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A little about carbon fiber

Ever wondered how paddle manufacturers make paddles lighter and stiffer or why some manufacturers indicate certain degrees of fragility to their paddles?  Well, I’m still figuring this out as well, but in so doing, I found a good explanation from Calfee Design, a local business that specializes in carbon fiber repair work for bicycles.

Check it out here!

Turn On Your Off Season

Right now in the Bay Area, most adult recreational dragon boat teams are winding down for their “off-season” due to local races stopping until around April.  Many paddlers will decrease the frequency of water training (if not cutting it out entirely) over the next few months.  If you are a recreational paddler who has practiced and raced from April to September this year, you may be excited to have all this free time to go on a week long vacation for once or sleep in on weekends without the guilt of missing water time with the team.  Don’t get me wrong, the long gap between local races is a perfect time to enjoy yourself away from dragon boat, but consider how your time spent will affect your return to the next season.

Don’t be a couch potato this off-season!

I read a great article by a cycling coach detailing his views on this very subject.  You can read it here.

Essentially, all Bay Area paddlers should recognize that we are not professional paddlers in any shape or form.  It is highly unlikely you are overtraining for dragon boat specifically and, as such, don’t need the time to recover from the sport like pro athletes can.  Realize also that if you decide to take a break from dragon boat this winter, will you inadvertently be taking a break from exercise in general?  Doing this can mean that you will come back next season weaker and more prone to injury than you are right now.

With this understanding, I recommend that everyone enjoy their time outside of a dragon boat but still challenge yourselves to enhancing your fitness in ways you could/did not while during the dragon boat season.  After all, being a recreational dragon boat paddler may mean you struggled to allocate a few hours per week for paddling alone, never mind time to cross train.  Work on enhancing your core stability, losing weight, stretch your tight paddling muscles, cross train in another sport entirely!  The possibilities are endless but all beneficial to keeping good fitness while paving the way to a better and healthier start of the next season.

Goooaaaallll!

It’s that great feeling when you set out to accomplish something and through a combination of blood, sweat, and tears that you see that goal met.  Being a coach is being a leader.  This is somebody who formulates a strong plan and sets goals and methods to lead the team to success by the season’s end.  I previously wrote this article on goal setting and, over my later years of coaching, have found several key points that I’ve found essential to include.

1.  Know what the team wants

I came to a point in my coaching career where I thought I knew myself and where I wanted to be, but that place was not necessarily where the team wanted to go.  As a leader, I made the mistake of assuming that the goals I set were shared among everybody.  Of course, those goals failed and it’s no mystery why!  The saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” sums up the need for a coach to fit themselves into the team’s unified goal.  In elite sports, what team plans to NOT make it to the championship?  None.  On recreational teams, such as with dragon boat, the team’s vision of meeting a goal may not be to win, but merely to participate and spend time with other teammates.  Trying to push a recreational team towards a singular goal of winning a championship is as inappropriate as setting a competitive team towards a specific goal of finishing last.  A coach can suggest goals but cannot force a team to adopt them.

2.  Know what to do

After a team accepts the goals a coach suggests, a plan must be established.  Imagine an olympic weight lifter whose training for the games was decided randomly by rolling a die of random activities.  One day, the athlete lifts heavy weights and the next day lifts weights as quickly as possible.  The next day the athlete tries to lift half the weight, twice as many times and then doubles the weight to lift half the reps, etc.  Without a logical progression in specific training or a rationale as to why to choose certain activities, there can be no consistent progress towards any goal.  Random practice results in random results and is not a good way to meet a specific goal.  I recommend writing out a specific plan to get your team from where it starts the season to where it needs to be.

3.  Know what you want

As a coach, you are a person with a certain background and certain biases.  You have feelings and desires, strengths and weaknesses.  Ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish for yourself as a coach and why are you coaching in the first place?  Knowing yourself and understanding your reasons for making decisions is essential for your personal longevity as coach and success in leading the team effectively.

4.  Know how you are doing

The ability to test and re-test is a critical skill to use mid-season.  As you follow your plan, you need to know one thing: is it working?  What lets you know you are headed in the right direction?  Finding a reliable test, be it team fitness challenges, time trials, mid-season race results, etc, provides you with a compass throughout the season that can guide you to sticking to the plan or modifying it along the way.

5.  Put it all together

A team is a collection of individuals.  Get each individual to accept the goal and the path to meeting that goal.  Have them commit to what you say it will take to meet that goal.  Follow the plan to get where you need to be.  Adapt your plan as needed to address unforeseen challenges.  Make sure YOU are not contributing to the team falling short of its goal.  Don’t forget, have fun!

2013 Dragon Boat Paddle Comparisons

It’s been 4 years

since my last survey of dragon boat paddles available to athletes the world round.  With the growing popularity of dragon boat, changes in IDBF paddle dimension allowances, and improvements in manufacturing processes, some brands have flourished and others have faded away.  New philosophies in paddling performance and function have lead to many innovative products.

I’ve scoured the internet to find published prices and updated information on each paddle model from the manufacturer whenever possible.  If there is a major brand I’ve left out, please let me know and I’ll look into it!

Without further ado, here is the 2013 Dragon Boat Paddle Comparison List!

Finish It…Slowly?

How much paddling effort is optimal for different parts of the race?  Certainly very few if any athletes can go 100% effort for 2 continuous minutes without fatigue affecting performance, so for a 500 meter race, it behooves the athlete and coach to know how effort can best be used to pace the race in order to get the best time.

Physiology review!

Our muscles contain several different types of fibers, each with their own attributes that allow us a range of force-exerting capabilities from holding a baby kitten to performing a heavy dead lift.  Motor control is a complex system within the brain but outside the spinal cord, things get simpler.  This is what we can focus on for the scope of this post.  Motor neurons of different sizes connect like wires to muscle fibers, stimulating them to twitch and eventually reach sustained contraction, or tetanus, with enough action potentials/electrical signal.

We can group motor neurons into 2 main groups, large and small.  Likewise muscle fibers can be grouped into 2 main types, Type I and Type IIa/IIx.  Small motor neurons recruit Type I muscle fibers, which are slow to contract, produce low force, but are very fatigue resistant.  Think of the muscles that operate your eyelids.  Unless you’re the average college student, those things stay open most of the day and possibly through late nights in places your mother shouldn’t know about.  Similar muscle fibers operate even when you are walking.  Most healthy individuals can walk and talk with minimal fatigue.

Large motor neurons carry fast electrical signals to your so-called “fast-twitch” muscle fibers.  These fibers take relatively more signal to contract, but once they do, they produce high amounts of force in a short period of time.  They also fatigue quickly.  Going from a walk to a sprint or performing a box jump will fire these Type II muscle fibers.

Muscle Fibers in Paddling

Paddling is a mix of muscle fiber utilization, as many daily activities are as well.  The start of the race is strenuous because the boat is at a standstill and the water feels very thick/heavy.  Taking hard strokes through this situation will favor the Type II fibers.  As the boat reaches race pace and the speed plateaus, less emphasis on power per stroke (and thus less fatigue per stroke) can be applied to simply maintain race pace and hull speed vs accelerate the boat.  Have you ever been on a boat where the crew hits an overrate and keeps it there?  I have (a few times) and it doesn’t end well.  Rating down and reducing power per stroke results in a lower reliance upon Type II fibers for paddling and less fatigue.

Some teams may call powers or some equivalent bump in effort to strategically stay ahead of other racers or simply to fight a gradual decline in hull speed.  Again, taking harder or faster strokes will result in more Type II fibers being recruited, which will contribute to fatigue.

For the finish, is it better to pull a hard and fast acceleration or a gradual one?  It depends.  Highly trained athletes with good conditioning will have a better ability to recruit Type II fibers with less fatigue, but you can’t fight the physiology of trying hard.  Fatigue will hit and sap the performance of any and all who exert 100% effort.  No team wants to be slowing down by the end of the race, after all.  In this sense, a hard and fast finish will mean an athlete can exert themselves for a shorter amount of time before bonking out.

Don’t Bonk!

Don’t Bonk!

Assuming that your boat is dead-even with the competition, travelling at the same speed, and the other crew maintains the same speed through the finish line, your crew will need to accelerate to pass the other boat.  This is where a “finish” is useful in the most basic sense.

Acceleration requires the application of more force and power to the water.  This power ramp can be applied gradually over a period of time or more aggressively in a compressed time frame.  It obviously takes more energy to accelerate quickly and it is relatively more difficult to accelerate a moving boat than it is a stopped one (really!).

A crew that takes a more gradual approach to the finish may reduce the fatigue associated with accelerating the boat but will need to avoid making the finish so long that fatigue causes hull speed to drop before the finish line.  The competition also poses a variable for when and how to run a finish.  Calling the finish after that of other nearby crews potentially demands your boat to accelerate in a shorter amount of time to avoid being passed.  Being “forced” to finish on account of another teams potentially better race piece may result in excess fatigue for your crew and decreased performance.

Most coaches recommend racing your own race, which has plenty of wisdom to it, however when up against close competition the ability to adapt on the fly is very useful when winning is all that matters.

Avoiding Overuse Injuries

Reading through an edition of PTinMotion Magazine, I stumbled upon a quick article citing the findings and recommendations of a Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, MD of Loyola University Medical Center and his efforts to study risk factors of overuse injuries in young athletes ages 8-18.  I haven’t read his actual study, but I’m assuming most of the subjects of the study were not participants of dragon boat paddling.  Even if this were true, the repetitive and strenuous nature of paddling does present a risk for developing overuse injuries in youth and adult paddlers alike.

Dr. Jayanthi’s recommendations were as follows:
(Keep in mind these are angled towards athletes age 8-18)

–  Athletes should not spend more hours per week than their age playing sports

–  Athletes should not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spend in gym and unorganized play

–  Athletes should not specialize in 1 sport before late adolescence

–  Athletes should not play sports competitively year-round

–  Athletes should take at least 1 day off per week from sports training

For more information click here

Take Home Message for Paddlers

Youth paddling in the Bay Area and many other places around the world is fast becoming a popular practice.  The teamwork, leadership, and athletic benefits of dragon boat as a sport are undeniable in promoting the present and future well being of young people.  What generally concerns me is how far behind dragon boat coaching and training are to more established sports such as basketball, running, or crew just to name a few.  Many coaches are qualified only by their passion and first-hand experience in the sport but not by their education in physical or sport training.  There is also a lack of specific studies regarding the impact of long-term dragon boat paddling on developing and mature athletes.  As a result, dragon boat paddlers and coaches will need to rely on the generalization of information found in studies like Dr. Jayanthi’s to help promote the longevity of their athletes in the sport.

Point by point, here are my recommendations based upon those from the study:

–  Athletes should avoid paddling more than 18 hours per week.  

Yeah, I know extrapolating the study recommendations would mean if you’re 40 years old you should be able to paddle up to 40 hours per week, but that’s literally like a full-time job!  Paddling is not your job.  18 hours of paddling would be 2.5 hours per day, longer if you take a rest day (see below).  I am not aware of any top team on the west coast that practices anywhere close to this amount and not still perform well on an international level.  I believe teams can do more good for performance in far less amount of water time than this number.

–  On-water training should not exceed twice the amount of time spent cross-training

This would often prove to be the strongest cap to on-water paddling time.  For example, if you work out in the gym 1 hour daily, that’s 7 hours per week and your on-water time should not exceed 14 hours per week.  What this allows paddlers to do is stay well-rounded.  Varying activities helps to balance your strengths/weaknesses, rest your affected paddling anatomy, and give you a mental break as well to minimize overuse injuries and mental burnout.

–  For young paddlers, stay active in at least one other sport or athletic endeavor

Again, varying activities not only reduces the risk of overuse injuries in the primary sport, but in growing athletes, helps to develop better kinesthetic skill and diverse interests for future health.  I’m sure you’ve all known at least one person who was injured playing a sport growing up and has become a generally sedentary person  ever since.  Having other interests can help avoid this.  There is also such a push to get kids “serious” about sports earlier and earlier that it’s really quite ridiculous.  The promise of college scholarships, parent bragging rights, and shiny trophies are only part of the hysteria.  This mentality has also lead to progressive rates in sport injuries among young athletes.  With ZERO scholarships available for dragon boat paddlers, the danger of getting too serious, too fast still exists and is preventable.

–  Paddlers, take some time off after the big race

Coaches, set your season goals and training plan around your chosen event and make sure the team gradually progresses towards peaking at that point.  After the main event is completed, give yourself and your paddlers a break.  Organizing long term training into progressive peaks and valleys helps reduce injury and allows for long term improvements to be made.

–  Paddlers should avoid paddling more than 6 days per week

What more can I say about the importance of taking a break?

Use these tips to be a more well-rounded, healthier, and happier athlete!

Paddle Erg Setups

Paddle ergometers are increasingly popular among teams and paddlers looking for objective measures of paddling performance or perhaps dry land training alternatives.  While it’s my opinion that nothing absolutely replaces the training effects of actual water time, I don’t believe there is a single brand of paddling erg around that fails to claim it provides the most realistic dry land paddling experience out there.  The one thing you’ll notice about all paddling ergs is that…drum roll please….they don’t look like dragon boats.  You might say, “of course!  An erg isn’t a boat, my good sir!  A boat is a boat and an erg is an erg!” but when replication of the on-water experience is the goal, taking a look at how closely you can set up the erg to match your on-water setup becomes essential to realistic practice.

Below are the bench metrics I took of one of our local BuK boats, row by row, so that you may try to relate them to your erg setup by adjusting seat height and relative position of bench to the forward foot stop.

Row

A

B

1

11.25

27.75

2

12.5

28.5

3

13.3

29

4

14

29

5

14.25

29.25

6

14.25

29.5

7

13.75

29.25

8

13.1

29

9

12

29

10

11.25

29

A = Bench height over trough (the deepest portion of the hull, closest to the gunnel)

B = Distance of bench front to forward foot stop (linear parallel to long axis of hull, not diagonal from the gunnel)

Units = Inches

Using the 2 numbers you can potentially adjust the seat height and distance relative to the foot brace of the erg to replicate more closely the row that you normally paddle in.  One consideration I thought of for ergs that can replicate the bench to foot stop position is to avoid sitting so high relative to where the cable/rope feeds into the gyro that your “paddle” tip travels above the point during recovery, causing resistance onset to “lag” as one begins the pull phase.

Give it a try!

Moving forward: Plans for the Bay Area’s new OC1 center

Keep your eyes and minds open to supporting this great opportunity!

Moving forward: Plans for the Bay Area’s new OC1 center.

After all….

Get Ergogenic and Get your CAP on!

There is some evidence suggesting that clenching your teeth may actually help you gain an ergogenic advantage in sport performance…at least in terms of strength and power development.

er·go·gen·ic: increasing capacity for bodily or mental labor especially by eliminating fatigue symptoms (merriam-webster)

This ergogenic effect is thought to occur via a complex and still-being-studied neurological phenomenon termed concurrent activation potentiation or CAP.  For example, subjects clenching their jaws showed 12.1% higher rates of force development (RFD) and 15.1% improved results during grip strength testing and even continued to show short term improvements after relaxing their jaws compared to subjects tested without clenching.  Another study showed improved RFD and time to peak force (TTPF) in subjects performing a jump in place.

Hulk strong! Hulk clench teeth!

What does this have to do with paddling?

To date, a quick search on Pubmed reveals there to be 28 studies relating to dragon boat and a majority of them are focusing on the benefits the sport holds for breast cancer survivors.  It will probably be a while before the effects of CAP are studied in relation to dragon boat specifically, but at the cost of clenching vs not clenching your teeth, why not try it?

Imagine your paddlers being 15% stronger and 12% quicker at exerting force for those first few strokes off the line!  If that’s not tapping hidden athletic potential without illegal drugs, I don’t know what is.

Power delivery is most easily applied and also critical to a race start situation.  I say power delivery is “easier” during the start not because it takes less effort, but because the boat and water are relatively stationary to each other, which allows paddlers (both trained and untrained alike) to crank hard with decent efficiency.  As boat speed increases, it takes a great deal more experience and training to efficiently put power into the water (one of the reasons why world-class teams finish races faster with fewer total strokes as novice crews).  Although jaw clenching is probably a very common pre-sport action, dragon boat is a team sport that relies on the sum of its parts.  Imagine your paddlers being 15% stronger and 12% quicker at exerting force for those first few strokes off the line!  If that’s not tapping hidden athletic potential without illegal drugs, I don’t know what is.

The other reason why I propose the CAP effect may work best during the start is that there is currently no evidence that suggests the parameters of jaw clenching on prolonged athletic performance.  So far, all the evidence shows only a concurrent or short term improvement in performance with jaw clenching.  Plus, your masticators may be pretty tired after 2 minutes of continuous clenching.

Maybe jaw clenching is useless, maybe it’s something everybody already does, but it could also be one of the most overlooked areas of sport performance technique.

Of course, if clenching your jaw causes you pain, don’t do it!  Sometimes you just have to use your brain and not your teeth to paddle better.

Leg Length: An Overlooked Measurement?

I took some rough (tape measure) measurements of one of our local BuK boats row by row to learn if and what kind of trends existed in seat metrics.  My thoughts are that while decisions on seating arrangements in the boat are widely multi-factorial, you can’t get around the fixed dimensions of the boat and this establishes a fixed equipment setup that may affect athletic performance, comfort, and health.

Amongst the various measures I made, the set that I thought was most related to paddler function on the boat was about the bench itself.  Here are measures I took:

  • Bench height above the “trough” (lowest point in the hull to front edge of bench)
  • Bench height at midline (mid-hull to front edge of bench)
  • Diagonal reach from front edge of bench at gunnel to corner of first foot stop
  • Straight reach from front edge of bench to first foot stop
Measures taken in a BuK boat rows 1-10

Measures taken in a BuK boat rows 1-10

Results / Discussion

You can see the trend from the graphs that both bench height and effective leg room increase from Row 1 to 5 and then decrease from Row 6 to Row 10.  What this means is that paddlers with longer legs will be more comfortable and, quite possibly more efficient, when sitting in the middle rows.  With the importance of leg drive in paddling efficiency, it makes sense that paddlers who can set their feet in a stable position to transmit force to the boat will be reliant upon finding the correct bench setup that facilitates this.

Typically, crews place heavier and/or taller paddlers in the middle rows.  While it makes sense most of the time that larger athletes may coincidentally have longer leg lengths, it is not always the case.  Anthropomorphically, the ratio of leg length to overall bodily dimensions varies through the population.  If you have a few hours, take this paper for a read!  What this means is that paddlers who are shorter or taller don’t always have shorter or longer legs respectively.

So…

Leg length may be a useful metric to have in setting up your crew through the boat for best results.