The 10 Golden Rules Of A Successful SUP Training Program

Setting up a solid SUP training program is key to reaching your full athletic potential and goals. Read The 10 Golden Rules of SUP Training and the detailed article that follows to help set up an effective SUP training program. For a comprehensive look into SUP training and racing you can purchase the eBook, SUP Training The Smart Way. The eBook contains over 150 pages of valuable information, charts and diagrams on SUP training, technique, race strategy, nutrition, cross training and equipment selection. Additionally, the eBook provides a 12-week Race Ready SUP Training Program with all of the detailed daily workouts you need to help reach your goals.

The 10 Golden Rules Of SUP Training

1. A high volume of training without sufficient intensity will fail to produce improvement, just as the opposite is true.
Translation: Don’t complete a 10 mile training paddle like you are on a lazy river tube ride or paddle only 2 miles like a bat out of hell.

2. If a workout is too hard or does not focus on the correct systems, a paddler will not improve or can lose previous gains.
Translation: Don’t push yourself until you are foaming at the mouth and don’t paddle 15 miles the day before your 5 mile race.

3. The work to rest ratio is extremely important and the exact specifications are unique to each individual athlete.
Translation: Don’t do a high intensity paddle interval and go straight into the next high intensity interval without taking a rest period. Also, don’t copy your friends workouts everyday.

4. Training load should build from week to week within each mesocycle and from mesocycle to mesocycle within the macrocycle.
Translation: Each week the volume and intensity of your workouts should slowly increase with easier weeks every 3rd or 4th week.

5. Volume and intensity must be periodically increased and decreased to produce improvements. Without this an athlete’s fitness will stay the same or decrease.
Translation: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Don’t paddle 4 miles every other day at the exact same pace and expect to make long term improvements.

6. High intensity workouts should be done with sufficient rest in between each session. More than 24 hours are generally necessary for proper recovery.
Translation: Don’t overdo it! Doing less is usually better when it comes to your training.

7. Each cycle should be followed by an easier week to allow for rest and recovery before the next cycle begins.
Translation: Let your body heal as you ramp up your training. This is how you make the big gains!

8. Specific preparation leading up to a race can make a huge difference in the success of a training plan.
Translation: If you plan to race in choppy water you should be training in choppy conditions or if you have a beach race you should be practicing your running beach starts.

9. Pay attention to your nutrition during training.
Translation: Training without paying attention to your nutrition is like putting cheap gas in a Ferrari. Your body is like a high performance Italian sports car, give it good fuel!

10. Plan out your training schedule in order to maximize the efficiency of each workout.
Translation: Fail to plan, plan to fail.

These are the basic rules for the foundation of any successful SUP training program. Now let’s learn the format you should be following during the days, weeks and months leading up to your race.


Stand Up Paddle RobotPeriodization is a systematic approach to training that allows athletes to increase and decrease their training in order to be in their best condition at a specific time. Broken up into phases, each phase of training can last weeks or months depending on the individual. Periodization training is the most widely used format of training for endurance athletes and has been tested and proven for decades. This is the kind of training that you should be incorporating into your paddling program.

Think of your body as a futuristic adaptable robot (Robo-Paddler!). If you stress one of the systems inside the machine beyond its normal workload, the robot responds to the stress by trying to make that system stronger, strong enough to tolerate the higher stress level.

The robot (your body) can, however, only make the system stronger if it is given a rest phase in which to build this stronger system. Training therefore, consists of overloading the body system that is to be trained, letting the system rest and rebuild and then stressing it again to a higher level. Periodization is all about managing this stress-and-rest cycle to optimize improvement and maximize the overall gain in performance.

The specific volume, intensity and duration of periodization applied to a particular paddler will be strongly influenced by their goals, experience, genetics and age. Keep this information in mind before you start to form a training plan.

Periodization Structure

The basic structure of a periodized training plan is broken into a number of phases or training cycles of various sizes. The largest training phase is the macrocycle. Macrocycles make up large segments of the training year, each with specific physiological and technical factors used as the main focus. Each of these cycles can be around 9-16 weeks in duration.

Each macrocycle is divided into smaller training phases called mesocycles, each devoted to progressive improvement of the main training goals of the macrocycle. These are usually 3-4 weeks in duration. Each mesocycle can then be divided into smaller microcycles, which are usually 1 week in length. Microcycles focus on the training goals of the mesocycle and are an effective way to control the volume and intensity of the training load within the mesocycle (1).

Although periodized training plans are universally used in endurance sport, I would like to thank former Olympic paddler and current Olympic coach, Larry Cain, for providing valuable insights into applying this structure for use in SUP.

Training Phases

The sections of a periodized training plan can be broken down into the following phases:

  • Base Development
  • General Preparation
  • Specific Preparation
  • Competition
  • Recovery

Base Development Phase

This phase marks the start of your training calendar and should begin with you feeling fully rested and recovered from the previous season. The objective of this first phase of training is to gradually return a rested or new paddler to training in a slow, focused routine. New paddlers will need to build their fitness slowly by performing low-intensity, short-duration activities working their way to higher volume. If you are an experienced paddler coming off of a rest phase you may have been cross training and need to gradually return to paddling.

Easy, low-intensity paddling that is comfortable and steady is a good way to prepare for the season during this phase. This is a great time to work on your technique during slow and focused paddle sessions before intensity is added in future phases. You do not want to launch into an intensive training program that will reinforce bad habits in your technique. Consider using video stroke analysis before this phase so that any negative technique qualities can be identified and corrected. Video stroke analysis will allow you to move forward and train with the most efficient technique possible. Read the article on technique to also help establish good technique before you begin training.


Recovering from the previous season’s training and racing can be more critical than any of your training. This is the time before you will actually start your base development phase. It is listed here at the beginning of periodization for the sake of ensuring you are fully recovered before starting to your training plan. This is an active rest period meaning you aren’t sitting around doing nothing but instead should be doing activities you don’t normally do in your training. These activities might include yoga, hiking or biking at a low intensity. The primary focus of this recovery mesocycle should be mental and physical regeneration and rest.

Sample Base Development Training Week

Monday – 5-mile paddle at Zone 2* intensity
Tuesday – 3-mile paddle at Zone 1-2 intensity with focus on perfect technique
Wednesday – Strength training session. 3 x 12 reps of push ups, pull ups, squats
Thursday – 5-mile paddle at Zone 2 intensity with random fartlek intervals (no more than 5-8)
Friday – Cross training/strength session. 50 minute bike ride at Zone 2 intensity. 3 x 12 reps of push-ups, pull-ups, squats
Saturday – 6-mile paddle at Zone 2 intensity
Sunday – Rest day

*Training zones are based on your lactic acid threshold heart rate. The eBook, SUP Training The Smart Way, contains all of the details for determining your training zones and explains why using these zones is critical to effective SUP training.

Base Development Summary

  • 8-20 weeks in duration.
  • Aerobic conditioning.
  • This is the phase that you should be doing your baseline testing as described in SUP Training The Smart Way.
  • Establish flexibility and institute proper warm-up/cool down strategies.
  • Improving cardio and basic muscular strength.
  • Cross training in Zone 2 to improve cardio endurance can be implemented. Running and biking are good activities to consider.
  • Volume of paddling, not intensity. Most workouts should be no higher than Zone 2.
  • Volume should be gradually increased from week to week by no more than 60%.
  • Start with around 45 minutes of paddling, working your way up to 90 minute paddle sessions.
  • Every 3rd or 4th week should have a volume reduction to allow recovery.
  • Correct your technique through slow and focused paddling. Video stroke analysis is recommended during this phase.
  • Strength training may be implemented to build muscular strength. Lighter weights with higher reps of 10-12 reps on non-paddling days is recommended. Do not start a strength training program without proper guidance or experience.
  • Use body weight activities such as pull-ups, push-ups and squats performed with good form.

General Preparation Phase

This is a 12-16 week phase that focuses on maximizing the general fitness required to support peak performance in stand up paddle competition. This phase is sometimes considered a part of the base development phase depending on how long you are dedicating to each phase of your annual plan. The two main focuses of this phase are the development of strength, power and aerobic endurance. You should be ready to train at a higher level in this cycle after laying the foundation in the previous phase. The volume and intensity in this phase may be slightly increased but only through focused interval training sessions.

General Preparation Summary

  • 12-16 week duration.
  • Aerobic conditioning in Zone 1-2 with some anaerobic pieces in Zone 3-4 (no more than 1-2 times per week).
  • Gradual increase in volume and intensity from week to week.
  • Rest week every 3rd or 4th week to allow for recovery.
  • Development of max strength/max power.
  • Maintaining flexibility.
  • Monitor your progress and be sure to rest if experiencing any injuries or fatigue.

Specific Preparation Phase

During this phase of training, the general trend will be an increase in training intensity while volume of training is slightly increased or maintained. This is the phase in which the detailed 12-week Race Ready SUP Training Programs from SUP Training The Smart Way can be used. The next 2-4 months are the time to concentrate on paddle-specific fitness leading up to your big race.

There is a good chance you will have smaller, ‘B’ level races during this phase. Use these races to practice in race conditions and perfect skills needed in your upcoming main event. Be sure to follow a 1-2 week taper and properly recover from these ‘B’ level events.  Practice skills like drafting, turning and pacing in your training and racing during this time. Your fitness is already high by this phase and you can focus on maintaining your technique and perfecting race strategies. If you are preparing for a choppy water or downwind race, then you will want to focus on training in similar conditions.

The intensity of your workouts should increase but only through focused interval training. This is also a good time to dial in your equipment and make sure you are comfortable with your board, paddle, nutrition, GPS and any other accessories.

Power strength training can be carried on from the general preparation phase with basic strength being trained occasionally to ensure that it does not diminish as the volume of work on the water increases. Cross training can be included during this phase. Cross-training can help to maintain aerobic performance while allowing your paddling muscles to rest from the increased intensity of interval sessions. The detailed Race Ready SUP Training Programs have examples of specific preparation phase strategies built into the daily plans.

Specific Preparation Summary

  • 2-4 month duration.
  • Increase in training intensity while volume is slightly increased or maintained on select days.
  • Training should be race specific. If you are preparing for a downwind race, paddle as many downwinders as possible. If you are training for a beach race, practice your beach starts and racing in the waves.
  • Prepare for your race by using the same equipment, hydration and nutrition that you will be using on race day.
  • Strength training is not as important as your water time but can be included if you have the time or motivation.
  • Pay attention to your body. The training intensity and volume is high during this phase. You can certainly do more harm than good by over-training now. Mix up your workouts with cross training sessions to maintain aerobic capacity and allow your paddling muscles to rest.

Competition Phase

This is the last phase of periodization and makes up the final 9-16 weeks leading up to your main event depending on your competition schedule and specific race distances. The competition phase can be further broken down into smaller tapering and peaking phases.

As you enter the competition phase, you should continue to follow the foundation of your program with training load building from week to week. During the competition phase, your intensity during training should increase, while your training volume stays the same or slightly decreases. Training should be reduced on the 3rd or 4th week in each mesocycle to allow recovery and consolidation of gains. Remember that balance is important and never do high intensity workouts in Zone 3-4 on back-to-back days. Limit your volume to distances that are no more than 60% greater than the race distance you are preparing for. For example, if you are peaking for a 5K race, you should not be paddling 18K during this time.


Once you get close to your main event you will begin to taper. Tapering refers to a decrease in training volume in the week or two prior to your major ‘A’ races. This should be a phase that you look forward to because you will have put in the hard work and will soon be reaping the benefits in the big race. Most tapering strategies include a large decrease in volume with short, high intensity interval training sessions leading up to the competition. The exact specifications for the volume and intensity decreases will depend on your specific race and conditioning at the time. If you are doing the 52K Molokai, your tapering will look much different than if you are doing a local 5K race. Remember that less training is usually better than more, especially during your tapering phase. You will decrease the likelihood of reaching your goal if you train too much or too hard during the tapering phase. Follow your plan and pay attention to how your body is feeling.


After months of hard work you are ready to peak for your main event. This phase refers to being in the absolute best condition at a specific time for your race. The peaking phase of periodization training can last 1-2 weeks. If you race back-to-back weeks you will need to create smaller rest/work phases in between races. For example, if you compete on a Saturday, Sunday and Monday should be recovery days. Tuesday can be a Zone 2 paddle for around one hour, Wednesday can be an interval session under one hour with only a little Zone 3 and then another tapering on Thursday and Friday. These last two days should have little to no paddling or exercise as you prepare for your second Saturday race in a row. You can also have multiple peaking phases throughout a season.

Details for the best way to create multiple peaks are described in the eBook. The detailed Race Ready SUP Training Programs have specific tapering and peaking strategies built into the week-by-week plans.

Competition Summary

  • Duration is 9-16 weeks.
  • Training intensity and volume can reach their highest levels before the tapering phase. Be sure to monitor the way you feel and prevent over-training.
  • Training load will build from week to week with easier sessions every 3rd or 4th week to consolidate gains.
  • Follow a strict tapering program that involves a decrease in volume and intensity 1-2 weeks before your main event. Athletes can often do damage during this period by not decreasing training.
  • When in doubt, rest during your peaking phase as you will not make significant gains in the 1-2 weeks before a competition.

Putting It All Together

Let’s be honest, most of us will not be able to train year-round, nor would we want to. I usually take 2-4 months off every winter to surf, cross train and get away from my race board. You don’t need to train all year. The SUP periodization training format is designed to help break down training into scientifically backed protocols that will help maximize the efficiency of the valuable time that you do choose to train. Whether you use one of our detailed Race Ready SUP Training Programs or form your own plan, set up your SUP training with an understanding of the information in this article. Use this outline to create the framework of a plan based on your goals,  race schedule and the amount of time you will dedicate to training.

Check out the eBook, SUP Training The Smart Way, for over 200 pages of valuable information on SUP training and racing.



1. Cain, Larry. “Training for SUP Part 4 – Structure of a Periodized Year Plan.” Larry Cain. 10 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2015. <>