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Physical Preparation for Canoe Slalom
by Jimmy Jayes


Once a high level of specific slalom skill has been developed, to gain further progress within the sport, detailed attention to the physical aspects of the preparation is necessary. As time and commitment allow for more training, some major mistakes are all too often made. Foremost amongst these is over use of high intensity (anaerobic) training sessions and thus not allowing sufficient recovery from these training sessions.

With many of the people we are coaching, a main theme of their training is the use of alternate days of aerobic and anaerobic work, thus allowing good recovery from each type of training session. This is extremely important to avoid over training and consequent deterioration in performance.

Anaerobic Lactlc Tralnlng

Anaerobic sessions can take many foms, including full runs during and leading up to the season, and other shorter high intensity courses with varied rest periods. During these anaerobic days most of the paddlers are doing more than one anaerobic session in the day to ensure sufficient overload to aid development. These sessions are evenly balanced from a fatigue point of view. It is the equivalent of doing two half sessions within the same day. High repetition weight training is also used. These days are followed by days where the aim of the sessions is to be lactic free.

A good aerobic capacity is necessary in order to develop a high anaerobic capacity. On the non lactic days the paddlers are doing sessions at or below their anaerobic threshold level - these sessions being guided by pulse rate and the use of a test (Conconi) to establish their anaerobic threshold level. These sessions are about 30-40 minutes duration, the work being divided up into lengths of anything from 3 min approaching races to 20 min during the winter with only 1 - 2 min rests during the session.

ATP-CP Alactic

Other sessions on these non lactic days are stressing the ATP-CP system working form 5 - 15 seconds high intensity work with long rests 1 - 2 mins. These days also fit in well with heavy weight training provided the reps are low and the rest long.

The Weekly Programme

This can be arranged to try and avoid over-training and allow recovery of energy stores. Each training session is usually a very gradual progression of the previous work, either in intensity, length or number of repetitions used.

Within this structure there is a great deal of choice as to what sessions to use, often with quite different sessions achieving the same results.

It must be stressed that the quantity of sessions shown are for a high level performer, who has usually built up to these amounts over a period of months or years. Often skill development work would be added onto this programme as extra sessions are done in replacement to some sessions during the off season.

To incorporate this programme for the use of lower level athletes it would be wise to emit or replace some of the anaerobic sessions with skill development type work as that is usually where the greatest gains will be made.

Day 1 Rest day or very light session
Day 2 1*High Quality     2 Aerobic
Day 3 1 Anaerobic        2 Anaerobic
Day 4 1 Aerobic/Recovery 2 ATP-CP/Aerobic
Day 5 1 Anaerobic        2 Anaerobic
Day 6 1 Aerobic/Recovery 2 ATP-CP/Aerobic
Day 7 1 Anaerobic        2 Anaerobic
* High quality sessions. To produce high quality race performance, race simulation session or other high speed session.

* Session 1 on day 3 may need to be a recovery session depending on the severity of the high quality session on Day 2.

Aerobic/Recovery: A session performed below aerobic threshold level.

Out of Season

A similar structure can be used, but the balance of aerobic/anaerobic/ATP-CP work is biased more towards the ATP-CP and aerobic training. A small amount of maintenance anaerobic work is done during the off season, with the main anaerobic work usually introduced between eight to sixteen weeks before major competitions.


At top level it is important to target only a few major events per year, to be peak performances. It is all too easy to try and produce a peak for each and every event. If this is done, when looking back at the season as a whole it would be seen that major parts of the paddler's training time would be spent resting and easing up for non important events, thus losing a lot of training time. The result of this strategy is usually mediocre results throughout the season. The main point is to have these systems developed to optimum levels in time for major events. This often means sacrificing some event and performances which is hard to accept mentally but necessary from a physical point of view

Approaching a major event the paddler gradually cuts down the amount of work starting from 2 weeks to a few days before the event depending on the paddlers condition, severity of the previous training and the importance of the event. Also the rest during the sessions is sometimes increased to enable the paddler to move at a faster rate. Another option is to do slightly less amounts of work than before, and to spread the work into more sessions within the day or week. This is an excellent way of producing quality.


As well as the sessions broken into alternate days to allow recovery, a rest day each week is usually necessary. This is probably best taken the day after an anaerobic session, and the day before the usual race day. This helps to form a pattern for both the paddler's mind and body, leading up to race day, thus providing a mini peak each week, from which the paddler can do some high quality work, (usually a race simulation session or other high speed work).

Stretching and massage, as well as helping to prepare for training and competition, can play an important part in the recovery process.

Eating and drinking soon after training is also useful, as that is when the body will most absorb and need energy.

Technique (within this structure)

Every gate session should be a technique session to some extent. During repeated gate courses many of the techniques used in racing become almost totally automatic, often performing hundreds of moves and gates in one session. The main point is to be a thinking paddler, even in the most intense and pressured situations. Because of the very often repetitive nature of much of the physical development work, and bearing in mind that this is when often the final touches in coordination and grooving of technique are put together, it is extremely important during these highly physical training sessions to either:

1 - pay attention to technique;
2 - make the courses very easy;
3 - do a non gate session, in order not to undermine good technique.

Technique development is best achieved when the paddler is fresh and able to concentrate. The paddler is usually ready for this after an aerobic day, or rest day. Good technique is anything that is the fastest, and can be consistently repeated on race day. A main aim of technique work is the development of conservation of momentum within each move, and the run as a whole. By the time of major events, the paddler should have a very clear idea of what is possible, both technically and physically.

Monitoring and Testing

In order to carry out and adapt the training programme it is important to have feedback to indicate progress or decline in efficiency of the programme. It is necessary to have this information quickly, accurately and specifically, to achieve the performance required. It is also extremely important for motivation. To achieve this result we have developed a slalom specific test.

The result of the test is probably of most relevance if taken the day after the rest day. This being the usual race day and peak performance for the week. The test requires the athlete to negotiate two gates in a figure of eight pattern on a continuous loop basis on flat water. The gates are hung on a single line and set six metres apart (measuring from the two poles nearest each other). The pole heights are set at 1 5cm above the water. The athlete wears a recording pulse meter during the test which is translated into graph form for later analysis to assess the results of the test and training. The athlete paddles at a pace dictated by an audio cassette tape emitting bleeps. The tape was originally developed as part of a running test. (*1)

Starting the Slalom Performance Test

Start the cassette player. At the beginning of the tape, two bleeps indicate an accurately timed one-minute interval. Use this to check that the tape has not stretched, and that the speed of the cassette player is correct. Accuracy to within 0.5 seconds either way is sufficient. The tape continues with a brief explanation of the test, leading into a l, four-second countdown to the start. Thereafter the tape emits a single bleep at regular intervals. The athlete should aim to be at the opposite gate to the start by the time the first bleep sounds. They should than continue paddling at this speed, with the body being within the gate line of one gate or the other each time there is a bleep.

After each minute, the time interval between bleeps will decrease, so that the paddling speed will need to be increased. The first paddling speed is referred to as Level 1, the second speed as Level 2, and so on. Each level lasts approximately one minute. The athlete should continue until they can no longer keep up with the pace of the bleeps.

Analysing the results

The first result, which is easily accessed and compared even without the use of the pulse meter is a good measure of the athletes overall endurance capacity, and is shown by the maximum level achieved at the end of the test.

The second result is shown by the pulse rate graph, revealing the level of exertion, both aerobic and anaerobic, at various levels during the test. These are especially interesting at high sub maximal level of speed and exertion, as they relate well to slalom racing, because many race runs are performed at sub maximal pace due to the skill demand of the course. Also, these sub maximal readings are of great value, as it is often difficult for the athlete to perform at maximum intensity on a regular basis. A graph from a previous test is very easily compared with a present performance.

The third result is simply the number of penalties incurred during the test. It is also interesting to look at what level of exertion pertains when the penalties are incurred. There is a point at which skill control deteriorates very quickly, due to the build up of lactic. Knowing this, will help as a guide to future pacing of race runs. Thesc penalties may also be due to concentration problems, also often related to fatigue.

Future Developments

As more tests are carried out, we will be able to see to what extent there is a correlation to race results. To align results with the paddlers VO2 maximum lab results, and draw a set of tables to show which level is equivalent to which VO2 max. To experiment with different gate lay-outs, and extend the test on to consistent and repeatable white water situations, thus making it even more specific and accurate. To use the test for comparison of boat and paddle performance as well as athlete.

*1 Leger, L.A. and La nbert, J., 1982 A Maximal multistage 20m shuttle run test to predict VO2 Max.. Eur. J. Appl. Phsiol 49, 1-5

Reference: Janssen, Peter G.J.M. Training Lactate Pulse Rate


  • Conconi test: A test used to establish the anaerobic threshold with-out taking blood samples.
  • Aerobic energy supply: Energy supply with sufficient oxygen. No lactate accumulation.
  • Anaerobic energy supply: Energy supply with insufficient oxygen. There is an accumulation of lactate.
  • Lactate: By-product of the oxidation of glucose with insufficient oxygen.
  • Anaerobic threshold: When performing above this level lactate ac-cunulation takes place rapidly.
  • ATP: Adenosine triphosphate:High energy compound.
  • CP: Creatine phosphate: high-energy phosphate present in muscle cells.

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