Spring Training: March Installment

Spring Training: March Installment

Yesterday, paddling in the afternoon sunshine, I remembered for the first time in 2016 just how much I enjoy paddling. My paddle blister, too, the one I got on my thumb each time I paddled this winter – it’s not that I didn’t get it this time, but I could tell that it wasn’t going to hurt as much. It’s going to be a callus soon. It’s springtime!

As warmer days encourage us to get out on the water, NRC coach Lee Leibfarth has put together a spring training plan, including a two-week training schedule, which can be easily adapted to your personal fitness levels, goals, and lifestyle. The Training Plan was developed by Lee specifically to assist our youth athletes in their spring training, however, it’s also an excellent tool for recreational paddlers of all levels. The Training Plan is a new feature that will appear, we hope, in each month’s newsletter.

In March, the training plan embraces the season with a focus on quickness. For serious athletes, this means introducing shorter, high-intensity workouts to prepare for the upcoming racing season. For those of us paddling for fitness and pleasure, this high-intensity work is some of the most enjoyable of the year. A generous tendency towards short courses helps paddlers of all levels focus on fine-tuning technique, build fast-twitch muscle, and improve reaction speed, essential not only on the slalom course but also to style your line on a high-water spring creek.

Especially if training for whitewater kayaking is a new concept for you, feel free to pick and choose workouts that you have time for and that you will enjoy, keeping in mind that maintaining a variety of workouts will help you build strength, speed, and skills in different areas.

2-Week March Slalom Training Plan

Week 1MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
MorningOFFStretching / light runFlatwater Paddle
(30-40 min. aerobic pace. *Use GPS to log speed and distance)
StretchingLight Aerobic:
(30 - 40 min. run, bike, or swim)
Slalom Fulls
(Full-length courses on whitewater - 5 runs, race-pace)
Slalom Technique or Whitewater River Run
AfternoonOFFStrength Exercises or gym & stretchingSpeed Drills
(5 x 10-15 sec. sprints)
Strength Exercises or gym & stretchingSlalom Technique
(Specific skills: upstream, offsets, sweeps, etc.)
Slalom Broken Runs on whitewaterOFF
Week 2MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
MorningOFFLight Run / StretchingFlatwater Paddle
w/ Sprints (15 min. distance w/ 10x15 sec. sprints)
StretchingLight Aerobic (30-40 min. Run, bike, or swim)Slalom Technique on WhitewaterSlalom Fulls (Full-length Courses on whitewater or River Run)
AfternoonOFFSlalom Short Courses (5 runs x 5 courses)Strength Exercises or gym & stretchingSlalom 60 sec. coursesSlalom Short Courses w/ hard movesStrength Exercises or gym & stretchingOFF

Goal Setting

It’s important to have paddling goals! There are two types:

  1. Outcome Goals – example: My goal is to make the US Junior Team. My goal is to be top 3 at Nationals.
  2. Performance Goals – example: I will do 10 pull-ups in 15 seconds. I will make the attainment under the bridge on 2 out of 3 tries.

While outcome goals can be the most inspirational, they often involve things you don’t have control over, such as how other athletes perform. For this reason, it is just as important to have solid performance goals to help us reach the big outcome goals.

Guidelines for Setting Good Performance Goals

  1. Goals must be quantifiable – example: 10% off the fastest boat at the US Open. Paddling a mile in under 15 minutes. Running a 5K in under 24 minutes. Bench press 75% of your body weight. Avoid ambiguity: “I want to get faster” is not a quantifiable goal.
  2. Goals should be positive – As with all goal-setting, focus on things you CAN and WILL do, not things you want to avoid.
  3. Goals must be realistic – Don’t set yourself goals you have no hope of attaining this season. Set yourself up for success and you’ll be motivated to keep at it. Working with a coach can help with this. If you have questions about setting goals that are right for you, email me at membership@nantahalaracingclub.com. I will be happy to help you figure out some positive, quanitifiable, realistic goals that will be right for You.
  4. Goals must be acknowledged regularly – Writing down and posting your goals will remind you of them on a daily basis. This can also point out important milestones and accomplishments once performance goals are reached!

[highlight color=”#f96e5b”]Training Recommendation:[/highlight] Write out your goals on an index card and post them on your refrigerator. Include a checkbox next to each goal, to give yourself the pleasure of checking it off when you reach it.


Improving strokes and paddling technique will make you a better, faster paddler (Period.) This is true for whitewater paddlers just as well as slalom athletes. It takes time to learn what good technique is and how to do it. Video sessions can help you visualize what you need to work on. When working with video, it is important to watch the top paddlers to make sure you have a clear idea of what good technique looks like.

Video Links with Good Slalom Technique

Since this is the first installment of the NRC Training Plan, we’ll focus on some basics this month: forward strokes and upstream gates.

K1 Forward Stroke

Body & Position:

  • Lean forward from the hips (not from the mid or upper back).
  • Top arm extends out between shoulder and eye level
  • Good rotation! (Rotate from the waist, with the top shoulder visibly pushing forward with each stroke while the other shoulder drops back.)
  • Maintain a flat boat with minimal rocking from side to side.

Catch (first part of the stroke):

  • Full vertical blade is driven downwards as close as possible to the boat.
  • Back is straight, torso is rotated, lower arm is fully extended for maximum forward reach.
  • Visualize yourself making a clear ‘A’ shape with boat, paddle and body.

Pull (second part of the stroke):

  • Maintaining your vertical blade, pull first with the back, then finish the stroke with the arm.
  • Maintain pressure through the foot brace on the same side as the stroke.
  • Your blade will exit the water before or around the time it reaches your hips.

[highlight color=”#f96e5b”]Training Recommendation:[/highlight] Watch several runs from the 2015 World Championships or the 2015 World Cups each week. It’s important to see what the best in the world are doing so you can compete with them (and win!) someday.


Well folks, that’s it for the March installment. It should give you plenty to think about. Many thanks to Lee Leibfarth for working up this training schedule and tips for our membership.

And remember, NRC Friday Night Slalom will resume on Friday, March 18th at 5 pm. This is a fun, laid-back group paddle at the Nantahala bridge Gates. We meet after work, paddle some short courses, give each other some pointers, try to do some stern squirts below the 2013 Wave, maybe drink a beer, and head for home. All NRC members and friends are invited, so please join us.