Now that the lockdown in England has been eased and the advice for Wales has been updated it will be possible for people to get out on the water for the first time in seven weeks. For many of us the only water available will be flat. I love paddling flat water. Granted it’s more like going for a run than it is like running a rapid. But it’s a great way to get my fix. Simply being on the water makes me feel connected with nature and can help me de-stress.

I’m lucky to have a beautiful (but flat) section of the Tees less than two kilometres from my house. Just going out and paddling up and back can get a bit dull. So along with doing 10, 14 or 26 km paddles what I really like to do is exhaust myself by doing intervals. Here are five of my favourite sessions. They can all be adjusted to be longer or shorted in duration. I tend to do around an hour for a threshold session and a little less for a sprint session. You can do them in any kayak, canoe, SUP or even running or on your bike. All you need is a watch. I use a fancy Garmin thing with a heart rate monitor that tracks your pace and allows you to program in the sessions, but for two years I used a cheap Casio watch and just taped it to my deck or tucked it under my spray skirt. Either works fine!

Training on the Tees – photo Paul Newton

Some notes on effort:

Sprint is self-explanatory (as the Yorkshire lads would say: ‘go full bifta’). These sessions are about going hard for short intervals.

Speed endurance is longer than a sprint you should be pulling really hard but not wind-milling your arms. It’s all about putting power through the blade. Usually 30-60 second efforts.

Threshold is somewhere between sprint and endurance. You should be going at a pace that is really pushing you but that you can sustain for the duration of the effort. With a heart rate monitor on I aim for 10-30 bpm less than my max.

1/ Lee’s threshold pyramid

Really this should be called Lee’s threshold stairs as it’s only the second half of a pyramid. I got this one from international kayaking ninja Lee Royle when he came to work in Newcastle for a bit. To make it last an hour start with a 9-minute effort. The efforts then decrease for every effort by 1 minute. Have a minute’s rest in between them.

The session: 9 on 1 off, 8 on 1 off, 7 on 1 off (if like me you are paddling out and back this is the point where you should turn around), 6 on 1 off, 5 on 1 off, 4 on 1 off, 3 on 1 off, 2 on 1 off, 1 on 1 off.  

I like to build my pace until I turn around and then try and then push really hard for the six-minute effort. I then try and keep that as my minimum pace until the end of the session. If you want to have a shorter session just get on the stairs later.

2/ 30 seconds by 40 (sorry no good name for this one!)

This is a speed endurance session where you focus on pulling hard and smooth. Aim to get good trunk rotation and forward paddling technique rather than just spinning your arms madly. Check out Jake Holland’s videos for things to think about in this one! As with any of them adjust the length to your need but remember the biggest gain is to be had when you are the most exhausted.

The session: 2-3 minute warm up gentle paddling with the occasional 5-10 second sprint. Then blocks of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. I do [5x(30 on, 30 off) 1 min rest, 5x(30 on, 30 off) 2.5 min rest] repeated 4 times, then gentle paddle for 1-3 mins to finish.

It’s essentially sets of five where you go fast for thirty seconds and rest for thirty seconds with extra rest at the end of each set. I do forty efforts but this might seem a bit extreme so feel free to do less. I suggest starting with twenty and working up in fives.

Putting to fitness to the test racing at Galway Fest – photo Jack Ledwith

3/ Aaron’s brutal sprints

This one came from the northern region slalom coach and is as the name suggests a sprint session but with a good bit of speed endurance thrown in. You can blame Aaron for it not me!

The session: warm up then repeat the following as many times as you like (I do it three times). [6x(10s (seconds) on, 10s off), 50s on 60s off, 6x(10s on, 10s off), 3 minute rest], repeat!  

The fifty second on part is killer! But it is epic for building your lactic tolerance. Great for those moments where you have rolled up mid rapid right before the crux and you are already exhausted.

4/ 8 – 6s (eight sixes)

Possibly my favourite threshold session. I got it originally from Jiri at Radical Rider. I just really like six minute’s as a distance (technically a time I suppose), not really sure why.

The session: warm up (3 min), 8x [6 min on, 1 min off] simple! You might want to take a 2 min rest after the fourth set before you turn around and head home.

5/ Sprint balls

Say what? The strange name refers to the fact that I do this session with some plastic balls on bungee cord wrapped around the boat. This adds extra resistance and builds strength plus it slows the boat down allowing you to really feel out your technique. No bungee balls? I’ve done it with a helmet clipped tied to a grab loop before (it’s a lot of drag), or you can use rope, a sturdy bag, anything really.

I got this session (and my bungee balls) off Hannah Brown and Ben Oakley. Two of the top wild water racers in the world who are based in Nottingham. Both have international medals and Hannah is two-time world champ.

The session:  warm up 2-3 min, 4x[10x(10s (seconds) on, 30s off), 3 minute rest], for repeat 1 and 2 I used two sets of balls (max resistance), repeat 3 one set and then the final set I do without any resistance. The aim is to be working at 60-80% max effort and focus on a different aspect of you paddling technique in each repeat. In the final repeat with no resistance up your effort gradually so the last effort is at absolute maximum effort.

Having resistance on really helps me focus on technique but the biggest thing is the feel when it comes off. It’s hard to explain but I would really recommend trying this one.

Being fit and strong really helps when you get back on the white water
– photo Saf Par, Zambia 2019