Training Planning Strategies for Elite Kayak Performance

Training planning is a crucial aspect for elite kayak athletes, as it plays a significant role in optimizing performance and reducing the risk of overtraining. In this article, we’ll delve into three effective periodization strategies: polarized training, traditional linear periodization, and reverse periodization.

1. Polarized Training

Polarized training emphasizes extreme variations in intensity 1. Athletes spend most of their training time at either low-intensity (zone 1) or high-intensity (zone 3) levels, with minimal time in moderate-intensity (zone 2) efforts. The goal is to enhance both aerobic capacity and high-speed performance. For elite kayakers, polarized training involves:

  • Zone 1 (Low Intensity): Long, steady paddling sessions to build endurance.
  • Zone 3 (High Intensity): Short, intense Vo2max intervals to improve power and speed.

1.1 Training Structure

Low Intensity (Zone 1): The majority of training time (about 80%) is spent in this zone. These sessions involve long, steady paddling at a conversational pace, enhancing cardiovascular efficiency and endurance. Examples include paddling at a comfortable pace for 60-90 minutes or more.

High Intensity (Zone 3): About 20% of training time is dedicated to high-intensity efforts. These sessions include short bursts of maximum effort, such as VO2max intervals. An example could be 4×4 minutes at near-maximal effort with ample rest, or sprint intervals like 10x200m with short recovery periods. These workouts boost anaerobic capacity, power, and speed.

2. Traditional Linear Periodization

 Traditional linear periodization divides training into distinct phases, each focusing on progressively preparing athletes for peak performance 2. Here’s a detailed look at each phase and its components:

1 – Base Phase: The base phase lays the foundation for the training cycle by focusing on aerobic endurance and general strength. This phase is crucial for developing the stamina needed for longer training sessions and for building a solid fitness base.


  • Enhance aerobic capacity
  • Improve general strength
  • Establish a training routine

Training Components: Long, steady paddling sessions of 60-90 minutes at a low to moderate intensity improve cardiovascular endurance and paddling efficiency. Strength Training focuses on general strength.

2 – Build Phase: The build phase transitions from the endurance-focused base phase to more intense training designed to develop power, speed, and anaerobic capacity. This phase is critical for improving performance metrics specific to sprint kayaking.


  • Increase anaerobic capacity
  • Develop muscular power and speed
  • Enhance lactate threshold

Training Components: High-intensity interval sessions such as 4×4 minutes at near-maximal effort with ample rest, or 10x200m sprints with short recovery periods. These workouts improve the body’s ability to sustain high-intensity efforts. Strength training with heavy lifting with low reps to build maximal strength. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are common, with an emphasis on explosive power.

3 – Peak Phase: The peak phase is the final stage before competition, focusing on reducing training volume while maintaining intensity. This phase aims to sharpen the athlete’s performance and ensure they are fully recovered and ready for race day.


  • Maximize performance readiness
  • Reduce fatigue and enhance recovery
  • Fine-tune race strategy and technique

Training Components: Gradually reducing the overall training volume by 40-60% while maintaining or slightly increasing intensity. This helps to eliminate accumulated fatigue and optimize energy levels.

3. Reverse Periodization

Reverse periodization flips the traditional approach. It starts with high-intensity training and gradually introduces lower-intensity work 3. Key features include:

  1. Early Phase: High-Intensity, Low-Volume. Focus on Power and Speed: The initial phase of reverse periodization emphasizes developing maximum power and speed. This involves high-intensity workouts such as sprints, short intervals, and resistance training.
  2. Mid Phase: Mixed Intensity and Volume. Integrate Endurance and Speed: As training progresses, introduce more moderate-intensity sessions while maintaining some high-intensity work. This helps blend the power and speed gains with endurance.
  3. Late Phase: High-Volume, Moderate-Intensity. Build Aerobic Base and Technique: In the final phase, shift to higher volume, lower intensity training to build aerobic capacity and refine technique. This phase ensures the athlete maintains the endurance needed for sustained effort in races.

Conclusion: All Roads Lead to Paris

While each strategy has merits, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Elite kayakers should consider their individual needs, event distances, and training environment. Remember, “All roads lead to Paris,” but consistency matters. Choose a strategy and stick with it to achieve peak performance.


1: Seiler, Stephen. “What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes?.” International journal of sports physiology and performance 5.3 (2010): 276-291.

2: Bradley-Popovich, Greg E., and G. Gregory Haff. “Nonlinear versus linear periodization models.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 23.1 (2001): 42.

3: Prestes, J., De Lima, C., Frollini, A. B., Donatto, F. F., & Conte, M. (2009). Comparison of linear and reverse linear periodization effects on maximal strength and body composition. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 23(1), 266–274.

About the author – Dr. Kent Klitgaard

Dr. Klitgaard holds a PhD in biomechanics with a specialization in sprint kayaking. He has a solid background in sports science and is currently doing research and coaching. Dr. Klitgaard collaborates with Team Danmark and the Danish national kayaking team. With extensive experience as a coach, he also enjoys sprinting on the water whenever possible. For those seeking personalized guidance, Dr. Klitgaard offers online coaching through Instagram @Kayak_Kent, feel free to reach out to him.

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