Paddle - SUP Training: The Difference Between Training For Power & Training For Metabolic Conditioning

Let's start simple - What IS the difference?

Ultimately, it all comes down to time. There are three basic parameters measured when training for Power, Speed, Agility, and Metabolic Conditioning:

1. WORK = The total time you spend in either the High Intensity portion of your training or the total time you spend at a given Target Heart Rate (THR; more on this later).

2. REST = The total time you spend recovering from the WORK portion of your training determined by your goal: Power is generally determined by muscular recovery, Speed is determined by a combination of muscular and Heart Rate recovery, while Agility & Metabollic Conditioning are usually determined only by Heart Rate, with the exception of Metabolic Resistance Training which I will not get into today!

3. WORK:REST Ratio = Just what it says. The ratio between the time you spend in either the High Intensity portion of your training or at a given Target Heart Rate (THR), and the time you spend resting/recovering. Examples of ratios are:

  • POWER, SPEED, & AGILITY = 1:3-5

Just like anything you can either complicate or simplify this as much as you want - I recommend starting simple! An easy way to think about the difference is to think:


When deciding how long your WORK and REST times should be, begin by asking yourself this:


IS IT TO IMPROVE YOUR RACE START? Probably focus on Power = High intensity, short WORK time and longer REST time to allow near/full recovery of what I'll call your body's Power System.

IS IT TO IMPROVE YOUR OVERALL RACE TIME? Well, you need to work on EVERYTHING, but probably focus on Speed and Metabolic Conditioning = Moderate to High Intensity, short to medium WORK time and a variety of longer/shorter REST times to allow minimal/full recovery depending on the specific focus of what I'll call your body's Speed System. It's important to understand that Speed exists on a spectrum that includes POWER SPEED (more muscular) and ENDURANCE SPEED (combo muscle & heart), however both are always involved whereas what changes is how you're body specifically makes energy to help you paddle faster.

OR IS IT TO IMPROVE BUOY TURNS? Probably focus on Agility = High intensity, short WORK time and a variety of longer/shorter REST times to allow minimal/full recovery also depending on the specific focus. Agility is  essentially Speed with only one difference = change in direction!

It's also worth noting that Power, Speed, & Agility are both dependent on muscle/heart training, as well as, nueromuscular/coordination aka SKILL TRAINING that require focus on both conditioning and technique. Again, decide what your focus is and ONLY focus on that one thing. I've found it's generally ineffective to focus on both simultaneously.

A good way to structure your Power, Speed, & Agility Training with Metabolic Conditioning is to break training sessions up into two components:

1. Begin with TECHNIQUE WORK. For example, for an Agility day focus on buoy turn technique (stroke & foot work technique) for the first 15 mins. You can even use these skills as part of your REST/RECOVERY. 

2. Follow up with POWER, SPEED, AGILITY and/or METABOLIC CONDITIONING where you can apply the new skills, but focus on the time to complete the specific drill. Staying with the Agility example, focus on completing  a buoy turn drill as fast as possible without overthinking the new skill. I know it's impossible to completely disassociate the two without either Jedi training or Kung Fu Mastery, but do your best to let your body work it out - it takes time and practice, practice, practice!

Enough explaining, here's an example of a fun training day I did while on vacation on Koh Rong Island in Southern Cambodia. My Warm-Up focused on shoulder, thoracic, and hip strength/mobility and I had some fun with an inflatable SUP I rented for a slowed down version of some beach start race training. Here's the protocol: 


1. Inchworm + Scorpion + T-Push Up + Squat with Thoracic Rotation + Squat to Stand + Side Lunge. 1-3 Sets x 1 Rep each

2TGU (Turkish Get Up - I had a little fun with this!). 3 Sets x 2 Reps each



  • Race start from beach + Power stroke: Play around with different types of starts dependent on your comfort level and specifics of the race your training for. (Videos below. My slowed down version followed by the pros with Ben Pye & SUPboarder) 
  • Buoy Turns: Focus on the paddle stroke and foot work specific to your style. I'm currently working on my cross step for footwork both Goofy & Regular stance. You want a powerful tight buoy turn using a deep wide sweep (remember to bury the entire blade in the water) and work on finding the "sweet spot" on your board = the stance you can maintain closest to the tail without sinking. Typically, your back foot is over your fin while the front foot position will vary most person to person.
    • TIP: Begin practicing from a kneeling position to lower your center of mass and get a feel for how far back you need to be, then transition to standing.


  • WORK = Timed. After working on technique for 15 minutes now you're ready to put it to work. Choose a short distance to start with between 20 to 40 yards - this is the typical sprint distance for running performance testing (I know running and paddling are different, but I believe this a good starting point to focus on POWER - remember the purpose!). As you progress you can build up to 50-100 yards (the 100 meter sprint is the shortest distance for flat water sprint canoe racing - now that's specifici!). Use the timer setting on your watch or better yet train with a friend to hold yourself accountable. When you're ready start the timer, go, sprint to the buoy, turn, but don't stop the time until  after 3 Power Strokes out of the buoy turn. REPEAT: 5-10 Sets x 1 Rep. Try and maintain or beat your time each set and check out Danny Ching set the 200 meter record for inspiration
  • REST = 3-5 minutes OR Heart Rate drops to about 55-65% THR. To determine Target Heart Rate use the Karvonen Formula below (I used my #s as an example):
  1. 220 - Age = Max Heart Rate; 220 - 33 = 187
  2. (Max Heart Rate - Resting Heart Rate) x % Intensity = Adjusted THR; (187 - 60) x 55% = 69.85 / (187-60) x 65% = 82.55
  3. Adjusted Target Heart Rate + Resting Heart Rate = Target Heart Rate (THR); 69.85 +60 = 122.85 / 82.55 + 60 = 142.55. So, if I was wearing a Heart Rate Monitor I would continue working on stroke and foot work technique lightly until my Heart Rate was between 122 - 140 bpm. Then, I would do another round of Timed Sprints + Buoy Turns.

Remember, always ask yourself, "WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MY TRAINING TODAY?". Yes, your answer should include something similar to the stuff above, but ultimately it should be about getting on the water and having FUN!

- Jared