushing out lactic acid to prepare for the next interval.

These interval training sessions may last for 1-2 hours and appear to have the greatest
beneficial effect on ‘Anaerobic Threshold’.

c) Steady State Paddling (Anaerobic Threshold)

Longer training distances of 15 min. to 1 hour steady state paddling performed at ‘Anaerobic Threshold’ intensity will train factors related to the removal of lactic acid from the blood and ultimately increase the Threshold level. These sessions must be performed at lactate concentration levels of 2-3 mM/l corresponding to a heartrate of 130-145 bpm and will improve the integration of all aerobic processes. Training intensity should be uncomfortably hard work but sustainable... barely.

Very long distance training would be required in preparation for dragon boat marathon races, where steady state training sessions reach a duration of 3-4 hours and are performed once every two weeks. The training effect of these distances is to induce Central Fatigue or ‘Hitting-the-Wall’ by depleting glycogen stores and forcing the body to mobilize fatty acids
as a source of energy. Extra long distance training will help to stabilize the biochemical processes associated reliance on fat as an energy source and avoid a rapid onset of fatigue caused by a system which is unfamiliar to such demands. Careful management of diet is an important factor when training to this volume. Some athletes will keep their carbohydrate
intake low before a long training session in order to induce Central Fatigue earlier and reduce their volume of work.

When paddling, proper breathing is also important where an athlete should make an effort
to sit upright allowing full expansion of their lungs. One should learn to forcefully exhale all used air out the lungs to increase the quantity of oxygen rich air which can be inhaled. It is even suggested that hyper-ventilation just before the beginning of a race will significantly increase the amount of oxygen available in the blood earlier.

Again, one of the major benefits of a high Aerobic Capacity is to affect a high Anaerobic Capacity by providing a more efficient system flushing out Lactic Acid build-up faster and allow muscles to function longer at high intensity.

d) Fartlek

Fartlek training is similar to interval training, without a prescribed duration of work or rest, and the intensity of work reaches much higher levels, but only for a brief moment. The athlete or team must progressively build up intensity to reach an absolute maximum and then quickly reduce effort to 50 or 40% intensity until heart rates drop to about 130 bpm
and its comfortable to begin work again. Several surges should be executed over a 1 to 1 1/2 hour training session. This will push heartrate levels higher than in intervals to stress the limits of the AEROBIC system, but will not induce excessively high lactate levels. The intended result is to raise the Anaerobic Threshold and to become intimate with the
full range of intensity potential.

The Anaerobic Capacity

The main effect of training Anaerobic Capacity is to increase an athlete’s Lactic Tolerance where higher levels of lactate concentrations can be experienced for longer periods of time. Anaerobic Capacity is best improved by cyclical short interval training where the intensity of work is to such an extreme the paddler can no longer continue to go beyond a short
duration. A work interval of anywhere from 5-120 seconds is adequate depending on whether the level of intensity is super-maximal (100-98%), maximal (90-95%) or sub-maximal (80-85% capacity), though each repetition is ‘pushed to failure’ Too long a duration of work at high intensity or too many intervals can exceed the limits of lactic acid tolerance which will reduce boat speed and result in dominance of the aerobic system,
which will not benefit anaerobic training. This will depend on the overall capacity of the team.

Workouts should be grouped into interval sets of 4 to 6 with 30 seconds to 2 minutes of easy paddling of 50% intensity between work periods. A full recovery of up to 10 minutes between sets is necessary to allow the build-up of lactic acid to oxidize and fully dissipate.

Two approaches to Lactic Tolerance training are beneficial. Lactic Tolerance ‘B’ intervals are structured so that the rest interval is short, about 1/2 the duration of the work interval. The athlete will experience a constantly rising level of lactate concentration, while being forced to sustain high intensity work under increasing conditions of fatigue. This will take a tremendous amount of mental concentration and will-power to overcome the desire to stop or ease off the intensity.

Lactic Tolerance ‘A’ training on the other hand allows an athlete to experience even higher levels of intensity by increasing the rest period to twice that of the work period. This type of training will maximize boat speed and allow an athlete to develop their application of power with quick muscle movement. The emphasis should be to achieve extreme levels of lactate concentration of 12-13mM/l, also pushing an athlete’s heart-rate to their maximum levels.

Very short intervals of 10-15 seconds flat out work will increase the rate of glycolosis 1000% above that in a long distance run and will help to recruit muscle fibre, increasing strength. The down side, however, is that very short intervals will over time tend to decrease the number or capillaries bringing blood into the muscle, reducing aerobic conditioning.

Slightly longer intervals of 15-20 seconds will improve the use of phosphocreatine (PC) as an energy source to be used gradually over the duration of the race ie. enabling the power normally reserved for the ‘start’ or end ‘kick’ to provide a small but continuous contribution. It is important that the rest interval be kept long, close to 2 minutes, so that the work interval is kept alactic and sufficient time is provided to build-up PC stores. It only takes about 22 seconds to replenish 1/2 of PC stores and 44 seconds to replenish 3/4 total capacity. Work must be to absolute intensity so that the training effects will be confined to expenditure of PC and not glycogen. This type of training is ideal the week prior to race day since it avoids the longer term effects of fatigue.

Intervals of 60-90 seconds result in an increase in the amount of glycolytic enzymes improving the rate of glycogen mobilization and the muscles ability to tolerate the products of anaerobic metabolism. This duration of work interval will also help to smooth out the edges between the effects of different shorter distance training.

In Anaerobic
training you must realize that the greatest improvement is made if you push each exercise piece to failure since it is at this point the body forced to adapt (No pain - No gain) to combat Lactic Acid fatigue you must train hard, really hard which is a painful process (if it didn’t hurt so much more people would be doing it - you need discipline to go beyond the pain).

As previously mentioned, too much stressful work can impair performance and can reduce Aerobic Endurance. It is therefore critical to organize a training programme to include longer Aerobic workouts within an Anaerobic training regime.

Resistance training such as seat pulls or dragging tyres is also often used for anaerobic conditioning, however, it has been suggested that this is often associates with drawbacks to speed development and can create risk of injury.

The Central Nervous System

The Central Nervous System (CNS) effects muscle coordination and a breakdown of the working capacity of this system is a principle cause of fatigue resulting in loss of concentration and coordination, sloppy stroke technique etc.

The body as an organism is endowed with certain defense mechanisms which are activated if there is an apparent threat to its functioning. For example, fatigue brought on by the anaerobic metabolism is necessary since if the muscle were to keep on working at a maximal intensity, levels of lactic acid would increase to the point that it would become
fatal to living cells. The CNS will also limit the amount of force muscles are able to exert in order to protect ligaments, tendons and the muscles themselves from damage.

Continuously stressing the body with heavy loads will allow the CNS to become more
confident and correspondingly lower this ‘margin of safety’. Regular repetition of a specific movement pattern under load also builds up the neurological pathways between muscles and brain thereby developing coordination and turning stroke technique into a motion which is second nature.

Training with uniform work of moderate intensity will improve the Central Nervous Systems’ working capacity and improve the nervous connections required for coordinated function of organs and systems. Intense training will also teach your body to redistribute blood supplies efficiently from the stomach and intestines when there is a greater demand on specific muscles.

Waiting a good 2 to 3 hours after a meal will assist in training this aspect and will help to avoid the indigestion and nausea associated with training ‘on a full stomach’ when the digestive system is forced to shut down due to a lower blood supply.


"Strength is defined as the neuro-muscular capability to overcome an external and internal resistance.“
The bio-mechanics and physiological characteristics of ‘Strength’ are extremely complicated, though following some basic principles of strength training will help to improve performance dramatically. This is particularly relevant as we age, since strength begins to diminish after we reach 35 years old, unless we make an effort to maintain it. It is quite easy
to reach a performance plateau early in the season without a good strength
base to enhance improvements.

For the purposes of paddling, strength is required for powerful acceleration and maintenance of speed throughout a race. To develop strength for paddling we
will need to focus on selected muscle groups which are utilized in the paddling stroke.

It is normally more effective to increase strength with resistance exercises such as weight lifting, pull-ups/push-ups etc. and fixed resistance ie. isometric contractions.
These are better and more efficient means to improving strength than resistance
exercises conducted on the water.

Resistance paddling, such as pulling tires or seat races etc. have value as a specific application of strength, however they should be carefully be mixed up with speed exercises
to prevent crews from getting in the habit of paddling slowly. In the event
that paddlers cannot commit to a dry-land weights training regime, resistance
work on the water would be critical.

Strength training involves more than just hitting the gym and pumping a bit of iron.
It must be planned out as carefully as a paddling programme. It is necessary to begin with a less specific level of general strength development and physical fitness as a starting point. For this reason ‘pre-season’ or ‘off-season’ training is vital to provide a good fitness base and maintain the gains made during ‘race season’. Sport specific training is not necessary in the ‘off-season’ in fact cross-training activities such as swimming, running, windsurfing etc., can be very beneficial to a competitive training regime.
Non-specific muscles often get neglected towards the competitive phase of a paddling programme and can use a little work.

Strength Training Periodization

A strength development program should be structured work together with a paddling programme. The effects of a maximum strength training regime can have adverse effects on specific endurance or speed, resulting in frustration and a premature notion to scrap strength training all together. The final product of a properly structured strength programme, however is ‘power’ and not ‘strength’ alone. Power will make us paddle fast, but strength will not. Power is converted from strength though a carefully arranged process.

Typically there are four phases to a strength programme, namely:

  • Hypertrophy (4-10 weeks);
  • Strength (4-6 weeks);
  • Maximum Strength (2-3 weeks); and
  • Power (3-4 weeks)

a) Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy refers to building muscle mass. This is done with small loads of about 50-60% maximum capacity (1rm) repeated to failure, which should occur between 10-15 repetitions. For example if you can lift 100kg only once, then you should be able to
lift 50 to 60kg 10 to 15 times in this phase until you can lift anymore. This is referred to as a set.

Repetitions should take 4 seconds with a 2 count lifting and a 2 count lowering weights. Care should be taken when lowering weights as this is often where many of the injuries
occur. Rest periods between sets in this phase need only be 1 minute. It is also important in this phase to develop good technique to isolate the specific muscle exercised. If exercises do not adhere to strict technique, you can easily sustain an injury.

b) Strength

Strength results from recruitment of muscle motor units ie. muscle fibres and their associated nerves. This is done by increasing work intensity by adding weight and increasing rest periods. Weights in this phase should be about 80% 1rm so that failure
is achieved in 6-8 repetitions, again at a rate of about 4 seconds per rep. Technique should be very strict to avoid injury. Rest periods should be 2 minutes between sets.

c) Maximum Strength

Maximum ‘Strength’ results from training at extremely high loads reaching 100% 1rm capacity with very few repetitions of 1-3, performed slowly. Maximum fibre recruitment is
achieved in this phase, thereby affecting maximum strength.

Great care should be taken in this phase, with adequate warm-up precautions and warm-down to follow. It’s best to focus on the primary muscle groups namely the Pectorals, Quadriceps and Latissimus Dorsi. Work on the secondary muscle groups such as the Deltoids, Trapezius, Biceps and Triceps etc. should continue with higher repetitions
and lower weigh. Rest periods should be up to 3 minutes between sets.

Strict technique is an absolute must. Most shoulder injuries sustained by paddlers result from training with excessively heavy weights. Unless there is a real need for maximum
strength, it is advisable to forego this phase and opt for more specific resistance work in the boat.

d) Power

Muscular ‘Power’ results from exercises that include a load which is about 30-50% capacity with 8-10 repetitions where contractions are performed at an explosively high speed.
Care should be take when the muscle is extended ie. lowering the weight and a long rest interval of up to 5 minutes with relaxation exercises are advised.

This is the phase which ultimately converts strength to power by adding the speed component. Strength has no value in paddling unless it can generate force quickly. The result from this phase will be a slight loss in maximum strength, however the contribution
to boat speed will be noticeable.

Endurance of power results from a high number of repetitions at a load of 40-50% capacity performed to failure (30-50 repetitions) at medium to fast speed with a 30-45 second
rest interval.

Dryland Weight Training Programme

The following weight training program is provided which compliments the paddling programme in Section 2.6.

The types of exercises are diverse to focus on the principle muscle groups used in paddling. It is also important to note that exercises also work opposite muscle groups from those which are normally used in paddling in order to provide some stability and improve on maximum gains. Sets are organized antagonistically also to promote better gains and reduce training time.

For those who have time limitations in the gym, a more general programme should focus on Bench Presses, Lat Pulls and Squats as the primary exercises since they involve 80% of the
muscles you will use in paddling. A caution to shortcuts, however, is that development of only the primary muscle groups may result in a muscle imbalance exposing some of the smaller stabilizing muscles to potential injury.

A variety of free weight exercises are preferred for this reason in order to promote stability and control in the smaller muscles such as the rotator cuff group.

In each phase it’s important to stress strict technique in order to maximize recruitment of the appropriate muscle fibre. Relying on fibre from another muscle will not train the target
group, and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

Phase Programme Cycle Principle Muscle

Base Preparation

(during water Preparation ie. Phase or off season November to February)
10-15 repetitions to failure.

Sets to be consecutive. Complete each cycle 3-5 times before advancing
to next cycle. No rest between each set.

Develop strict technique with weights of 50-60% maximum.

Cycle I
Dumbbell Biceps Curl Biceps
Overhead Triceps Press Triceps
Bent Over Lateral Dumbbell Raise Posterior Deltoid/Trapezius
Front Dumbbell Raise Anterior & Lateral Deltoid
Cycle II
Upright Row Upper & Lower Trapezius
Dips (Elbows Out) or Bench Dumbbell Flys Inner Pectorals & Deltoids
Reverse Barbell Curl Brachiallus & Biceps
Wrist Curls Flexors
Cycle III
Bent Over Dumbbell Row or Barbell Row Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major
Bent Arm Pull Over or Dumbbell/Barbell Press Pectorals
Seated Oblique Twist or Side Bend Obliques
Lower Back Extension Erectors
Cycle IV
Military Press Behind/Front of the Neck Deltoids
Pronated Pull Ups Latissimus Dorsi
Lunge or Squats Quadriceps & Gluteus Maximus
Abdominal Crunch Upper & Lower Abdominals


(during water Speed and Strength Block ie.March) 6-8 repetitions to failure
each set with 3 complete cycles.

Very strict technique required to avoid injury, 2-3 minute rest between sets.

70-85% maximum weight in secondary group.

Maximum Strength


(mid to end of March) 3-4 repetitions per set for primary muscles ie. Bench Press (Pects),
Lat Pulls (Lats) Squats (Quads).

90-95% maximum weight in primary group. Secondary group to remain in
strength phase (6-8 reps.).

Cycle I (Primary Group)
Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Press Pectorals, Deltoids and Triceps
Bent Over Dumbbell Row /Barbell Row/Lat Pulls Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major
Lunge or Squats Quadriceps and Gluteus Maximus
Military Press Front of the Neck Deltoids and Pectorals
Cycle II (Secondary Group)
Upright Row Trapezius
Dumbbell Flys Inner Pectorals & Deltoids
Dumbbell Curl Biceps
Overhead Triceps Press Triceps
Cycle III (Secondary Group)
Bent Over Lateral Dumbbell Raise Posterior Deltoids, Trapezius
Front Dumbbell Raise Anterior Deltoids
Abdominal Crunch Abdominals
Lower Back Extension Erectors
Maximum strength exercises should only be done if a crew or individual
wants to seriously target short sprints. For distances over 500m the
potential rise of injury from a maximum strength regime far outweighs
the potential gains.


(during Race Preparation Phase ie. April to mid-May) 8-15 repetitions
or to failure as required with explosive speed during contraction only.
Avoid use of momentum to assist in repetition.

Strict technique required to avoid injury. Smaller weights of 50% maximum

Cycle I
Subinated Pull-ups (to Failure) Lats, Teres Major & Biceps
Power Cleans Pectorals, Brachiallus & Deltoids
Power Squats or Lunges Quadriceps & Gluteus Maximus
Seated Oblique Twist (to failure) Obliques
Cycle II
Pronated Pull Ups (to failure) Latissimus Dorsi & Teres Major
Push Ups (to failure) Pectorals & Triceps
Abdominal Crunch (to failure) Upper & Lower Abdominals
Cycle III
Bent Over Row Latissimus Dorsi & Teres Major
Dips - elbows out (to failure) Deltoids
Dumbbell Curls Biceps
Overhead Triceps Press Triceps


‘Speed’ is a function of reaction time, the number of strokes per minute (the rating) and the
velocity the boat travels as a result of a paddle stroke.

The percentage of fast twitch muscle fibre effects an individual’s speed potential, though it still must be trained properly to produce the desired force quickly and effectively.
There are a number of factors which effect boat speed in a race which should
be addressed independently, namely:

  • Reaction Time;
  • Acceleration;
  • Terminal Speed;
  • Maintenance of Terminal Speed; and
  • Speed Endurance.

Training for Speed

a) Reaction Time

Reaction time is a function of the Central Nervous System and can be improved by learning to respond to audible or visual stimuli. This might mean developing a quick response
to drum beat changes in the dragon boat or fast switches from side to side in the outrigger. Reaction drills are critical for a good start, changes in race conditions or water conditions which require quick adjustments to stroke depth or body position. And of course avoiding a huli in the outrigger. Developing good technical skills to minimize movement in each
stroke phase will help to reduce reaction time to changes.

b) Acceleration

Building up boat speed quickly is vital to sprint racing or to catch a wave in an outrigger. The ability of a paddler to accelerate depends a lot on his or her power to weight ratio. Dryland training will develop strength and power needed to get the boat moving fast in the shortest time.

The motor units in our muscles, however, must learn how to deliver a force quickly. More specific work in the boat such as acceleration drills for short distances is important or use of plyometric activities such as jumping drills or heaving medicine balls around helps to develop the necessary power. These are short-response shock type exercises.

c) Terminal Speed

Specific ‘Speed’ training results from repetition of a movement where speed ie. stroke rating, is increased progressively until maximum performance is achieved; short distance
absolute speed or ‘flying’ sprints of 5 to 10 seconds, innervation drills (ie. paddling flat out with four ultra-fast strokes put in on command) or overspeed training such as down wind or with an engine all help to push the maximum speed of the boat up. Short bursts of speed following a resistance training session, once the load is removed, will result also result in
performances at a higher ‘Speed’ for short distances.

Technical precision becomes important when approaching maximum speed, particularly when the rating is high. Without it, power is not delivered efficiently. The critical concern
is learning to deliver maximum force while the boat is running at a high speed. In a fast crew, this can be difficult for more inexperienced paddlers.

d) Maintenance of Terminal Speed

Maintaining maximum speed relies partly on the development of the neuromuscular pattern of quick twitch contractions. It’s one thing the exert power to catch slow moving water, but when the boat is running fast it requires great effort to apply force consistently. You could compare it to trying to keep your legs moving fast enough when running downhill. The results can be spectacular!

Interval training where performance of maximum ‘Speed’ throughout a work-out can be carried out once the technical precision is attained. A higher rate should not sacrifice the length or quality of the Stroke, so it is important to coordinate increases in ‘Endurance’
and ‘Power’ to cope with the increases in ‘Speed’.

It takes a tremendous mental effort to maintain high pace activities with a crew in unison. Maintenance of maximum speed results from your central nervous system learning to coordinate a faster muscle activity and adapt accordingly. Rhythmically alternating high and low intensities allows you to develop a sense of potential speed maximums or minimums and adjust your sense of rhythm to suit.

Ultimately the speed that the boat will travel through the water is a function of stroke rating and power; too high a rating will can result in loss of power unless the stroke technique is adjusted to suit the faster movement. The optimum stroke rating depends on the conditioning of the team and their ability to adapt to the demands of a higher speed stroke technique. Measuring boat speed using a hull speed indicator, or timing the speed to cover a fixed distance is the best method to determine the effectiveness of different stroke rates.

e) Speed Endurance

Speed endurance relates more to the physiological aspects of performance and less on neuromuscular demands. Lactic tolerance development utilizing interval training, strength endurance work in the gym and specific training such as race rehearsals all contribute
to a higher level of endurance for speed.

The Speed Reserve

The Speed reserve represents the ability of an athlete to perform at a higher speed over a shorter distance than that of the race. In simple terms, the faster you can cover a shorter
distance, the greater endurance you will have over the longer distance. This important to realize when training for paddling marathons.

Even for 500m or 1000m sprints, by focusing on the development of a greater speed reserve ie. by increasing speed at even shorter distances, you can ultimately improve your performance over the longer distance of the race.

Care should be taken so that the gains made in shorter interval training are converted effectively into the longer distance race pieces. Becoming too familiar with a shorter distance of 50 to 100m may cause the team to ‘hold back’ on the longer distance for fear of burning out too soon. It is important to know your race piece intimately and how much power reserve you can draw on over the longer distance.


Athletic Attitude

Attitude is vital to training activity and sustaining a high level of performance in a race. Not only must you put in 100% in the course of a race, it is crucial that as part of your training discipline that you develop an attitude which forces you to work to your maximum throughout a training session.

The level of intensity in a work-out is controlled largely by your desire to work, particularly when fatigue sets in, when you must consciously order your Central Nervous System to maintain the workload or increase it. This one factor effects everything since paddle speed
does not equal paddle power; it depends on how much effort is spent during the stroke. Only you know how much you are trying – what you put into your training is what you will get out of it or rather what the TEAM will get out of it.

Those traits which most profoundly effect performance are:

  • Desire
  • Assertiveness
  • Tension Control
  • Sensitivity
  • Personal Accountability
  • Confidence
  • Self Discipline

a) Desire;

The desire to perform well or improve one’s abilities will develop through constructive training objectives and must be regularly reinforced through positive feedback. Each paddler should be urged to strive to be his or her best which means setting goals which are marginally beyond reach, yet achievable with effort and determination.

Very often an athletes desire ‘TO BE THE BEST’ or ‘TO WIN’ can cause overreaching or induce undesirably high stress levels. There is not much you can do if a boat beside you is pulling ahead in a race; you cannot ‘WILL’ yourself to beat them.

The desire to overcome your WEAKNESS is the key to focusing mental energy on the work; you must recognize your own deficiencies and be determined to eliminate them. Our bodies do not willing let themselves be pushed to the absolute limit and many athletes may not even know where their limits are. Limits must be discovered and can only be revealed or changed with an extremely focused effort. Be disciplined and above all, don’t cheat yourself!

b) Assertiveness;

How hard an athlete is willing to work in training and in a race all depends on how capable they may be at asserting their abilities. This can be particularly problematic in a dragon boat team where a paddlers’ lack of assertion can easily go unnoticed. Drills to focus on the
individual will help to reduce the anonymity of paddling in a group.

Development of aggression is a vital for a paddler to achieve an adequate level of arousal needed for maximal performance.

c) Tension Control

The ability to generate and maintain the appropriate level of stress, not too high or too low, is crucial for peak performance. During a race or practice many distractions can throw you off your plan such as a false start, delay or collision with another boat, which can raise the level of stress to the point it interferes with performance. Getting too pumped up can
result in loss of control and cause you to burn out to quickly in a race.

On the other hand, an athlete may be too relaxed and may not become sufficiently aroused before a race which can also lead to reduced performance.

Emotional detachment, regular and rhythmic breathing and an intense focus on the mental image of the race re-created in your mind will create the most suitable environment for an ultimate performance. This is not an easy state to achieve - it must be learned with hard training.

e) Sensitivity

It is important that each paddler is keenly aware of changes in the race, involving rating and intensity levels. Staying alert is not easy in longer races or training sessions when ones' attention can wander, loosing focus on a pre-established programme.

Mental ‘Imaging’ plays an important role in both training and in race events, where a clearly developed mental picture will improve your ‘Focus’ on the work to be done (it can be so intense that you can ‘see’ your own stroke or ‘feel’ the water moving by without even being in the boat). It is important for each paddler to be able to measure their own performance
accurately against this image and be capable of making technique or intensity
adjustments on demand.

f) Personal Accountability

It is the responsibility of every paddler to recognize his or her obligations to the team and themselves. Clearly without continually monitoring the heart rate of every paddler in the boat, it is difficult to determine the amount of effort one is putting into training exercises or a race; particularly since there are 19 other paddlers to drive the boat forward.
This is a personal issue where the desire to perform well and commitment to the TEAM must over power the natural tendency to want to ‘give up’ or ease off in the intensity of work. This is what separates a dedicated athlete from an undependable one.

Team bonding is a key where each paddler is dedicated to a common goal, even though personality traits may vary considerable.

g) Confidence

Every paddler must be physically and mentally prepared to commit to the race plan or make calculated adjustments as required to perform in accordance with their own personal maximum. With sufficient preparation and by setting goals which are attainable, paddlers should develop a strong sense of confidence in the abilities of the team and themselves.

h) Self Discipline

The ability to adhere to the principles of a race or a training session requires extreme Self- Discipline.

The effect of ‘Athletic Willpower’ has already been discussed as an important component to ‘Endurance’ Training where an athlete must stay focused on the required levels of intensity.


In Hong Kong, a tremendous amount of controversy revolves around the optimum
paddling ‘style’, which is often couched in as much mystery as that of the winged keel. The rudiments of dragon boat technique, however, are common to most forms of paddling, such as kayaking, marathon canoeing, outrigger or even rowing for that matter. Dragonboating or outrigger canoeing are most closely related to C1 canoeing which involves a very
similar pattern of movement and is a useful comparison due to the large amount of research data is available on this particular stroke.

The basis of a good paddling technique is the emphasis on ‘the forward stroke’ ie. applying
power in the water in front of your body. Many good paddlers keep it to basics and will tell you to ‘just get the paddle in deep and clean and pull like hell with lots of length, as many times as possible’. Though this may sound simple enough, there are a complex series of movements required to execute ‘the forward stroke’ efficiently and effectively. Understanding the components of stroke technique is vital to accurate analysis of an individuals’ paddling style.

The four critical phases in the forward stroke are the CATCH (anchoring the blade), COMPRESSION (the power phase), the FINISH (getting out of the water) and the RECOVERY (getting forward to a ready position). The characteristics of different
‘styles’ may be due to variations in one or perhaps in every phase of the stroke, though the principles behind each phase are universal. We must accept that style may also vary from person to person depending on body size and stature which can work to the advantage of the team due to the different physical constraints of each seat position.

Equally important, we must recognize that ‘style’ changes as stroke rating increases and
the stroke length is decreased. Many paddlers experience difficulties in attempting to apply the characteristics of a longer, slower technique to a faster rating.

A smooth running of the boat results from paddlers not only going into the water at the same time, but moving through each phase of the stroke in perfect unity. The complete stroke must also be seen as a cooperative product of its parts, executed in one unified motion, not as a series of independent movements.

Individual paddlers should create a mental image of each stroke phase both on the water and off, understanding its components intimately and how they effect performance. Analysis of technique can be made easier by isolating the disposition of the paddle in relation to the boat and by tracking key reference points on the body, namely the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder. It is useful for paddlers to know the position of these points relative to their own stroke and in relation to an ideal model.