Mastering Training to Become A Successful Master Paddler
For many of us Ocean Paddling is a way of life and something we have done all our lives, handed down to us through family and continued today through Respect of family and the Ocean. But to honour our respect to family and our daily ritual of going down to the Ocean and JUST PADDLING it needs to be well managed with a well thought out Training Plan, specific to our needs, as we age.
If you have followed the sports of ocean paddling- OC1/Outriggers, Traditional Prone, and in more recent years the increased interest in Ocean Surf ski and SUP, you would have noticed the average age at any Endurance race is approximately 40-45 years of age and the age groups in the 50’s and 60’s have some of the original Legends of the sport and all are still very competitive with paddlers half their age.
So how do these 50-65 year-old paddlers still have the Stamina to finish a 32 mile race and make it to the presentation dinner with a smile and a beer?
Well some of the physical changes we can expect with age include:
- Loss of muscle size and strength
- Reduced power
- Lower Maximum Aerobic capacity
- Increased body fat
Just because we generally have active lifestyles and get out and paddle with the 6-man team or the odd board session with the local training group, does not mean that we should ignore the changes we see happening with age. There are a few specific things that we can do with both our training programs and lifestyle to slow down the process.
Muscle mass starts to decline in the mid to late thirties. It occurs at a rate of around 3-5% per decade and speeds up once we hit the mid to late 50’s, to about 7-8% per decade. This mainly affects the fast-twitch fibres, which is the reason why as Paddlers we lose power and speed rather than endurance.
Sadly, no amount of paddling, swimming, running will help preserve fast-twitch fibres, because endurance activities generally don’t provide sufficient load for that type of muscle adaptation. Instead of adding in a long slow distance paddles (LSD), try specifically lifting heavy weights (LHW) as you age to preserve muscle mass. This means exercises like deadlift, squats, leg press, seated or bent-over rows, with a heavy (for you) load and a low number of repetitions.
Many aging athletes feel that lifting in such a way may actually cause them injury, and of course, if you have a poor lifting technique then that might happen. But if you have good technique, then heavy work in the gym can have a number of wonderful benefits. Maximal strength can improve, and with it, power. Heavy weights can also lead to improved resilience in connective tissues, which will be a big help in the battle to stay injury-free. At the very least, one can slow down that loss of muscle mass—and in some circumstances, you may even gain new muscle.
Functional Range of Motion
With age, our joints tighten up and the Functional range of movement around a joint or series of joints can be reduced. This has implications for all paddling disciplines and this is where we all feel some pain and your stroke shortening up and then the damage begins and without regular maintenance and a specific Training Plan for the aging athlete, the injury occurs that just may be the end of your time on the Ocean..
If velocity is measured by limb frequency and length of stroke, a loss of functional range of motion, coupled with that loss of speed/power mentioned earlier ultimately results in slowing down.
Every paddler should aim to avoid an injury, but it’s even more important in your older years, as any lost fitness is harder to regain. To increase your mobility, it has been recommended doing at least 15 minutes of mobility work for every 60 minutes of training each week.
Keep up the Training Intensity
As you age, long slow distance (even for long-distance races) should become less of a priority, and high-intensity Interval training must make up the majority of your training volume. Like with heavy lifting, this can seem counter-intuitive to older athletes but trust me, it does work and if you are healthy and injury-free then you have absolutely nothing to fear.
Plan regular high-intensity interval workouts, aim to work at an RPE of 6-10 for around 40% to 50% of your total weekly volume. This, of course, will depend upon your training history and attention to other recovery factors.
Work at the same percentage above FTP that a younger athlete might. Quality is the key, so don’t be shy about taking a longer recovery interval between repetitions if you feel you need it.
Listen to Your Body
You have gained some athletic wisdom over the years, so you should use it! Recovery between workouts also requires adjustment with age. Maybe you could have done a Sprint/endurance interval session and an Endurance session in 48 hours in your 30’s, but you might need 72 hours as you enter your 60’s. The bottom line is that you have to be more compassionate to your body. You’ve been using it hard for 30, 40, or even 50 years and it has served you well. Now is the time to repay that service with some kindness. Look after those aching joints, tired muscles and well-used heart.
Listen to your body and if you’re ever in doubt about a workout or your health on that day, take it easy, or REST. As an older, wiser athlete you have hopefully learned to control your ego a bit, ha ha, and can be comfortable finding the path for long-term consistency.
At some point, we all must accept that we are no longer going to get faster or more powerful—but avoiding the slow down as much as possible can be just as exciting a goal! By lifting heavy weights, maintaining intensity, and looking after your mobility and recovery, you’ll be healthy and performing well into your later years.
Mick Di Betta