Mixing up our training is so important. This article is as much addressed at coaches as anyone. After all, we are all learners. So today we are looking at how mixing up our style can optimise our progression as paddlers.

Don’t get stagnant!

It’s a well-known fact that practice makes permanent. Doing the same thing over and over makes you excellent at doing the same thing over and over! In some cases, that’s a really good thing. Hitting a tree with your throwline from 10 metres away repeatedly is sure to come in handy in a sticky situation!

But in other cases, repetition can be fatal. It can ingrain bad habits and lead to complete stagnation. Not only is that bad for us physically, it has mental and emotional ramifications too.

The cure? Variety! Mix things up. Try a new discipline. Take a playboat on over-familiar whitewater. Experiment with new tricks. Switch up your environment. If you’re a whitewater paddler, get out in some big, messy surf and watch how it boosts your big-water confidence. Normally paddle a modern creekboat with all the rocker? Hop in a half-slice or (better still) full slice and trying throwing some ends on your local runs!

Doing this will prevent us from remaining in the pitfall of comfort and stagnation.

The Science of Learner Happiness

But it isn’t just about avoiding the negative consequence of stagnant apathy. There are massive pros to adding variety into training routines. It is hugely stimulating to our brains to test new things. Appropriate challenge generates productivity and enjoyment.

Coaches talk a lot about “peak flow experience”, that state of learning where we are being just challenged enough to remain engaged, while also experiencing success. At “peak flow”, we are neither overloaded, nor bored. We are having to adapt, to engage our brains, perhaps even to fail. But the sum experience is success and stimulation for us. And in this way at least, the human brain is simple: success makes us happy!

To illustrate the point above, here’s a story from my own experience:

Don’t go kayaking!

This may sound crazy, but bear with me! One of the most amazing catalysts for paddling development I have discovered recently is to not go kayaking. Instead, I have been running and swimming. Specifically, I have been training myself to swim in whitewater.

At least one, if not more, of my multiple weekly paddling sessions has transitioned into this new exploration of late. The joy it has reignited for simply being in the water and for studying how currents move is astounding. It has inspired me to try new downtime moves. My understanding of hydraulics has increased and my ignorant fear has proportionately decreased. Ever time I go out, I discover something new. And on top of all that, I’m becoming fitter.

What does this have to do with the science? Well, I am trying new things. I am being challenged. My brain is having to grapple with things I’ve not previously explored. Sometimes I have failures – using my winter wetsuit and finding I was too buoyant to get downtime, for instance – but I also have great successes. During a recent Chertsey session, I felt in control of my downtime for the first time ever.

And the overall experience is one of joy! A paddling progression that was previously teetering on the edge of stagnation is now flourishing again. And I am enjoying it!

Big surf is one of my favourite playgrounds to complement whitewater paddling. Photo: Helenka Boden

Feeling inspired? Get out there and mix it up!