Maximize Your SUP Racing Performance

Dr. Bryce Dyer is an avid stand up paddler and senior lecturer in product design at Bournemouth University, UK. His knowledge and experience in endurance sports is a welcomed addition to the SUPAA advisory board and as a contributor to our Paddle Tips section of the website.

Use this valuable information as you prepare for the upcoming SUP race season. Contact SUPAA and let us know what questions you have and what you would like to learn more about as it relates to SUP racing and training.

From SUPAA advisory board member, Dr. Bryce Dyer

A lot of my current research involves measuring the performance of athletes with their equipment and working out how this can be improved upon. Too often, I see great athletes which require the perfect marriage between physiology, psychology and their equipment but ends up in bitter divorce. SUP racing is new, its developing fast but in time, both data and science will be as major influences on it as they are in other sports like cycling, motorsport and athletics. I’m going to offer 10 basic themes that may help you and should form part of your basic checklist before you start any racing season.

1. First, set the goal but try to avoid goal inflation

Many of us start out on a journey with one thing in mind but change it as the big day gets closer. Anyone who has attempted to run a marathon may be familiar with initially just wanting to complete it and yet with a few weeks left to go they have suddenly pinned a time expectation on themselves – despite never having actually run the event before. This often leads to disappointment. If you do better than expected – it’s a great bonus. Good goal setting is by defining objective methods that you can measure against yourself against that you can control. This might involve holding a particular speed, maintaining a certain stroke rate or completing a challenging distance event. Just because your friend on the start line thinks you may suddenly be a factor in the results, doesn’t mean you should suddenly change your objectives to suit.

2. ‘Knowledge is power’

Renowned English scientist Sir Francis Bacon once coined this phrase and there is a lot of truth in how it applies to SUP racing. SUP is a very new sport – especially its competitive side. It’s also more complex than many other endurance sports because it requires both solid technique, fitness and negotiating varied environmental conditions. As a result, many of us may not have all of the answers yet about how to get the best out of ourselves. Seeking out coaches, joining clubs, reading around the subject or attending technique training days is a great way to fast-track your learning curve. Like many, I have a family (and I’m not getting any younger) so wasting time just isn’t an option for me if I want to do well.

3. Keep a record, use logs

A SUP training log is a must. Record as much as you can i.e. what you did, how you felt, where and when you did it. Sooner or later you may find your form slumps or you pick up something like a paddling injury. You’ll then need to track back to find out why. Your memory is good but the cold reality of a SUP training diary is often better.

4. Training should be progressive

If you read anything regarding endurance training by iconic experts such as Tudor Bompa or Arthur Lydiad, the one consistent theme is a progressive increase in training load ultimately forms the foundation for improvement. In other words, whether it’s day to day, week to week or block to block – look to increase your training by either upping the intensity, reducing the recovery or lengthening the work done. Your body is both pliable and elastic in philosophy and ultimately, very trainable in nature. You can get it to do things tomorrow you wouldn’t believe yesterday if you put the time in carefully and build up to it. However, there is a tendency of forums or fitness magazines to promote a new kind of ‘wonder training session’ that apparently yields massive performance increases. However, do the same thing for too long and you’ll become stale, stagnant in progression and finally, just burnt out. Keep things moving and changing and you’ll likely reap more than you bargained for.

5. Analyze your event ‘problem’ and work backwards to solve it

I often look at my chosen events or other athletes I’m working with as a ‘problem’. It’s something that needs resolving. For me, the first question should always be what does the chosen event need? What kind of endurance ? What kind of intensities is it going to involve ? Does it need any particular skills ? (such as multiple buoy turns or hard accelerations) What equipment ? – can this be specialized or modified ? Having identified what the event requires, I then build into my training, specific work geared to that end. Along with progression, specificity is critical to get the best out of yourself. If I were racing in a 5 days SUP tour event or something like Battle of the Paddle, both my training process and my equipment needs would be completely different between them.

6. Rest is training

When you stand up paddle, it’s not the time on the water that makes you improve, it’s the time when you’re asleep or on the sofa. The neural pathways that are created to perform something like paddling continue long after you’ve got changed and gone home. Likewise, the super compensation effect that results from a hard paddle takes place when your body is being given the chance to repair itself not when you’re ripping it down the river. If you train too much (and with too little rest), you’ll start to overreach and then ultimately over train. A regular rest day is not a bad thing and may actually make you faster, not slower.

7. Work in the currency of time spent, not miles or kilometers

A common debate in other endurance sports is how your training is measured. Some use time, some use distance, some just go on how they feel on the day. However, as I’ve already said, improving your physiology is an incremental and reflective process. The problem with using distance is that whatever you achieve can be influenced by wind, waves or current flow. As a result, you may find that you spend longer on the water (or not enough) as the environment works against you. However, time served is what it is. Provided you use that as the measurement to increase your training load (and don’t waste any), you’ll find your training load will be less erratic, easier to measure and will minimize one-off unplanned hard sessions that can wreck a week’s training plan.

8. More is more (until it isn’t)

The threat of overreaching or (worse still) overtraining is a threat for any paddler of any level. However, the paradox of this is that the more you train, (and given the right level of recovery) the more you can actually handle as a sustainable load. Keep the training load increasing at a safe level, recover well and then over time, you’ll be able to handle more training volume…. which in turn will allow you do more (thus increasing your aerobic fitness and muscular endurance). Done well, it’s a spiral-like process which occurs over many years. However, don’t do too much too soon. Wanting to enter the 11 cities SUP tour in your first year of paddling may not be a great idea if your technique falls apart after half an hour. Play the long game and enjoy the process, not just the destination.

9. Equipment matters

Given my own interests, this is one factor I’m particularly keen on. You may know the guy at the race with ‘all the gear and no idea’. However, this isn’t actually something to be ashamed of. Choosing the best equipment you can afford is a sure fire way to gain ground for no increase in your own effort. Bear in mind that the slower paddlers actually stand to gain more in sheer time saved than the winners because they’ll be out on a course longer. Good quality equipment is time or energy saving. Don’t feel you should be paddling a 34 inch wide barge or using an aluminium paddle purely because that’s all you feel your ability warrants. Likewise though, don’t use kit that’s beyond you. I had a particularly poor SUP race the other week because I was on a narrow board in a choppy start and I got creamed. I should’ve used another more forgiving board that I owned. It would have cost me some speed at times but not the energy I wasted just on staying upright and getting hammered by the (rapidly disappearing packs) cross wash.

10. Keep it fun, you’re probably not being paid for it

This is the real bottom line. Few of us get sponsorship deals and fewer again earn any kind of living from the sport. As a result, the most important thing is that you can go home having enjoyed your race, had some banter with your rivals and to look forward to your next outing. Many a great sporting talent has been lost early due to burnout. If it’s not enjoyable, stop and change something.

We are launching a HUGE information resource featuring knowledge from Olympic paddle coaches and some of the world’s top SUP athletes. We look forward to helping you improve your SUP training and racing with this valuable resource coming in March.

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