Fartlek and Interval Paddle Training for Max Results

A good portion of the specific preparation phase and the Paddle Society customized training programs involve interval paddle training and Fartlek paddle training. These kinds of SUP and outrigger paddle training workouts are built on alternating short, high intensity bursts of speed with slower, recovery phases in a single session.

Interval Paddle Training

Interval training for stand up and outrigger paddlers is beneficial because it works both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems in the same workout. During high intensity efforts, the anaerobic system uses the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen) for short bursts of the activity.

This system works without oxygen and produces lactic acid as a by-product. As lactic acid builds during intense intervals, a paddler enters oxygen debt.

It’s in the recovery phase that the heart and lungs work together to recover this oxygen debt and break down the lactic acid. By performing high intensity intervals that produce lactic acid during practice, the body adapts and burns lactic acid more efficiently during exercise. This results in exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time before fatigue or pain slows you down. Now you see why interval training is going to be your new best friend!

Fartlek Training For Paddlers

Fartlek, which translates to “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training. In other words, when you complete fartlek workouts you are varying pace between fast segments and slow segments. This type of training is different from traditional interval training which involves specific timed segments.

For some paddlers (me!), traditional interval training can be monotonous and boring. Staring at the GPS for each timed interval can take away the fun of enjoying time on the water. Fartlek training is a more unstructured approach to training that can have the same benefits as interval training.

To perform a fartlek workout, pick a dock or buoy in the water and sprint until you pass the mark. The key is to go for a sprint every 5 to 10 minutes and sprint for 30 to 90 seconds around Zone 3 or Zone 4.

The exact duration and volume of a fartlek workout should be based on the phase of training you are in. Find the details on when to do fartlek training in your Paddle Society customized training program and in this periodization article.

Interval Paddle Pacing

It is critical to correctly perform each interval to receive the maximum benefits of interval paddle training and fartlek training. Don’t start a one minute interval at 100% effort, only to crash 20 seconds into the piece.

Perform each interval in a way that allows you to give steady power and finish at full effort. As intervals get longer or more intense, pace yourself and start each interval knowing you need to save energy to prevent burnout. However, don’t save so much energy that you barely exert yourself.

Not only do you need to pace the intervals individually, you must also pace a training session as a whole. For example, if you have a workout of eight intervals, don’t perform the first four intervals at such a high level that you have no energy left for the last four intervals.

Interval paddle training is a good way to practice pacing over long and short durations of effort. Learn how to set your pace during a race in this article on SUP and outrigger paddling pacing strategy. Use the graph below for a visualization on accurately pacing a training session.

SUP and outrigger interval training

Observe how the power steadily increases in each interval and throughout the course of the workout. Dips in power represent rest periods between intervals.


Pro TipPro Paddle Trip

Don’t get tricked by your heart rate monitor. Focus on power output and effort in each interval rather than the number on your heart rate monitor. As described in this article about training intensity, using a heart rate monitor to pace your SUP or outrigger paddling intervals can sometimes be a faulty measurement of effort.

If you start an interval too hard, your heart rate will stay high for the entire interval, even if effort and pace go down. You might think you are going hard because your heart rate is high, however, power actually peaked in the first 10 seconds while effort and speed continue to decline throughout the interval.

The fine balance of pacing is all a part of training smarter and will become easier the more you practice. Pay attention to your heart rate, but not too much,  and the way you feel during interval paddle training. Over time your pacing will become second nature, and you will be able to maximize the benefits of interval paddle training and fartlek training.


Now that you understand these different kinds of training and how to use them, read this article on periodized training and laying out your annual training plan.

What are your favorite or least favorite interval workouts? 10 x 1 minute max effort is my least favorite for sure! Let us know and join the conversation on the Paddle Society Forum.

By | 2017-03-27T15:12:01+00:00 January 7th, 2017|Categories: Foundational Stand Up Paddle Content, Outrigger Paddling, Stand Up Paddle, Training, Training|