This week on myTwitter

Thursday May 19, 11

Connections in swimming

Sunday April 10, 11

Every now and again a new idea, or in this case a comparative coaching idea from another sport, yields a reward.

In today’s swim session I tried to import a coaching concept from kayak that I learned about a few years back (ok maybe a decade ago from Dr. Imre Kemecsey) and reapplied Saturday on my coaching session with Vancouver Ocean Sports.  The recycled idea is that of power circles.

The power circle concept is “relatively simple”, as a coach you associate a progression of technical elements with (or through) the relevant joints and muscles AND mental pathways needed to effect that element.  Power circles are an excellent visual mapping tool for sports with complex technical elements executed through multi-segmental movement acting in three or more rotational planes (i.e. canoe-kayak, swimming, xc skiing, gymnastics, dance, etc.).

There are innumerable power circles linking all the physical and technical elements together.  The resulting mental map of a sport’s power circles creates a very robust and flexible web of connections.

The application of this coaching technique is tricky as you have to understand the causal pathways required to effect the technique in question.  Most importantly, you have to know where a movement originates and where that movement ends.  Furthermore, as a coach you can’t rely on  visual demonstration any longer.  You have to develop clear verbal descriptions and engage your athletes in ongoing discussions as they learn the required connections.



technique corrections

Friday May 14, 10

A quick post on sport technique coaching-

Improving / correcting technique is a tricky task, especially in experienced athletes.  “Experienced” can mean high performance athletes or simply athletes who have been training a long time.  Either way they have built up habits and motor patterns.

If we think about “good” technique being;

  • minimal risk of injuries; to the athlete from overuse and other sources
  • optimal stability; both within the athlete and the athlete relative to the environment
  • optimal efficacy; it does the intended task whether moving through water, on land, on a bike, in a kayak, etc.
  • optimal efficiency; energy consumed to work performed
  • optimal for the integrations of other required elements; starts, turns and navigation in swimming, drafting and pacing on a bike, surfing in a surfski, etc.)

Very often a technical problem has a cause that may not be apparent.  A skilled technical coach addresses the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.

I was taught by a very skilled technical coach in canoe that to source out a technical problem you often have to look two or more joints closer to the core.

Where things get complicated is that a technical problem may have multiple compensations in other joints and movements to mimic “good technique“.  If we were to use algebra to express this;

A is good technique

A’ is a copy of good technique that has a technique problem B needing compensations C, D and E

thus A’=B+C+D+E

To an unskilled coach it may appears by fixing problem B, or A’-B becomes A

Where in reality A’-B= C + D + E

So by fixing one problem, the coach and athlete are left dealing with compensations C, D and E.

Part of the art of coaching is seeing the good technique, identifying the underlying problems AND the compensations in place then planning and implementing a successful intervention that promotes learning.

sport specific strength training

Thursday June 19, 08

As race season approaches we need to pay special attention to the application of the principle of specificity to our training.

Increased specificity towards our competition sport(s) is common enough for fitness and skills training, but strength training very often defies this convention and many programs fail to adapt muscular conditioning to the needs of the sport(s).

Here are some general guidelines regarding muscular conditioning preparation for longer distance events

General preparation phase: safety awareness, learning and consolidating technical lifting skills, movement pattern acquisition (for sport it is core to extremities NEVER extremities to core), joint strength, range of motion and stability, etc. In this phase,exercises are mostly general base building (1-3 sets of 8-12 reps on a slower, steadier tempo) and aerobic base building (1-3 sets of 15-30+ reps on a gentle but steady tempo). Also important at this time are laying the foundation for core stability and balance work.

Specific preparation phase(s): technical skill consolidation continues, core focus incorporates sequencing of larger peripheral muscle groups (and proper joint sequencing), introduction of higher resistance exercises (aka strength building- 4-6 sets x 4-6 reps at a slower tempo), higher movement velocity exercises (2-8 sets of 4-12 reps on faster continuous tempos), higher power output exercises (high resistance and high velocity for 2-10 sets of 1-4 reps on an explosive and controlled tempo). You also want to maintain your base core strength, balance and stability work, aerobic base training and muscle building (as needed).

At this time, thought should be applied to the sport specific movements and balance work needed to enhance competition performance.

Pre-competition phase(s): In this phase all exercises should be as sport specific as possible. Look at body position, joint angles, range of motion, angular velocity/acceleration in the joints and look to recreate that in the gym as best you can.

If you can’t recreate sufficient sport specificity in the gym, move your strength work outside to your sport environment. For example cyclists can do split squats in the gym OR short sprints designed to fit a set number of pedal strokes, certain cadence and resistance. The same focus of the strength should be mimicked in the sport specific environment.

i.e. to increase muscular strength (peak force); 6 sets of 4 in gym on tempo (seconds to complete the eccentric, isometric, concentric and isometric phases of the lift). This is an 8 second lift (add up the tempo numbers) or 32 seconds of hard work.

A cycling equivalent would be single leg (split) squats or a seated position leg press. In the field you could use an indoor trainer / rollers or go outdoors for uphill cycling efforts in a bigger gear and lower cadence . Depending on the sport specific training needs, the duration could be 4-6 pedal strokes (single leg), 8-12 pedal strokes (two legs) or 15-20 seconds (remove the isometric component as is doesn’t apply to cycling.

In swimming, you can simulate the swim movement on a swim bench (i.e. Vasa trainer) or using a simple flat bench and either a cable pull machine or surgical tubing. In the pool or open water you can use tethered swimming under high resistance for 4-8 strokes or high resistance/low cadence efforts of 4-8 strokes or 15 seconds with drag shorts.

In paddling sports, an indoor trainer (i.e. Dansprit, WEBA or Vasa kayak ergometers) seated cable pull core rotations in the gym or tethered paddling under high resistance for 4-12 strokes or high resistance/low cadence efforts of 4-12 strokes or 15-20 seconds with a resistor (i.e. simple bungee around the hull, tennis balls on a string, etc.). Keep in mind too much resistor work can overload joints and the smaller stability oriented muscle groups (i.e. rotator cuff) very quickly.

NOTE: too large a resistor in any sport may significantly alter the biomechanics and place the athlete at risk of injuries. Similarly, too much high resistance work can result in the same risks! It is not uncommon to see athletes and coaches adopt high resistance work in aerobic training only to have it result in a high risk of injuries and loss of the faster cadence/stroke rate required for high power production.

Similarly, peak movement speeds can be developed through assisted movements;

  • downhill sprints in cycling and running
  • using fins in swimming (not paddles as they slow down stroke rate while increasing body speed)
  • surfing and wash riding in paddle sports

Competition phase(s): By this time all muscular conditioning should by exclusively oriented towards sport performance and nothing but specific. All single joint lifts should be discontinued (unless recommended by a physio for a specific injury). Ideally, all muscular conditioning should now be done in a sport specific environment at movement speeds and resistances that simulate the range of power outputs required of the athletes.

Transition phase: In the off season, no muscular conditioning is best. For athletes who like the routine of going to the gym, schedule a 30-45 minute stretching and flexibility routine.

CAUTION: higher resistance training often feels very gratifying and athletes will feel very strong and powerful after such a workout. It is not uncommon to see 20+ minutes of very high resistance training at very low cadences and movement speeds. This will not only encourage low speed movements (cadences) but may minimize the athlete’s ability to perform at higher movement speeds (cadences) as well, which may result in a significantly lower peak power (speed) in sprints and other situations where a high movement velocity is required.

A well designed and administered muscular conditioning program will prepare the athlete for the full range of competition challenges; high resistance x fast movement speed, high resistance x low movement speed, low resistance x fast movement speed, low resistance x low movement speed,…

A good muscular conditioning program must make the transition from the gym to the field of play as the season progresses to ensure peak performance. This transition is more important in elite high performance athletes than for novices. But equally beneficial to each.

As a coach or athlete, figuring out the challenge of how to do this transition to maintain sport specificity is very difficult, but extremely worthwhile!


Base of support in kayak

Friday October 20, 06

I wanted to share some thoughts about single foot well skis and stability.

When teaching flatwater kayaking technique one of the cornerstone skills is that of how to stabilize the hull. As a coach and paddler I try to teach these concepts verbally, visually and kinethetically, but I’ve never tried to communicate this in a written manner, so here it goes.

As you move along a continuum from very stable hulls such as roto-molded recreational sit on top kayaks or sea kayaks (very high primary stability) to faster skis and K1s the consequences of bracing changes. With lots of primary stability you can brace wide, then as primary stability decreases the brace has to narrow down toward the long axis of the hull. In a high end ICF K1, the stability is found as close to the long axis as possible.

As with all sports, the kayak stroke requires a base of support which allows you to apply force. The more stable your base of support the more force you can apply. In paddle sports, a propulsive force accompanied by how fast you apply it generates the power to move you forward (i.e. speed).

In kayak paddling, your base of support is a triangle extending from;

  1. your core/hips to,
  2. your paddle to
  3. where you contact the hull in front of your core.
  • Some may even argue that it extends the entire length of the long axis of the hull that is in the water with proper technique.

As long as you can apply pressure through all three points (1-2-3) on your base of support you will be stable. When you reduce or eliminate pressure on any one point, your overall stability decreases as well.

The core (1) and paddle (2) aspects of the base of support are relatively clear. The shape of the triangle changes as the hull moves past the paddle, but those two corners of the triangle (should) remain as part of the base of support. Only when you enter the glide phase is your base of support severely compromised by the lack of the paddle (2).

Looking at the location of that third point of contact in your base of support takes us forward from the hips. If you contact at the knees through bracing on the gunwales or cockpit your base of support is a short triangle.

Theoretically you will not be able to transfer much power to the hull while the paddle is in front of the hips as your base of support is quite narrow and far from the long axis of the hull.

Very skilled surfski and K1 paddlers are able to move that long axis from side to side very slightly to their advantage when using good technique.

If a paddler is braced to tightly in their hull, every movement the hull makes is transferred into the paddler, and vise versa. In flatwater, it is mostly paddler movement affecting the hull stability, but as the water gets rougher the hull movement will increasingly affect the stability. This is most noticeable in steep side waves where the hull is pulled up and pushed down the wave face causing a fair degree of roll. If the hull rolls independently of the paddler there is little effect on stability, but when the paddler moves with the hull the centre of gravity moves further and further away from the centre of the base of support until balance is lost.
In surfski and kayak paddling you see this very often in novice paddlers to rough water who flatten their stroke to widen their base of support accommodate their moving centre of gravity, and speed up the stroke to minimize the time spent without the paddle in the water for support (at the expense of propulsion).

Further complicating the balance of a kayak in rough water is the effect of visual feedback. If a paddler looks at the water immediately around the hull or the hull itself, and uses this for balance feedback, the paddler will compromise their balance by moving with the perceived motion of the wave front(s) not simple allowing their centre of gravity to move up and down with the wave(s) passing under the hull and accommodating any challenges presented by the wind on the hull and paddler.

Anyways, just thoughts and theories.

Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services

Rough water skills Part I

Wednesday November 23, 05

Here in Vancouver we often get short period (2-5 seconds), 0.3-1 m amplitude waves as a result of high winds and short fetch. The Jericho PNW-ORCA race of 2005 was a good example. The resulting waves rarely travel faster than 12-15 km/hr. At under 13 km/hr (~8 m/hr) the waves are often slowing me down, acting like speed bumps requiring lots or rudder work to hit the shoulders or low spots consistently. To build good surfing speed in these waves, I have found that quartering the waves (surf them at 45º or more from the direction of the wave front) is most effective, which often sends me off in a direction other than where I want to go, meaning I have to tack a great deal to maintain a productive heading in a race or training.

Going into these waves is another story. Aside from the wind, the impact on the hull is quite significant. I would advise anyone paddling in very steep waves, even of only 2-3 feet in overall trough to crest height to carefully inspect their hull after paddling. My Mako Millennium (vacuum bagged carbon) ended up needing the seams on both sides under the cockpit reinforced as both blew out in 4-5 foot sections (about 6 months apart). I suspect that the water conditions aggravated a weakness in this area with all the seesawing and subsequent impact. On numerous occasions I have had my ski ½ airborne with the front half, including me at times, out of the water. The impact on landing is hard to lessen (by leaning back as you teeter over the top). And for those who caught the body rocking reference, going up steep waves lean forward slightly, then back slightly on the descent, only by 5-10º at most. All the lean should originate from the hips, not the lower back.

So be careful, as blown seams in big water means sinking as most skis have no internal positive buoyancy chambers.

Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services

Abdominal muscles in paddling

Friday November 18, 05

Erik asks: Maybe you can comment on something I touched on regarding torso rotational strength and muscle failure. Let me back up a step and say that when doing sit-ups, crunches, etc that primarily work the rectus [abdominus], it’s easy to feel the muscle burn and, thus, assess that muscle’s level of strength. However, when my rotational abs are failing, there isn’t much of anything related to a muscle burn, just the inability to do the required work.

Therefore, these muscles are somewhat silent and it’s difficult to assess their strength and notice their failure. As another example, i’m doing some training sessions with a sledgehammer on a tire, and the same thing holds true – When I tire (excuse the pun), I’m not sore, just wobbly in the core.

Why the different feeling?

Alan: Paddling uses a combination of abdominal muscles; obliques (internal and external), transverse abdominus (wraps your torso like a wide belt), rectus abdominus. Abdominal muscles are very strong and extremely aerobic at the same time. This is a function of their role in both posture and abdominal cavity protection. These muscles also adapt very fast to stimuli, such as exercises, training, etc. As they all work together in paddling, I would suspect that the lack of fatigue Erik mentions (burning, aching, etc.) is probably due to fact the fatigue experienced in most paddling events we do is due to substrate depletion or long term metabolite accumulation (aerobic) as opposed to short term metabolite accumulation (anaerobic). Sprint kayaking (fast 200 and 500 m efforts in particular) will get you that burning sensation!

Muscular fatigue is accompanied by reduced force, reduced speed (resulting in reduced power), reduced range of motion, reduced endurance, and an inability to relax the muscle. This is due to an increase in muscular acidity (lower pH) which interferes with calcium binding properties. In the case of anaerobic exercise induced fatigue (relatively big intramuscular pH change), this may well cause localized burning sensations. If I remember correctly, low pH reduces calcium binding which inhibits relaxing which causes the discomfort (burning). The wobbly feeling (decreased core stability) is a direct consequence of the reduced abdominal strength/coordination.

Your regular crunches, sit up and the like do primarily work the rectus abdominus (aka six pack muscles) which have an action of bringing the sternum closer to the pelvis in a longitudinal axis (head to toes). If you add a transverse rotational component into your exercise repertoire you’ll strengthen your obliques and transverse abdominus as well. When I went to the gym regularly I did a standing and sitting cable pull exercise that was essentially mimicking the kayak pull, but I kept the arms and back muscles isometric (non-contracting) so as to load the rotational / postural musculature. Doing crunches where you rotate from side to side also work, likewise holding a medicine ball. Check out this link for some ideas.

Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services