Adding some resistance to your kayak training
Resistance training is one of the most beneficial training techniques, and one of the least understood or used. Serious cyclists have regular hill training sessions, runners do hill-reps, swimmers use paddles, and kayakers can also use several resistance techniques to improve their paddling capacity. You may have seen a paddler dragging a sponge behind their boat, or sporting 'ocky straps' around their boat hull?
Resistance training will do two things. First, unlike general weight training in the gym, it builds the specific muscle groups used in the paddle stroke, and gives more time in the boat for those brain-muscle reflexes to adapt and become entrenched. Every paddle stroke the brain receives messages from the muscles involved and generates return messages to the muscles about what to do next. The more time spent doing this, the more the cyclical process of managing the muscles used in the paddle stroke, taking into account all the extra factors like balance, response of the kayak to each stroke, and posture in the seat, will become second nature. While weight training in the gym still has its place, particularly in winter, it cannot replace the real paddling action.
Second, you will get a better 'feel' of the boat in the water with the increased resistance, allowing you to improve your stroke and become more confident on the water.
As mentioned above, there are two methods to introduce resistance training to your paddling sessions - you can either tow something, or you can increase the drag on the hull of your boat. I initially used a sponge tied to a rope behind the boat; although this was successful and it was easy to pull the sponge back into the boat for a recovery interval, it changed the dynamics of the boat's handling. Now I prefer the bungee or 'ocky' straps tied around the hull. These might not look like they would make much difference, but they significantly increase the drag of the hull thereby decreasing the ability of the boat to plane. Another advantage is that you can easily adjust the amount of resistance while you are out on the water by adding or removing straps.
Another method is to use tennis balls slung under the hull on a piece of string or elastic. Simply take three tennis balls, drill a hole right through the balls, and thread then onto a piece of string or bungee cord, which is then tied around the hull behind the cockpit, with the balls directly underneath the hull.
With both these methods it is easy to modify the speed of individuals within a group; for example, faster paddlers can use three straps, slower ones only one or two. This allows paddlers of varying ability to train as a group. As a general guide, only do 60-80% of your session with the resistance, structured around intervals with adequate recovery time between each interval. Once you've completed your resistance set, take the straps off for your final aerobic set and warm-down. You'll really appreciate the speed, power, and feel of the water as you paddle.
Remember, if you aren't used to strength/resistance training, speak to your coach for advice.