Larry Cain Warmups

A new post by Coach Larry Cain

Getting a little extra distance in each workout has a big impact on your paddling over time. What may seem like insignificant extra distance on a particular day, if repeated daily or even just semi-regularly will yield big returns over the course of a season.

I can remember 1986 being one of my most disappointing years racing sprint canoe. At the end of the season I reflected on the training I’d done and things I could improve upon. One of the things I realized is that in almost every workout that season I did the bare minimum for warm up and cool down. I decided that would be one of the things I’d address as I started training for the 1987 season and I started doing a full lap of the river – a full 5 km – before starting each workout. I also tried to cool off down to the harbour after every workout, adding a minimum of an extra 2 km to each cool down. While this added an extra 40 minutes to every session it was time well spent and yielded approximately 70 extra kilometers each week. This had a profound impact on my performance in 1987 where I was able to reassert myself as one of the top 4 in the world.

A lot of the warm up and almost all of the cool down I did was at level 2 so it wasn’t exactly hard work. That was left to the workouts themselves. I found the extra warm up meant that the first 10 minutes of my workouts were generally of higher quality that they were when I had fallen into the trap of doing abbreviated warm ups. No longer was I using the first 10 minutes of the work to get fully locked in and ready to do hard, high quality work. I also found that the extra mileage I was logging each week had a big impact on my aerobic fitness and the quality of the connection in my stroke.

Studies have shown that you don’t need to paddle at level 3 or higher to develop your aerobic base. While intensity is important in development of higher level aerobic ability, the aerobic base which all other aerobic and anaerobic abilities are built upon is developed very effectively at level 2.

Adaptations at the level of the individual muscles fibers that lead to improved aerobic performance don’t depend so much on the intensity of the work but rather the duration. So, by extending the amount of level 2 paddling I did in each training session by lengthening the warm up and cool down I was increasing the adaptations occurring in my paddling muscles that supported improved aerobic performance.

Similarly, the extra distance I was logging had a positive impact on my command of effective technique. We’re all familiar with the concept of repetition being important in the development of complex motor skills. Paddling, whether in a sprint canoe or kayak or a stand-up paddleboard is a very complex movement. Developing really superior SUP skills, whether they be basic paddling technique and connection with the water, improved balance, or rough water skills is all about repetition. The more quality time you’re spending on your board the better your skills are going to be. Consider some of the top pros in SUP like Connor Baxter or Michael Booth. These guys have either spent a lifetime on the water surfing or paddling or have totally dedicated themselves to paddling, spending long countless hours on their boards, over the last several seasons. Yes, they’re extremely talented athletes but that talent is not innate. It’s been earned through the colossal amount of time they’ve spent on the water. In comparison most of us have a skills deficit. If we’re going to come remotely close to being as skilled as they are we need to increase our time on the water.

So how do we get more time on the water when we’re leading such busy lives?

The key lies in not trying to make up that time all at once. Starting by adding an extra kilometer to your warm up and cool down gives you an extra 2 km every workout. That’s no more than an extra 15 minutes of your time. That could lead to as much as an extra 8 to 12 km a week. Investing a little time every day leads to a significant amount of extra time each week and an even greater amount of time every month. Project this over the course of a paddling season and suddenly you’ve paddled literally hundreds of extra miles. The cumulative effect of a few extra minutes on the water each day is profound over the course of a season.

Obviously, if you’re on a training program and there are ultra-long workouts scheduled you don’t need to extend warm ups or cool downs for them. If you’re doing a workout that is 2 hours or longer you’re doing plenty. But those shorter sessions that take just over an hour can be greatly enhanced just by extending your warm and cool down slightly. It’s a small price to pay for the huge benefits it yields.

Happy paddling!



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Paddle Monster Coaches:

Larry Cain: Olympic Gold & Silver Medalist, Olympic Paddle Coach
Travis Grant: Multiple World SUP & OC-1 Champion, SUP and OC Coach
Chris Chapman: Olympic Paddle Strength Coach, MSc., CSCS, CSEP-CEP
Seychelle Webster: World Record Holder, Current #1 World Ranking (Nov 2019)
Dr. Victoria Burgess: PHD, CISSN, World Class Paddler



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Larry Cain began his career in 1974 at the Oakville Racing Canoe Club, now the Burloak Canoe Club, in Oakville, Ontario. Cain competed in three Summer Olympics, winning a gold medal in the C-1 500 m, and a silver medal in the C1 1000 m events. He also won a silver medal in the C-1 1000 m event at the 1989 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Plovdiv. In 1984, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. A trail in Oakville has been named in his honour running along the town's waterfront where Cain trained. He worked as a coach, preparing paddlers for the Olympic Games in Rio. In 2016 Cain co-founded Paddle Monster.