5/3/2021 0 Comments
For years, nay decades, the accepted approach to being fit for adventure sports was that you should simply do more of that sport. "The only way of getting fit for kayaking is to go kayaking". And there is a grain of truth in that... but experience & research in more recent years have shown that it isn't necessarily the best approach for everyone, and doesn't necessarily apply all year round.
I want to talk about why that's the case, and what you can do about it.
Many people who take part in adventure sports come to them later in life. Having perhaps taken part in sports earlier, then moved away from them to have kids, do the career thing, or whatever... there's often a gap in the middle where life happens. Not always of course - I don't want to generalise too much. But reasonably often, that is the pattern. Then when money and time allow, we take up kayaking, biking, trail running, walking up mountains, climbing, or whatever variation of exerting yourself in the outdoors floats your proverbial boat.
And what's wrong with that? Folk who might otherwise be sat on the sofa watching TV, out doing stuff in the outdoors, getting fresh air and exercise, improving our physical & mental health. Amazing. That's exactly what we all need- now, more than ever.
But how many of us really have bodies that are developed enough to deal with the demands of our sport? We want to paddle harder rivers, go on two-week sea kayak expeditions, ride a hard (for us) sportive or run a trail marathon... or perhaps we want to step up into a more challenging environment on the water, or bike a harder graded trail. Or we may simply want to take up kayaking having never done any sport at all before. But our bodies lack the understanding of what is involved, don't have the coordination to make the right patterns, the power to push over that eddy line repeated times, run down that gradient or hold a strong position for long enough- and we get injured.
Several studies have been done looking at incidence of injury in runners, with a common occurrence of around 50-80% of runners picking up an injury in any one year (1). I'm not aware of similar studies for other outdoor sports, but personal experience tells me that injuries in paddlers, bikers, skiers and climbers (to name just a few) are perhaps less, but certainly not low in numbers. That's a lot of people unable to do the sport they love, but also quite possibly unable to participate fully in their everyday life. It may even cost them their income, in some cases.
And the reason? It often comes down to lack of strength or development in the parts of the body being put under stress in our chosen sport.
In 2002, Crossfit.com published an article with a diagram in it called the 'Theoretical Hierarchy of Development'. Crossfit is a strength-based training phenomenon that started in the US, that aims to make 'training' accessible for everyone. I've included that diagram above. Now, as a paddler, a mountaineer or a biker, you might look at that pyramid and think 'How is that relevant to me? I'm not going to be doing gymnastics, or throwing'. And you'd be right, sort of. But what they're really getting at is the movements involved, and the ability of our bodies to carry out the fundamental parts of these movements with strength and stability. If you're a paddler, you're carrying out a throwing movement every time you plant your blade in the water. As a cyclist you're using a hip hinge movement - a weightlifting move - every time you turn a pedal.
Below is a version of the pyramid that simplifies the model- and I think, makes it a better fit for most of us. I've borrowed it, but personally I think it's about right - and mirrors what I see in many people, on and off the water.
In the green pyramid, our base is made up of good movement skills: the ability to hold a strong & stable spine, sit up straight, understand how our bodies move and perform what many trainers would call the 'fundamental movements': squat, lunge, hip hinge, push and pull. All with stability, and in different planes of movement.
Above that, we add an ability to perform: strength, power, speed and agility, and the coordination to know where in space our bodies are, and adapt to our environment.
At the top, and the icing on the cake, is our chosen sport.
How's your pyramid?
In reality, what we see in many people - not just those participating in adventure sports - is a lot of time spent on their chosen sport, and very little time taken to develop those fundamental skills: which is what is shown in the red pyramid above. That's understandable when you realise that it's paddling/ biking/ surfing/ 'insert other sport here' that you enjoy, and that you want to spend your time doing; you're not in it to spend time in the gym!
So, what can you do to help tip your pyramid the right way up, so to speak?
Well, you have a multitude of options, but here are a few of the pros & cons.
And what's the benefit of building a better base? Well if we use the old 'house foundations analogy', you wouldn't put the roof on a house if it didn't have foundations and walls first. Our sports are the roof on our often shaky walls... If those walls fall down in the first strong wind that comes along, it's going to take a long time to get that roof back on. How long will an injury keep you out of your sport? Does that answer the question as to whether it's worth investing some time and money in injury prevention and performance improvement?
Does that mean you have to work on that base all year round? No, absolutely not! It's completely appropriate - and in fact mentally & physically beneficial - to 'cycle' your training, depending on the time of year, and what works for you. Even the pros don't work on all the skills all of the time.
So find a way that works for you, depending on your lifestyle, your sport, your preferences, and your experience - but if you want to minimise time out from injuries, and keep getting out there, consider how strong your foundations are, and whether you could improve on them.
If you'd like to know more about individual coaching, or have any questions on fitness, nutrition or sea kayak coaching, simply drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Sea Kayak Coach & Personal Trainer based in the Scottish Highlands. I love paddling, running, lifting weights, cycling, and moving well- and I love helping other people to do the same. I have to work really hard to build and maintain my skills on the water and my fitness, and I hope that helps me to understand how hard my clients also have to work!