Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ask Emily: Strength for kayakers

Time for another edition of "ask Emily!"

I just made that up. But I do want to answer an oft-asked question, so let's do that, and while we're at it, make "ask Emily" a thing.

If you want a question answered, submit it here!

Question: "What do you do for strength?"

Answer: I'm going to go ahead and give you the long answer here.

My strength programming has changed a lot over the years. When I was paddling out of the Olympic Training Center in San Diego when I was 19-21, the majority of the strength work was upper body: pull-ups, bench press, bench pull, and core. Looking back, I think that as a young athlete who did not have nearly the same amount of lifetime mileage or weight training under my belt as my teammates, that program started to break me down. I tore my labrum in my shoulder 2006, and had constant back pain culminating in a fractured vertebra. I felt like I was always nursing some sort of injury. I loved my coaches and teammates, but in retrospect the training center environment probably wasn't the best for me at the time. My body and mind were not nearly as healthy as they could have been, but at the time I didn't know any better. Kind of like a bad relationship: you don't know how wrong this person is for you until you finally break it off, and then the flaws become painfully obvious.

When I started CrossFit in 2010 (around the time I thought I was "retiring" from kayaking), my legs were so weak I could barely squat 110 pounds. It took over a year to squat my own body weight, and another 2 years to squat more than I was bench pressing. I worked really hard, and without even knowing it was happening, I became a much happier and healthier athlete. Injuries disappeared, my muscles balanced out (hello legs, welcome to the party... well, kind of), my back problems went away, and all the PRESSURE of being an elite athlete disappeared. I could just have fun! And love my body! And not have anyone know how much I weighed, or what I was eating, or what I was doing in my spare time! I loved CrossFit's focus on full-body strength and conditioning. Of course it's not right for someone training for a specific sport at an elite level, but it was just right for Emily the lost soul picking up the pieces of what felt like a failed kayak career.

My much-improved baseline fitness, strength, support system, and overall perspective are the main reasons I've decided to race again this year. My strength training still consists of lots of pull-ups, bench press, and core, but also plenty of squatting, deadlift variations, Olympic weightlifting, and interval training in the gym at the same time modalities as our race distances. (If you're a CrossFitter, think metcons with measured rest. 1 min on, 1 min off of burpees, or swings, or box jumps, or whatever.) Basically I don't neglect my lower-body anymore. I don't worry about my leg muscles being "extra weight." I don't recoil when Joe at CrossFit Rochester says I need to turn my flower stem legs into tree trunks. (Still working on that.)

Whole-body strong is a different approach than I've taken before, and I'm excited to see how it transfers to the water.

I am very grateful to my awesome strength coach, "Magic," who has helped me devise this program!

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