Paddling intensity & rate

This is a question than almost every paddler encounters at some time or another. Except those who go hard everyday without thinking about it.

How hard you go (intensity) and how fast your rate goes varies on what the goal of the workout is. Let’s look at both parts; intensity and rate.


Intensity varies as a function of duration. For short durations you should be able to work much harder than you can for longer duration. In other words, an all out 30 second effort is faster than an all out 5 minute effort, which is faster than a 2 hour effort.

That’s assuming you go at a 100% effort for that duration. if you go slightly easier then things get confusing. 80% of an all out 30 seocnd effort may well be 100% of a 5:00 minute effort, and 80% of a 5 minuute effort may be a 100% 2 hour effort.

A good coach working with well trained athletes will use a variety of effort levels and durations in intensity workouts to achieve certain objectives;

Assuming a 100% effort;

    20 sec to 1:00 min anaerobic effort

    1:00-2:00 min mix of anaerobic & peak aerobic effort (where peak indicates you’ll achieve your highest possible HR and oxygen consumption that day

    2:00-6:00 min peak aerobic efforts

    6:00-10:00+ min less than peak aerobic efforts (less then peak HR, VO2, etc.)


As a rule of thumb, the higher the overall intensity the higher the rate. You can also think of this as short duration means higher rate. However, if your rate get’s too high your technique fails and you get slower (ironically while still working harder).

The best rate for each individual is very unique to them. It will vary with muscular strength, speed, age, fast twitch/slow twitch muscle fibre, training back ground, height limb length, wind, waves, etc. Likewise, crew boats and individual boats will differ in rate for the same event.

Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services


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