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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Core Conditioning for Kayaking - Do you really need it?

"I cannot think of a single successful training innovation proposed by a scientist,"
Peter Snell (2007)

Here is the body of an article from the website: Altdirt about strength training and core conditioning for kayakers. I have cut and pasted this because it is very well written and demonstrates so well why and how New Zealand has lost the plot when it comes to producing champion athletes:

"Strength training is effective and necessary for kayakers who wish to establish the groundwork required for maximizing power output, reducing the risk of injury, and achieving peak sport performance. by Camen Bott and Lonni Farmer. The athlete’s core, as its name suggests, acts as the foundation for movement generation and power production (Kibler, Press, & Sciascia, 2006).

Upon recognizing that power and muscular endurance are essential skills for successful kayaking, it is not difficult to understand why developing core strength through purposeful training is particularly advantageous. With improved core conditioning and stability, an athlete is able to execute body movements more efficiently, allowing for a streamlined translation of force from the fully engaged platform to the upper and lower body regions—where sport-specific skills are executed (Kibler et al., 2006).

Regardless of the amount of strength an
athlete possesses in the upper and lower limbs, neglecting to strengthen the core will create a deficit that will ultimately decrease the amount of total power that can be accumulated (Fekete, 1998).

addition to mitigating power output, a muscular imbalance involving the torso places the athlete at great risk for injury.

Developing and maintaining adequate core strength is believed to be one of the most effective ways of protecting oneself from injury (Bono, 2004; Brukner & Khan, 2007).

Because the core serves as the platform through which actions are initiated, a weakness in this area will increase the
demands on other joints and muscles and can lead to pain and injury (Edwards, 1993). The overuse injuries associated with paddling often occur in the back, shoulders and arms (Kameyama, Shibano, Kawakita, Ogawa, & Kumamoto, 1999).

The Back One of the most common problems observed in kayaking is associated with the unique rotational trunk
movement that occurs while paddling. This movement, performed in the seated position, creates a sheering effect at the lower spine. Without a strong torso to distribute these forces and support the back, this sheering will find or create a point of weakness along the spine and result in injury. Of all the variations of abdominal exercises practiced by athletes, those that involve rotation of the trunk are believed to be the least often used (Brukner & Khan, 2007).

For a sport as abdominally dynamic as kayaking, it is critical that these exercises are incorporated into a program. The Shoulders The health and performance of the shoulders is extremely reliant on the strength, endurance, and stability of the trunk. Developing a resilient core will foster safe and effective paddling techniques. A weak core will make proper kayaking form difficult to
maintain due to the disproportionate recruitment of the shoulders and arms (Kameyama et al., 1999).

time, these and other distal structures will undergo premature compensatory fatigue which may result in chronic overuse injury."

Please download and view the video that comes with the Altdirt article. This video is a beautiful demonstration of a single-handed dumbell clean done by a superbly conditioned athlete.

Before I explain my problem with all of this, let me establsih a few paddling credentials:

I competed in the first paddling multisports tri in NZ, the Sulphur City Gut Buster in Rotorua 1978. This involved a paddle across lake Rotorua. I was beaten into 2nd place by less than 60 seconds by a guy named Paul MacDonald who went on to win several Olympic medals as a flat water paddler. I continued to compete through to about 1985, averaging 3rd placing behind Roger Nevatt (Super Chook) who should have gone to the Olympics as a road cyclist if he had not been so distracted by triathlons and Bernard Fletcher who had over 30 NZ kayaking titles to his name. I thrived on down-river racing sections of these races and relished beating the big, muscular boys who were often all power and no skill.

I learned early on from being repeatedly cleaned out in the paddling legs by Bernard Fletcher that kayaking had little to do with strength and more to do with technique, heart and the ability to work with the river and not against it. In those early days, there were no rudders, so we were forced to paddle smoothly, evenly and to use our body position to swing and glide the boat in whatever direction. Like a little Blue Duck, we learned to use the pressure waves and eddies to sling-shot the kayak downstream with little effort. This is a skill not learned in a gym.

Since those early days, I have worked with a number of paddlers, made presentations at training camps and even run a workshop for Ian Ferguson's regional kayak coaches about training using the Lydiard Method, prior to the Athens Olympics. The kayak coach I have the most time for is Mark Watson of Tawa who is very strong on the technical aspects of paddling efficiently.

Kayaking does not cause injuries unless you wipe out and use your head and face as an anchor as you slide downstream. What causes injuries in kayaking is poor technique and poorly structured training programmes. Technique is not learned in a gym. It is learned through time spent on the water doing drills under the watchfull eye of an experienced coach like Mark.

Kayaking done right is fabulous core conditioning. there is no need to spend hours in the gym. If you do not believe me, go hire a coach like Mark Watson to show you some paddling drills. You could also try lifting your rudder and doing zig-zag sprints in and out of the rows of boats moored in a marina. Try paddling in a straight line backwards. Core conditioning should be specific for the sport and nothing is better than doing the sport itself. The problem with weights exercises like the one demonstrated in the video is it has little in relation to kayaking. Sure, its a great exercise for a power lifter; but little relevance for a paddler. If, as a paddler, you have the time and the energy to be doing these fancy exercises, it probably means you are not spending enough time on the water!

Doing exercises like the one demonstrated carry a significant injury risk, especially to the shoulder and back. This should only be attempted under the instruction of an experienced power lifting coach and many months of practice are required to get anywhere near the perfection as demonstrated in the video. Such coaches are few and far between in NZ and average You and Me will be far from perfect when it comes to technique, no matter how careful we are. So much for doing exercises to prevent paddling injuries. Please read this article about the damage one can suffer.

A winning paddler is mean and ugly with muscles in the right places. Why waste precious physiological reserves developing muscles you do not need for powering a kayak? If you are a downriver paddler, you want a light, low centre of gravity. All that bulk upstairs from pumping iron in the gym only serves to cause stability problems as your kayak bounces through those rapids and hits those swirling eddies. So what are you going for - the body beautifull to stand and pose on the river bank; or are you training to win?

Of course there is a place for the gym; but, my advice, if you aspire to paddle really well, and to do so without injury or boating mishap, is to hire an experienced coach who has already delivered the goods with others. As Peter Snell alludes to: Keep the sports scientist who has never achieved sporting greatness themself at arms length. Do these things and you will do well. Most of all, you must get out on the water at every opportunity!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments on an article that I, and my team of athletes and professional strength & conditioning specialists/sport scientists so intelligently put together. Why strength train? simple:
1. prevent chronic injury - all sports, esp those that are repetitive in motion, will cause an imbalance that can lead to injury. Stronger athletes are more resistant to injury
2. prevent burnout - our entire team of experts at Human Motion can talk the talk and we can certainly walk the walk - all athletes at a high level and know the benefits of stimulating the nervous system in the "gym." Aside from balanced power development and refining motor programs and intramuscular coordination and decreased "unnecessary" cortical activty, doing something other than paddling can be a great OTS avoider.
3. Improve power - Simple really - improve strength, improve rate fo force application = improvements in power. We have measured kayakers in the lab after strength training and low and behold - their watts went up

So, athletes in general are getting faster and getting stronger, across the board, in all sports and what is the common denominator - excellent, scientifically prescribed strength programs. The results speak for themselves and you didn't hear this from some geeky scientist that sits in a lab all day, you heard this from those who have tested and proven it on themselves and their athletes.