Training Regime

The Paddling Programme

The number of factors to be considered in developing a Dragon Boat Training Programme is immense. Obviously the more  time a team spends practicing, the greater the difference in performance. The amount of training an athlete must undergo within a season depends greatly on the goals and objectives set out early on in the year. For example, to obtain
high performance challenging world record achievements, an athlete today must expect to commit 1,000-1,500 hours of training time a year (that’s 3-4 hours a day!); at a national level one could expect 600-800 hours (1 1/2 – 2 hours per day); while at a local level one should realize that a minimum of 300-400 hours of training is required if you want to be successful competitively, which translates to 1 1/2 – 2 hours 3 to 4 times a week, year round.

The formula for high performance, however, demands quality time and the winning team is not always the one which practices the most. Training time must be carefully managed in a ‘Training Programme’ to facilitate development of the different aspects of an athletes’ physical potential, such as Strength, Endurance, Technique and Speed which all have quite different training requirements. The ideal programme will maximize an athletes output from
a minimum amount of training that focuses these specific aspects, and allows an adequate time for his/her body to adapt and recover from the stress brought on by exertion. The independent variables of training programme, therefore, are VOLUME, INTENSITY and DENSITY.

Training VOLUME (the amount of work time) is certainly adjustable, though it is effected by the INTENSITY of work (how hard you work) and the DENSITY of practices (the number of practice sessions related to rest periods within a given time). To put it simply, for a low INTENSITY work-out such as a long trip in an outrigger, the VOLUME of work can increase, which is good for aerobic Endurance training, though you need a long time to recover so
that the DENSITY of a work-out schedule must be kept low.

On the other hand, a high INTENSITY workout such as sprint interval training is good for Speed and Strength development, though the VOLUME of work must be low since our bodies cannot handle extreme exertion for long or without greater rest periods between each piece of work. DENSITY, however, can be increased by adding more practices of shorter duration throughout the week.

The key to an effective training program is to find the right balance of VOLUME, INTENSITY and DENSITY which best suits the goals and time commitments of a team. A training season should begin with a large VOLUME of work at low INTENSITY and gradually increase the INTENSITY of practice sessions closer to the target competition date, decreasing the VOLUME. It is important to understand that by varying the degree of VOLUME and INTENSITY an athlete changes different aspects of his/her metabolism and physical structure to ultimately result in higher performance.

Our paddling season has been further broken down into separate phases to allow for progressive development and transition from one level of performance to the next. The type and intensity of work we do changes as our bodies adapt to progressively increasing demands. Macro-cycles refer to the largest organizational block grouping work of similar nature. Micro-cycles refer to the weekly pattern of activities which support the objectives of the macro-cycle.

The basic concept is that a weekly micro-cycle varies intensity from one day to the next allowing us to balance hard work with recovery time. Macro-cycles prescribe increasing levels of intensity week to week in order to achieve specific performance goals within a 4-8 week period. Our bodies tend to respond best when stressed and then are allowed to heal. The healing process is what makes us perform better in the next cycle.

The three main Macro-cycles are:

  • General Fitness Preparation
  • Strength and Endurance Development
  • Speed Development and Race Preparation

General Fitness Preparation (4-8 weeks)

The objective of this Macro-cycle is to create a performance base. Development is to be more general allowing for a broad range of distances and variety in exercises during this phase. Work should never-the-less be more specific than in the off-season and focus of paddling related activity to build up local muscle endurance ie. the muscle groups which will be used for racing.

a) General Aerobic Conditioning

Work in the boat will focus on low intensity,
larger volume exercises such as steady state intensive paddling sessions mixed
with longer extensive sessions if training seeks to develop marathon abilities.
Work should be comfortable but strong earlier in the cycle but should progress
to uncomfortable and fast paddling. The cycle will end with a level of intensity
which borders in painful ie. Maximal Aerobic work.

There are two objectives for this Cycle. To improve our the general cardio-vascular potential such as cardiac stroke volume, VO2 max. etc. and to increase capillary density in our paddling muscles. This will provide the staying power for races even as short as 500m.

Alternative sessions to the boat would be running, swimming, kayaking or rowing (boat or ergometer) as long as it’s working to the same level of intensity and duration. Effort should be made to raise anaerobic threshold levels and to achieve maximum aerobic functioning.

b) Base Strength Development

Muscle mass should increase (hypertrophy) and base strength should be developed in the gym for all muscle groups (see section 2.2 for dryland strength development — Hypertrophy Phase). Even a simple routine of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and dips at home can go a long way in developing a base strength that can contribute to better paddling performance.

A small amount of resistance training in the boat is good at this stage as long as the resistance level is also low eg. dragging a tire or having 1/2 of the boat paddling for 50-60 strokes.

Strength and Endurance Development (2 cycles @ 4 weeks each)

This Cycle seeks to make improvements to paddling strength and specific race endurance. Neuromuscular recruitment is important, so effort both in the boat and during dryland training should be intense striving to ‘feel’ for maximum resistance during a paddle stroke. Speed work should begin in the later stages of the cycle.

The Paddling Programme includes two Strength and Endurance Macro-cycles allowing for a period of transition. The second Cycle starts from a lower level of intensity builds to a higher level much faster that the first Cycle. The purpose for this is achieve a better balance between aerobic and anaerobic conditioning exercises which are taken to greater extremes in the second Cycle.

a) Aerobic/Anaerobic Endurance Training

The range of work should begin with Anaerobic Threshold training and advance to Lactic Tolerance training later in the Cycle. The emphasis is on intense interval sessions at least once a week alternating with intensive steady state paddling on other days in the week. Close attention should be paid to heartrates during activity to ensure that work is targeting
the appropriate intensity. This is air-sucking, heart-pounding, rubber-leg kind of work, so don’t expect improvement if your going for an easy jog.

b) Maximal Strength Development

The initial Cycle should accompany the dryland Strength Phase (see section 2.2) and the latter Cycle should correspond to the Maximum Strength Phase of the Dryland Weight Training Programme. The level of resistance in the boat should also be increased during resistance training sessions. Care should be taken to avoid back to back strength training sessions ensuring that proper recovery time is allocated.

Race Preparation (4 weeks)

This is the Cycle where speed becomes
the main feature, converting the strength gains which were made in the earlier
Cycles to power. Maximal intensities will be stressed with a duration of work
which is closer to the actual race. Race rehearsals will be conducted where all
of the trained aspects will be put together for a specific target performance.
Smoothing out the transitions from utilization of one energy system to the next
is the goal in discovering the optimum racing pace.

a) Race Specific Aerobic/Anaerobic Conditioning

Maintenance of aerobic conditioning is important in this Cycle both in the boat and on land. Longer distance steady state paddling sessions will provide recovery activity for extreme lactic tolerance training. Specific endurance for the sprint race distances is the goal to the
extent that there may be some decrease in long distance endurance.

Interval training on land should continue to stress improvement to VO2 max. and anaerobic thresholds.

b) Development of Power

Strength work should focus on converting absolute strength to power. Fast contractions and less load should replace maximum loads early in the Cycle (see section 2.2 – Power Phase). Acceleration drills and maximum speed exercises will be carried out in the boat the stress maximum application of power throughout the race distance. Endurance of strength is important and is best to be improved in the boat, paddling.

The Taper

Critical to top performance is tapering down activity to limit damage to muscles and let our bodies recovery for a race event. It does not mean that work stops all together, particularly for sprint races. Generally the density of practices is reduced, but is replaced by extremely
high intensity work for short duration to maintain speed. Alactic activity is stressed, limiting extreme work to 15-20 seconds in order to prevent accumulation of toxins. Low volume is also a must to avoid over-stressing central energy stores.

The duration of the Taper Cycle if difficult to determine. Where the density of training high ie. 10 to 12 sessions per week then typically the taper is longer, perhaps 2-3 weeks. For a lower density training of 3-4 sessions per week, the taper probably needs only 1 week.

Combined with proper nutritional preparation, the end result is a performance peak.