Training intensity: make sure that you have gears

Most athletes (paddlers) when exempting to structure training perceive that more volume or density is better.  This is a great question, if I paddle more will I get faster, stronger, fitter? Most athletes getting into some sort of structured training to improve performance think this true.  While volume is an important factor in any plan, intensity is just as important.  The options of intensity are often confusing when we see terms like vVo2, lactate threshold, Rate of perceived exertion, Zones, %MHR and supramaximal training.

The key thing is to make sure that the intensity for you is correct.  A good quote I once heard when track sprinting was “train slow be slow, train fast be fast” so as you can imagine the saying alludes to get the training structured, the volume and intensity correct and the recovery needed to allow the adaptations to take place.

Most athletes used to train at a % of VO2 max (the amount of oxygen you can take in and transport to the tissues that need it, measured in ML/kg of body weight) but this has been shown to stay static in elite athletes, however when training just below or at lactate threshold (LT), LT and performance improves consistently.  Some studies have shown that lactate threshold improved from between 3.0% and 11% however this 11% increase was observed when completing 6 LT sessions per week.


Although I mentioned that VO2max did not increase in elite athletes, in untrained athletes studied that trained at or near VO2max, VO2max increased. However this could also be seem to be an improvement in economy of movement, very rarely is this considered in studies as a reason for the increased performance.

Supramaximal training is training at speeds faster than vVO2 (velocity at VO2max) the speed at which the athlete reaches maximal oxygen uptake.  Training at speeds or intensities faster than this has been shown to improve endurance performance.  Studies have observed training around this intensity show significant increases in peak power, VO2max and motor unit activation (more nerves and fibres they innervate are activated, more of the muscle can now potentially activate).

So now we understand (I hope) the different intensity and the terminology surrounding intensity, how does this fit into volume?  There are 2 camps the high volume camp, and the high intensity camp both has merits.

High intensity training can work but without the background of high volume you can rarely maintains performance.  This means you need training age to cope with the intensity, time to mature into the distance and volume required to train at and sustain higher intensity training.


When we look at the running fraternity, its seems that the best runners combine both these factors, high volume at low to moderate intensity, with some higher intensity training.  If we took a runner who runs an average of 100km per week then 20km would be at higher intensity (an 80/20 rule).

Athletes or coaches that just prescribe high intensity blocks of training usually see a decrease in performance most likely due to overtraining.


So to summarise;

  1. Make sure you have a good training age, plenty of time at low intensity focusing on the economy of movement; perfect your paddle technique and water skills!
  2. Long duration sessions and doubles (2 x per day) as part of the build up of volume.
  3. Train at, or close to lactate threshold usually seen at or around 80-85%MHR or Zone 4.
  4. Add sessions in that are above your vVO2max , over speed training.
  5. 20% of your training volume should higher intensity work.
  6. Training at different intensities gives you different gears.
  7. Plan in time to recover, allow physical and neural adaptations to take place.

If you want to understand more detail about training intensity then consider participating in one of’s workshops run by our head coach Ryan James. Aimed at all those who have basic SUP skills, these sessions will work on technique both on and off land, you will develop paddle skills, learn effective techniques and become a faster, stronger and skilled paddleboarder.