Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Improving Your Stroke... The Zone Way

Here is a great write-up about how to scientifically improve your paddling using heart rate and zone training, it takes some work initially, but will pay-off huge in the end.  Big thanks to fellow paddler Dean Burke who was a professional speed skater and bicycle racer for this information....

Heart Rate & Technical Stroke Efficiency
By Dean Burke

In Beau’s latest blog post, he talks about improving paddle stroke technique in a brief article that really talks about a few main things: The Stroke Itself (grip, cadence, paddle size) and The Feel. He’s spot on by summarizing that you need to keep an open mind about what works best for you. 

But how do you know what is working best for you? In paddle sports, how do you test your stroke to know if you are getting results? Paddling is not like a bicycle. On a bicycle you can measure wattage and power output and see right on a graph what is working for you and what is not. 
That said, here are some tips for making sure that your changes are the right ones. 

If you are serious about improving your stroke and are a studious athlete, then I might assume that you are serious enough to be in a relationship with a heart rate monitor. And if that is the case, then I’m going to leap frog ahead of some things here and we’re going to start with how to leverage your already existing basic Zone Training to make improvements on the paddle board. If Zone Training is new to you, take a break here and go get up to speed on the topic. It’s not hocus-pocus. It’s real legit training and it’s how every other endurance athlete on earth manages what they are doing. If you are not in control of your heart rate, then your racing career is going to be a short one. 

For those of you who have only thought of the heart rate monitor as a tool for helping guide you through cardio training - get ready, because it’s also your best tool for helping assist in honing in technique.

Here is the drill:

Establish a straight line distance. Point A to Point B. What that distance is really does not matter. It could be 500 meters or it could be 2 miles. What matters is that it is the same every time. 

Use a lake if possible, so you are not fighting tidal exchange and currents. You want to have a place where you can train in the most consistent conditions. This practice is hard to measure if you are training in changing winds, tides or currents. 

Using your Heart Rate monitor and a stop watch, paddle your selected distance from point A to point B. Do this while staying in the middle of your Zone 2 heart rate. (That number will vary based on your age, ability, etc. But for a lot of you, thats probably going to be in the 125 - 138 BPM range). The more steady you can hold that heart rate, the better. For me, I like to try and lock myself down at about 132 - 135 BPM.

How long did that paddle take at that given heart rate? Record it.

Now do it again.
And again. And again.

The goal is to reduce the time it takes you to get from point A to point B ,while keeping your heart rate locked in the middle of your Zone 2.


Well, Zone 2 is a good safe zone for building up your heart’s volume. It’s that magic zone where so much of your real training work is done. (Your sprints, intervals, etc. will almost always be based on a Z2 foundation. But again....this article is not about how to coach you through your Heart Rate zones. You need to be established in that kind of training before you get to this). In Z2, you cannot cheat by “muscling” your way through something. If you do, your heart rate will respond by going up. And when that happens, it becomes far more difficult to manage your stroke or efficiency and chances are you are flailing instead of creating focused power.

By going back and forth along your fixed training route at this controlled heart rate, you are now becoming focused on the only single thing you can help you get faster: improving your technique. Since Z2 is a zone that you can generally sustain for long periods, then you are now able to see your gains by way of efficiency and not get them confused with spikes in fitness or “how you feel.”

Give this a try (and give it some time). Be patient and focus on obeying the numbers. Don’t get yourself wound up and thinking that “pain is gain.” There is a time and place for the hard efforts and all that. This is not about those kinds of workouts. This is about defining a space in your regime for truly seeing what kinds of changes in your stroke are paying off. The clock does not lie and if you are true to the tests, you will see some of your biggest gains through this method.


About the writer: Dean Burke is a 40 year old local sport fanboy whose former professional life included a four-year stint globetrotting in Speedskating World Cup Marathons and many years of bicycle racing at various levels. Today he is father of two, serves as the VP for the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission and is helping to develop SUP racing in the south Puget Sound region. Be sure to see our new race, and help share the stoke of SUP racing.