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Crossfit & Paddling

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

I was presented with a question from a paddler the other day about doing BOTH Crossfit and Paddling (either Standup or Outrigger). While it can be difficult to keep up intensity in both, they can coexist and even enhance one another!

See, paddling really is a full body sport. More so than a lot of other endurance activities. Every time I take some time off from paddling and do Crossfit, I come back a lot stronger (read: less KT tape, less pain, better anaerobic capacity). Whenever I take some time off from Crossfit and just paddle, I come back WAY STRONGER there too! Like, maxing out my PRs strong...

As with anything, the simple growth equation presented by Magness and Stulberg in Peak Performance (Extreme Stress + Extreme Rest = Growth)

works well with the interplay of Crossfit and Paddling. The mistake everyone makes is trying to do EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. You can't do everything all the time. Period. The gym owners won't like it if you take a few months off, though, and they're not getting member dues from you! They'll tell you that you can do both, or that Crossfit will keep you in paddle shape. Let's set one thing straight: There is NO substitute for paddling. Period. The time you spend on the water is developing your technique by reducing use of unnecessary muscles leading to an increase in your efficiency. So if you can't do everything.. all the time... when should you be doing what?

Here was the question from a paddler:

" I just read your post.. It was almost perfect timing that I read it as we were talking to our CF coach this morning about how we could keep doing both.  And...... since you were mentioned how you wanted to progress into the next year with CF and of course I know you're paddling, how do you see this fitting in.  Now, I know you have more time then us to train but if we could fit in one workout a day with a potential of two on a one weekend day, generally.... how do think that would look?  Our CF coach has an idea for prioritizing paddling and CF intensity level comes down. "

My Reply

I think the two can coexist, absolutely! As I'm sure I mentioned too often, I spent A LOT of time reading books on training the last 2 years, and I feel like the secret is periodization and compatible training modalities..

In general, what this looks like is heavy and hard gym/crossfit early in the season. I make a lot of gains in that time in terms of weights getting heavier and skills stronger  (think lots of cleans, snatches, hspu, muscle ups, etc) this lines up nicely with the Open. In January, I start paddling more but maintain 3x week at crossfit, it really excels as a max power phase to help convert your strength gains from the previous month to on water power, it also doesn't lend to overtraining since you're doing lower intensity stuff on the water. I maintain my crossfit gains in time to start the open in February.  Once the open begins, its around the time I start to increase intensity on the water, one really hard, all-out land workout each week is perfect. The other two are lower intensity. Now that the open is over, I'll do 2 hard crossfit style workouts each week, if i do a 3rd it will be strength endurance geared towards paddling (rows, squats, lat work) until I taper for the major races. 

In the summer or on-season I think it's best to stick to 2 sessions a week (and maybe ignore the programming depending on how you're feeling. It's around this time that I usually do my basic push/pull routine with heavy-ish weights 2x a week), especially of you're on the water more often, racing more, and getting higher intensities. Also, the weather is good, so hit the water, trail, anything outdoors. Mix it up and enjoy summer!! 

However, if you're really into Crossfit and don't want to just go in and do a slow, easy, beefcake style lift session 2x a week you should consider the following:

If you trained 6x a week, with one 2xday workout for 7 workouts total, 2 crossfit workouts (with strength work first, followed by a metcon, amrap, or some other blood pumping crossfitiness) I would pick 2 days that were dedicated to crossfit and then have the day after be an option that you could exchange with another workout from the week based on the chart I've attached. Even though the attached graphic is for 2xday workouts, I think it's a good plan to follow while

building your volume with 1xdays. So, if your crossfit workout ended up being super alactic,  your next day would be aerobic. If it were more anaerobic, then you could do an aerobic-anaerobic mix workout the next day. Then if it were a super long chipper style workout that's actually working on your aerobic capacity, then you could put sup sprints the next day. Some people like to start the day after their rest day with the most important, key sup workout of the week (if sup is your priority), then the remainder falls into place. Others like to warm up for a day, then hit the most important workout of the week on day 2. In either case, definitely use the graphic to pick the second workout of any day that you're doing 2 sessions. BUT! Each training modality is technically compatible with itself, so if you trained alactic sprints lifting (explosive strength), you could do alactic sprints on the water the same day (although, it should be noted that your priority workout should always come first).

In general I would aim for 4 key workouts weekly on sup. Vo2 intervals, lactate threshold intervals, Alactic intervals, and your LSD (long slow distance). These plus 2 crossfit workouts would land you right at 6 workouts per week with one space for some cross training fun! 

I hope you find the attached graphic somewhat helpful. And take it with a grain of salt, because you're mostly doing 1xday workouts, you should recover enough in between as long as you eat and sleep sufficiently. If you can't maintain the intensity at any point, its a pretty good sign you're overdoing it. Consider adding in a second off day, or trying a 2+1 schedule (workout 2 days, take one day off... repeat).

This is a VERY general way of approaching keeping the two together, and by all means not the only way or maybe not even the best way. It's just a way that has worked for me, and maybe you'll find that it jibes with you too!

Books referenced in this article (if you're gonna buy them, maybe you could click here and buy them so I can make a few cents for gas to my next race...)

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