Strength Training For Sup: Distance vs Sprint

It’s that time of year when it is much easier to suit up for the gym then get layered up for a paddle, which is all good because our body needs that variety and its good to go back to the mat and recover, rebuild and strengthen. We often argue about gym time vs water time and if lifting and strength training actually makes you faster or slows you down. Both sides have valid points but it comes down to a balance of strength, endurance and speed.

Marathon Vs Sprint (Endurance Vs Speed)

As you probably know; power = strength x speed, but if you cannot maintain that speed then you lack endurance that lean muscle and a good aerobic base provide. There’s also the fact that bigger muscles and a bigger frame require more effort, blood and oxygen to move and maintain. Take for example the marathon runner and the sprinter, both at the opposite sides of the spectrum with body’s that have adapted to their training.


As paddlers we must train to be fast for distance and for sprints; strong, lean AND fast. Sustained power = strength + endurance x speed.

Your body will shed or produce muscle to adapt to your dominant activity, which is why we always say “if you want to paddle faster, paddle more” or “it’s time on the water” etc. Time in the water is not only a technique and feel benefit but a physiological one as well. By just paddling more you are training your body to be most efficient at that specific movement. Another reason to have good technique so you don’t reinforce bad habits.

There are paddlers out there that are very much like the marathon runner pictured above, they paddle all the time and never get much faster, however can last for hours as their body has adapted to going slow for very long.  In contrast you have paddlers who spend most their time at the gym or CrossFit box who also hit a plateau, they burn out after a fast start with no base to draw on and muscles that either get in the way of movement or fatigue early. Both the marathon and sprinter body types require hard work and dedication to achieve, but sadly missing key components that would otherwise help them to reach their paddling athletic potential.

In summary

I am trying to paint the picture for you, but you and your coach need to find your ideal middle ground or ‘sweet spot’ between strength and endurance.  Bottom line to remember out of this read is; you should incorporate strength training as a building block to your fitness program but take into consideration what you are trying to accomplish as your end goal ie: faster for X amount of time. Periodization is a good program to look at, as it incorporates more strength training initially and then ramps down as you reach your target event with less resistance/weight and increased repetitions.

Working on increasing muscle mass now in the winter and then in the spring/summer months working on endurance and speed will balance you between too lean and too built.

Planning when to build strength, base, endurance and speed will give you a well rounded program and help you build effective power when you need it.

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