Recently, I had been contacted by an Australian athlete to develop a speed and strength program for whitewater canoe slalom. I know, you were probably like me going, “what exactly is this?” I won’t reveal the athlete’s name at this time, so I will call the athlete Sam. Sam had googled speed training, my name came up with my website, Sam liked what was there, and asked if I would help with this program. Sam has two big events in February that could mean a spot on the National team and possibly for the Olympics.
So this was kind of a big deal.
After some email discussions, I was hired to create this speed and strength program for a sport, whitewater canoe slalom, I had only seen during my preliminary research for this specific question. You might have seen this event at some point or another, but here is what it is.
You have one or two people in essentially a kayak going down a rapid river course. There are gates set up on the course that you have to steer the kayak through as you proceed down the course. This is relatively a short sprint that Sam said could take somewhere around 2 minutes.
What I’m going to discuss today is the program I developed for Sam to get stronger and faster for this sport. After spending a few hours researching this topic and watching videos of the event, this is what I came up with.
There is going to be much work needed to develop the core and back because these are the primary movers for this sport. You will need to develop an anaerobic conditioning, because this is basically full-go for 2 minutes, with a few lull times during the event.
I mixed in some good core exercises that would help with the torso rotation. I suggested doing exercises such as woodchops or side medicine ball tosses. I also wanted to specifically strengthen the lower back, so I added a few exercises for this such as a bird dog on a stability ball.
I put in a hang clean because I wanted to develop the overall power of the body in perfect coordination of all the body parts. I felt it was better to stimulate the power and fast twitch muscles this way then isolating them per muscle group.
I added a major leg exercise really for balance. The legs play a very minor role in whitewater canoe slalom, but you want to have a good balance between upper and lower body to keep injuries at a minimum. Also, you can release some good growth hormone that spreads to muscles throughout your entire body with leg exercises.
I tried to get a push and a pull exercise for balance in the upper body, but I focused on a little more pull exercises then push. Paddling is basically pulling in the water, so the back needs to be strong for that purpose.
I focused first on gaining a lot of strength. Then, I shifted to power with a little lighter weight and then muscular endurance for the race. My thinking was to increase the strength as much as we can so that when Sam started paddling at a much lighter weight, it would seem a heck of a lot easier and really develop a lot of speed for the race.
Even though we weren’t developing speed in the traditional sense of running on land, I still had Sam do some plyometrics and sprints. This was to try and stimulate as many fast twitch muscle fibers as possible. Once these were developed, I felt it could be easily transferred to the water work that Sam needed. The sprints were then transferred to more anaerobic conditioning by doing interval training that mimicked the demands of the sport.
That was it. Once the philosophy was figured out, then I just had to pick the right exercises to get the job done. I then counted backwards from the event dates and set up a sets and reps plan plus intensity that I felt would suffice. I think I did a good job. So come February, pay attention to some of the whitewater canoe slalom events that will be happening around the world. Once I get the okay from Sam, I divulge the identity and hopefully give you a little more insight on this sport and how my plan worked out.