Periodized Training for SUP and Outrigger Paddling

Periodization is a systematic approach to training that allows athletes to increase and decrease their training in order to be in their best condition at a specific time. Broken up into phases, each phase of training can last weeks or months, depending on the individual. Periodized training for SUP and outrigger paddling is based on the most widely used format of training for endurance athletes and has been tested and proven for decades.

Think of your body as a futuristic adaptable robot (Robo-Paddler!). If you stress one of the systems inside the machine beyond its normal workload, the robot responds to the stress by trying to make that system stronger, strong enough to tolerate the higher stress level.

The robot (your body) can, however, only make the system stronger if it is given a rest phase in which to build this stronger system. Periodized training for SUP and outrigger therefore, consists of overloading the body system that is to be trained, letting the system rest and rebuild, and then stressing it again to a higher level. These specific body systems are described in detail here.

Periodization is all about managing this stress-and-rest cycle to optimize improvement and maximize the overall gain in performance. The specific volume, intensity and duration of periodization training for SUP and outrigger paddlers will be strongly influenced by their goals, experience, genetics, age and the race they are training for.

Periodized training for SUP and outrigger paddling can be extremely complex and individually designed with multiple peaking periods and hundreds of variables. This is why you will see each phase below has a range of 8-20+ weeks in recommended duration. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach where one detailed annual plan can give an entire population of athletes successful results.

However, the basic annual (macrocycle) periodization phases described can be adapted for use by most athletes with specific changes to fit each individual. The Paddle Society customized paddle training plans contain focused, day-by-day macrocycles, within a periodized annual training plan.

If you are a Core or Pro member, use your customized training plan leading up to a race and throughout your season.  If you are not a Paddle Society member, or are a Basic member, use this information to help set the framework for your paddle training structure.

Although periodized training plans are universally used in endurance sports, I would like to recognize former Olympic paddler and coach, Larry Cain, for providing valuable insights into applying this structure for use in SUP and outrigger paddling.

Periodized Training For SUP and Outrigger Paddling

The basic structure of a periodized yearly plan is broken into a number of phases, or training cycles of various sizes. The largest training phase is the macrocycle. Macrocycles make up large segments of the training year, each with specific physiological and technical factors used as the main focus. Each of these cycles can be around 9-16 weeks in duration.

Each macrocycle is divided into smaller training phases called mesocycles, each devoted to progressive improvement of the main training objectives of the macrocycle. These are usually three to four weeks in duration. Each mesocycle can then be divided into smaller microcycles, which are usually one week in length. Microcycles focus on the training objectives of the mesocycle, but represent an effective way to control the volume and intensity of the training load within the mesocycle.

Are you still with me?

Don’t get overwhelmed by the complexity of laying out your annual training plan. One of your Paddle Society coach’s can do the detailed work and create a custom periodized training plan for you, or you can use this information to create your own plan.

Simply put, remember you have macrocycles (big sections of your training with maybe two to three cycles of 9-16 weeks in a year) broken down to mesocycles (smaller sections of three to four weeks of your training within the macrocycle) and finally microcycles of one week within the mesocycle.

If you have four microcycles (1-week each) within a mesocycle (4-weeks), the training load should increase slightly in each of the first three weeks before dropping in the fourth to provide an easier week. Beginners might benefit more from a 2:1 work to rest ratio instead of the more advanced 3:1. In both formats, the easier week allows for the body to reinforce gains made in the mesocycle and recover before beginning the next mesocycle and its progressively increasing training load.

A periodized paddle training plan can be broken down into the following phases:


Base Development


Specific Preparation


Download: Periodization Chart Quick Reference

Recovery Phase

Recovering from the previous paddle season’s training and racing can be more critical than any of your periodized training for SUP or outrigger paddling. This is the time before you will actually start your base development phase.

It is listed here at the beginning of periodization for the sake of ensuring you are fully recovered before starting to form your training plan. This is an active rest period, meaning you aren’t sitting around doing nothing, but instead should be doing activities you don’t normally do in your training. These activities might include yoga, surfing or biking at a lower intensity. The primary focus of this recovery mesocycle should be mental and physical regeneration and rest.

Base Development Phase

This phase marks the beginning of your periodized training for SUP and outrigger paddling calendar and should begin with you feeling fully rested from the recovery phase. The objective of this phase of training is to gradually return a rested or new paddler to training in a slow, focused routine.

New paddlers will need to build their fitness slowly by performing low-intensity, short-duration activities working their way to higher volume. If you are an experienced paddler coming off of a recovery phase, you may have been cross training and need to gradually return to paddling.

Easy, low-intensity paddling that is comfortable and steady is a good way to prepare for the season during this phase. This is a great time to work on your SUP technique, or outrigger paddling technique, during slow and focused paddle sessions before intensity is added in future phases. You do not want to launch into an intensive paddle training program that will reinforce bad habits in your technique.

Consider completing a video stroke analysis before this phase. Any negative technique qualities can be identified and corrected through a stroke analysis and one-on-one coaching. The video stroke analysis will allow you to move forward and train with the most efficient technique possible. If you do not want to purchase a video stroke analysis, you can apply the. Whatever you choose, remember to focus on paddling slow and working to perfect your technique during this phase.

The base development phase can last between 4-20 weeks before beginning the next phase. The first four weeks of this basic SUP and outrigger paddling training program has specific examples of base development workouts. Use these exercises at the start of your season.

Base Development Focus

  • 4-20 weeks in duration.
  • Aerobic conditioning.
  • This is the phase that you should be doing your baseline testing as described in this article.
  • Establish flexibility and institute proper warm-up/cool down strategies.
  • Improving cardio and basic muscular strength.
  • Cross training in Zone 2 to improve cardio endurance can be implemented. Running and biking are good activities to consider.
  • Volume of paddling, not intensity. Most workouts should be no higher than Zone 2.
  • Volume should be gradually increased from week to week.
  • Start with around 45 minutes of paddling, working your way up to 90 minute paddle sessions.
  • Every 3rd or 4th week should have a volume reduction to allow recovery.
  • Correct your technique through slow and focused paddling. Video stroke analysis is recommended during this phase.
  • Strength training may be implemented to build muscular strength. Lighter weights with higher reps of 10-12 reps on non-paddling days is recommended. Do not start a strength training program without proper guidance or experience.
  • Use bodyweight activities such as pull-ups, push-ups and squats performed with good form.

Sample Base Development Training Week

Monday – 5-mile paddle at Zone 2 intensity
Tuesday – 3-mile paddle at Zone 1-2 intensity with focus on perfect technique
Wednesday – Strength training session. 3 x 12 reps of push ups, pull ups, squats
Thursday –  5-mile paddle at Zone 2 intensity with random Fartlek intervals (no more than 5-8)
Friday – Cross training/strength session. 50 minute bike ride at Zone 2 intensity. 3 x 12 reps of push-ups, pull-ups, squats
Saturday – 6-mile paddle at Zone 2 intensity
Sunday – Rest day

Preparation Phase

This is a 4-16 week phase that focuses on maximizing the general fitness required to support peak performance in stand up paddling or outrigger paddling competition. This phase is sometimes considered a part of the base development phase depending on how long you are dedicating to each phase of your annual plan.

The main focuses of this phase are the development of strength, power and aerobic endurance. You should be ready to train at a higher level in this cycle after laying the foundation in the previous phase. The volume and intensity in this phase may be slightly increased but only through focused interval paddle training sessions.

Preparation Focus

  • 4-16 week duration.
  • Aerobic conditioning in Zone 1-2 with some anaerobic pieces in Zone 3-4 (no more than 1-2 times per week).
  • Gradual increase in volume and intensity from week to week.
  • Volume should be no more than 45-90 minutes of paddling per session.
  • Rest week every 3rd or 4th week to allow for recovery.
  • Development of max strength/max power.
  • Maintaining flexibility.
  • Monitor your progress and be sure to rest if experiencing any injuries or fatigue.

Specific Preparation Phase

During this phase of training the general trend will be an increase in training intensity while volume of training is slightly increased or maintained. The next 2 to 4 months are the time to concentrate on paddle-specific fitness leading up to your big race or paddling goal.

There is a good chance you will have smaller, “B” level races during this phase. Use these races to practice in race conditions and perfect skills needed in your upcoming main event. Follow a one to two week taper and properly recover for these ‘B’ level events.

Practice skills such as drafting, turning and pacing in your training and racing during this time. Your fitness is already high by this phase and you can focus on maintaining technique and perfecting race strategies. If you are preparing for a choppy water or downwind race, then you need to focus on training in similar conditions.

The intensity of your workouts should increase but only through focused interval training. This is also a good time to dial in your equipment and make sure you are comfortable with your board/canoe, paddle, nutrition, GPS and any other accessories.

Power strength training can be carried on from the general preparation phase, with basic strength being trained occasionally to ensure that it does not diminish as the volume of work on the water increases. Cross training can be included during this phase. Cross training can help to maintain aerobic performance while allowing your paddling muscles to rest from the increased intensity of interval sessions.

Specific Preparation Focus

  • 1-4 month duration.
  • Increase in training intensity while volume is slightly increased or maintained on select days.
  • Training should be race specific. If you are preparing for a downwind race, paddle as many downwinders as possible. If you are training for a beach race, practice your beach starts and racing in the waves.
  • Prepare for your race by using the same equipment, hydration and nutrition that you will be using on race day.
  • Strength training is not as important as your water time but can be included if you have the time or motivation.
  • Pay attention to your body. The training intensity and volume is high during this phase. You can certainly do more harm than good by overtraining now. Mix up your workouts with cross training sessions to maintain aerobic capacity and allow your paddling muscles to rest.

Competition Phase

This is the last phase of periodization and makes up the final 9-16 weeks leading up to the main event depending on your competition schedule and specific race distances. The competition phase can be further broken down into smaller tapering and peaking phases.

As you enter the competition phase, you should continue to follow the foundation of your program with training load building from week to week. During the competition phase your intensity during training should increase, while your training volume stays the same or slightly decreases.

Training should be reduced on the third or fourth week in each mesocycle to allow recovery and reinforcement of gains. Remember that balance is important and never do high intensity workouts in Zone 3 to Zone 4 on back-to-back days. Limit your volume to distances that are no more than 80% greater than the race distance you are preparing for. For example, if you are peaking for a 5-mile race, you should not be paddling 15 miles during this time.

Tapering Before A Race

Once you get close to your main event you will begin to taper. Tapering refers to a decrease in training volume in the week or two prior to your major ‘A’ races. This should be a phase that you look forward to because you will have put in the hard work and will soon be reaping the benefits in the big race.

Most tapering strategies include a large decrease in volume with short, high intensity interval training sessions leading up to the competition. The exact specifications for the volume and intensity decreases will depend on your specific race and conditioning at the time. If you are doing the 32-mile Molokai, your tapering will look much different than if you are doing a local 5-mile race.

Remember that less training is usually better than more, especially during your tapering phase. You will decrease the likelihood of reaching your goals if you train too much or too hard during the tapering phase. Follow your plan and pay attention to how your body is feeling.

Peaking For Your Race

After months of hard work you are ready to peak for your main event. This phase refers to being in the absolute best condition at a specific time for your race. The peaking phase of periodized training for SUP and outrigger paddling can last one to two weeks. If you race back-to-back weeks, you will need to create smaller rest/work phases in between races.

If you compete on a Saturday, Sunday and Monday should be recovery days. Tuesday can be a Zone 2 paddle for around an hour, Wednesday can be an interval session under an hour with only a little Zone 3 and then another tapering on Thursday and Friday. These last two days should have little to no paddling or exercise as you prepare for your second Saturday race in a row.

You can also have multiple peaking phases throughout a season. Details for the best way to create multiple peaks are described in this article. The Paddle Society customized training programs have specific tapering and peaking strategies built into the daily plans.

Competition Focus

  • 4-16 weeks duration.
  • Training intensity and volume can reach their highest levels before the tapering phase. Be sure to monitor the way you feel and prevent overtraining.
  • Training load will build from week to week with easier sessions every 3rd or 4th week to consolidate gains.
  • Follow a strict tapering program that involves a decrease in volume and intensity 1-2 weeks before your main event. Athletes can often do more damage during this period by not decreasing training.
  • When in doubt, rest during your peaking phase as you will not make significant gains in the 1-2 weeks before a competition.

annual sup and outrigger training graph

This is a graphical look at how an annual training plan can look. Notice volume and intensity gradually rise throughout each phase. If you have any events before the big race there will be peaks and valley’s in your volume and intensity lines.

Periodized Training for SUP and Outrigger Paddling Recap

Let’s be honest, most of us will not be able to train year-round, nor would we want to. I am a sponsored athlete and take one to two months off every winter to surf, cross train and get away from my race board. You don’t need to train all year.

This annual periodized training for SUP and outrigger paddling format is designed to help break down training into scientifically backed protocols that will help maximize the efficiency of the valuable time that you choose to train. Whether you are following one of our customized paddle training programs, or form your own plan, set up your training with an understanding of all the information on this website.

Now that you understand how we set up a training schedule, you can design your own, or follow your Paddle Society customized plan with more complete knowledge of why you are doing certain workouts. Now read this article on forming a training plan. 

How do you approach your annual paddle training plan? Do you just wing it, or are you methodical and precise? Let us know and join the conversation on the Paddle Society Forum!

By | 2017-03-25T12:55:35-05:00 January 7th, 2017|Categories: Outrigger Paddling, Stand Up Paddle, Training, Training|