The essential elements of fitness that help create a well-rounded paddler include cardiovascular endurance, strength, power, speed, balance and mobility. Before learning how to optimize these elements to paddle faster, we must understand the energy systems that help them function. Without properly training the energy systems, improvement on the water cannot be maximized and you will not paddle faster.
Isn’t that what every paddler want to do?
Muscles require energy to contract and perform. We cannot paddle faster, produce strength, power, speed, balance or mobility movements without our energy systems.
Paddling movements require a combination of aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) exertion. Learning about the different systems the body uses for producing energy will help you understand the science behind the exercises we write about and the methods backing the Paddle Society customized training programs.
Three Systems For Energy
The body produces energy from three different systems: the ATP-CP system (without oxygen), the anaerobic lactic system (without oxygen) and the aerobic system (with oxygen). The ATP system is anaerobic and is used only for short intense bursts of up to about 15 seconds (race starts, passing, paddling into a draft train).
The anaerobic lactic system is used at a very high intensity for up to approximately 180 seconds and produces lactic acid (activated after about 15 seconds and can be used similarly to the ATP system in paddling).
The aerobic system uses oxygen to create energy and is used at lower intensity for long periods of time. The aerobic system is the main source of energy for the duration of any race longer than a sprint.
The aerobic system is the primary system used for paddling and requires the air you breathe to help create energy. The aerobic system takes longer to produce energy but it is the most efficient of the three energy systems. This system can use both carbs and fats to produce energy. It is important to realize a strong aerobic system will help you get through anaerobic exercises as well.
The duration of a paddling session puts a lot of stress on our aerobic system, therefore, the ability to do anaerobic work can be weakened because of poor aerobic capacity. It is best to begin your training season with a concentration on the aerobic system because it takes the longest to train and because the other two energy systems rely on a strong aerobic base. A solid aerobic system will help support the other energy systems as they develop. It takes three to four months to develop the aerobic system through high volume, low intensity paddling and cross training.
Anaerobic Lactic System
Once ATP is depleted through the first energy system, our bodies supply ATP through the lactic acid (LA) system. In this system the breakdown of glycogen helps to supply ATP. This process produces a waste substance known as lactic acid. You can thank this process for the burning sensation during exercise and the muscle stiffness you feel later.
This system can be trained with high intensity sprints between 30-130 seconds. The LA system takes about six to eight weeks of specific training to build up. Therefore, this is the next to the last system we want to concentrate on before a big race. Eight to twelve weeks leading up to a race is sufficient timing to start training the lactic acid system. We stress this system in order to make fitness gains during high intensity interval training.
Although the LA system is used for short bursts of speed, it can be critical to performance in long distance races. The start of a 10-mile race will be a time when paddlers are jockeying for position in the pack and establishing their place in the draft trains.
You will need a strong anaerobic base to help paddle faster at the start and obtain good positioning for the duration of the race. You will also use this system if you accelerate to make a pass, catch a bump or finish strong at the end of a race.
Anaerobic Alactic System (ATP-CP)
The ATP-CP is the fastest source of energy in our bodies but is depleted very quickly. We use this system for short bursts of speed such as at the start of a race, but it is never used for long periods. ATP is a compound necessary for our muscles to contract. Small amounts of ATP are stored in the muscles. For most exercises that last longer, another compound called creatine phosphate (CP) is used.
The only time this energy system is used alone is for quick sprints lasting less than 15 seconds. The ATP-CP system takes only two to three weeks to develop but is not used frequently in paddle racing. Since this system develops faster than the other energy systems, it might be best to emphasize it for only a few weeks before a major event, if at all. This system can be trained simultaneously with one or both of the other two systems.
Understanding Energy Systems to Paddle Faster Recap
Now that you’ve developed some basic knowledge about the energy systems, you will understand why our customized training programs start by training the aerobic system first. The aerobic system takes the longest to train and develop (three to four months.) The anaerobic systems, which take much less time to train, are focused on in the 8-12 weeks leading up to your race.
We don’t randomly choose to do long steady (aerobic) paddles at the start of your training program and then more high intensity (anaerobic) paddles closer to race day. There is very much a method to the madness to help you paddle faster.
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