With winter coming to an end in the Northern Hemisphere and the promise of spring in the air, you may well not have kept up an exercise regime and many of you will not have paddled through these cold months or for that matter, continued windsurfing. Coming out of a period of having reduced the amount of exercise (time on the water) you would usually do in the warmer months, requires a careful and considered approach in order to avoid injury and in addition to remain safe.

Periodising Your Training

One interesting synergy is that of the fact that SUP is an excellent cross training platform for windsurfers. Many windsurfers prefer high wind days of autumn through winter and during the summer months, if there’s little wind, this is a great time to paddle to keep levels of fitness, core strength and balance skills in readiness for days of wind! There is an old saying in relation to general levels of fitness, ‘Use it or loose it’. If you’ve invested time in getting yourself up to good level of fitness and you then take an extended period of recovery, ultimately there will be a reversal process from being ‘fit’ towards ‘unfit’ if you in fact do little or nothing. On the other hand, many elite athletes use brief periods of limited exercise in order to allow their bodies to recover and repair, paying special attention to maintain quality food intake, sleep and perhaps taking part in low impact activities such as walking or swimming.

In order to get back to paddling or windsurfing after time off, remember that your muscles, tendons and sinews will have weakened and will not be conditioned for renewed exercise if you’ve not taken part in any stretching, weight training, pilates or similar activities. Any first time on water session for the new season, needs to be a mellow process, whereby you keep the stresses on your body to a minimum, slowly building up to an increase in demands placed on your body. Essentially, it’s important to keep in mind, that your fitness and ability is what assists to keep you safe when on the water. Any compromise in these levels, will ensure you are more at risk in the case of over-estimating your ability to deal with intense conditions of any nature.

Elite paddlers and indeed many windsurfers, follow a fitness regime around what is called a ‘Periodisation Plan’ whereby they will create a chart of their training regime, which may extend over a full 12 months. Essentially, periods of time are allocated to a variety of training related phases whereby they are focusing on key elements of fitness and skills, which take into account ‘races’, some of which may be ‘primary races’ others are simply seen as an extension of their training regime.

An important part of this periodisation plan, requires that the on-water sessions, specific the level of intensity of each set piece, whereby for example 100% means flat out sprint pace, 75% would mean a sub-max race pace over distance, 50% a cruising pace and 30% a warm down pace. These could also be simply termed as Zones, where Zone 5 might mean 100%. This is critical to set out as it defines the nature of the session. Generally speaking, this intensity relates to heart rate, but in truth, its governed by what an individual perceives as a percentage level of their maximum level of effort and this varies between us all and much of this is determined by pain thresholds and mental thresholds in general terms. One persons interpretation of discomfort is different to another.

Regardless of your aspirations, whether you simply want to paddle or sail recreationally, or race at an amateur level or elite, the approach is always the same. For a paddler of elite level, the periodisation period over the first few months, will involve paddling at least 3 x a week for up to 90 minutes, non-stop, at below race pace (sub 75% effort). The basis of this build up, is to nurture aerobic fitness, condition core muscles, renew skill levels and prepare for higher levels of intensity.

During these initial months, sometimes up to 3 months, towards the end of this period, short, higher bursts of intensity can be introduced. In short this process, highlights how much lead time you need to strengthen and prepare your body for higher levels of intensity, ultimately working on sprint based workouts which condition the body to cope with issues of lactic acid build up for example, which manifest as cramp and fatigue. This element of fitness is only ever introduced when you have conditioned the body, ready for much high levels of demands. If you are serious about become paddling or windsurfing fit, source out help to write a periodisation training chart to better understand the process and gain control of random sessions so as to bring order to your on water sessions. This is essential if you are to maximise your fun on the water and improve your overall enjoyment and embrace of the sport you love.