Overspeed development for paddling

Like many athletes across many different sports, successful paddlers work on their top speed and ability to change pace all year round. Mastering your craft in all situations and conditions requires you to change gear quickly and feel comfortable when paddling FAST.

While overspeed development is something you shouldn't neglect, it's also something that you need to be patient with. Chip away and make incremental improvements over time rather than feeling "fast" one cycle and lethargic the next. Build up layers of speed, then add more layers. Work on your speed using different methods in different conditions. Being able to to accelerate and change your pace smoothly and naturally is a huge advantage. Always have it in your arsenal.

Speed development in paddling is mostly technical. Fast paddlers are technicians. It's not all about brute force. It is very important to develop a good feel for the water at speed, to have all parts of the stroke co-ordinated and have your neural networks working well. If you are paddling in moving water (ocean, river, etc) there will also be a reactive or instinctive element to train alongside pure speed. For these reasons having somebody assessing your technique during overspeed efforts is a real advantage.

The neural system is easily stimulated, but easily fatigued and overwhelmed, and must always be balanced with other forms of training. It is also wise to listen to your body during overspeed/pace change sessions, and if the quality is dropping off significantly (focus, technique, top speed, stroke rate, etc) cut the training short, warm down and save it for another day. If overspeed is new for you, try including this type of work in 1 session per week, then sprinkle overspeed efforts through 2 sessions per week a few months later, then build up from there.

There are many situations in paddling where maximum speed and pace changes are required:

▪ Race starts and finishes

▪ Surges during a race (especially in and out of turns)

▪ Opportunities to jump onto a faster paddler's wash

▪ Catching runners downwind

▪ Paddling in and out through breaking waves 

Performed correctly, maximum speed development will also improve your sub-maximal paddling. For example, if your goal is to paddle 10km in 45min (>13km/hr) and your top speed is 15km/hr, you will have to work at around 85% of your potential. However if your top speed is 18km/hr you will only have to work at 75% of your potential. It will always be easier for the paddler with the higher top speed to hold their technique together at lower speeds.

Again using 10km as an example, it is possible for paddlers around the 50-55-60min mark for this distance (10-12km/hr) to lower their PB over several years by regularly performing intervals at or only slightly above this pace. These are known as "grinding" or "threshold" efforts (typically 5-10min long), and are common features of paddling programs around the world. This type of training develops an important energy system, but is often single-paced and a slow road to success if done without any attention to overspeed in other areas of the program.

Some of the overspeed/pace change sessions our training groups do through the year include:


▪ Short (no longer than 1min) efforts into the sea breeze emphasising high stroke rate, series of 6-8 efforts with lengthy recovery intervals done to feeling. Handicapped downwind time trial back emphasising "popping" over runs with bursts of speed as opposed to just sitting on runs and being economical.

▪ Tabata style efforts (anywhere from 15sec to 1min) in blocks of 2 or 3 x 8min with equal recovery time


▪ Kicks or breakaways in and out of buoy turns during sub-maximal loops

▪ Short buoy/pylon courses at very high speed (aiming to execute perfect skills and boat handling during each run of the course)

▪ Leapfrog efforts in groups of 3-4

▪ 200m / 1min hard at the start and finish of a series of longer threshold or tempo efforts


▪ 12 lots of 15-20sec broken up into sets of 3-4. Middle sets with resistance and the book-end sets without. Mix of standing, reversing (extra resistance) and rolling starts. Always a technical focus. We would normally spend 3 or 4 sessions working up to this type of training to develop co-ordination and ensure proper recovery.

▪ Complete and broken 50m, 100m, 150m and 200m efforts. Occasionally some 500m efforts 1 or 2 weeks out from important races.

We also touch on overspeed during most of our gym sessions and longer paddles.

If you want to improve your paddling and lower your race times, learning to paddle FAST is essential. Try adding regular overspeed training to your workouts – you will see the benefits!  


If there is magic on
this planet, it is
contained in water.

Loren Eiseley