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Using the Vaaka Kayak Cadence Sensor to Improve your Performance

This article was first published in the New Zealand Triathlon and Multisport magazine.

In the last ‘Science of Endurance’ article I introduced the Vaaka Kayak Cadence Sensor and talked with one of the designers about the history behind it. In this article I will outline some practical guidelines for how the Vaaka sensor can be integrated into your training and racing to improve performance.

Training intensity

Intensity or how ‘hard’ you train is one of the most important components of a training programme. The intensity of your training affects which of the body’s energy systems is used and therefore what adaptations occur. To develop specific aspects of your performance (endurance, threshold, VO2max etc) requires an athlete to train at specific intensities to target these different components. If you are not training at the correct intensity then the outcome of your training session can be extremely different to the planned training aim. To maximise training outcomes, knowing and maintaining the correct intensity is vitally important.

The invention of the heart rate monitor gave athletes and coaches the ability to better maintain and monitor training intensity over the traditional perceived exertion (how hard you feel you are exercising). However, heart rate does have some limitations when used to monitor training intensity. With the recent invention of the Vaaka Kayak Cadence Sensor we now have another tool that can be used to monitor training intensity, as cadence has been found to be relativity consistent across athletes when targeting specific energy systems. The table below outlines the tradition training zones and incorporates cadence ranges for each.

Performance testing

Over the first few weeks of paddling with a cadence sensor, it is best to just to get out on the water and see where your cadence naturally sits and what it is like to hold different cadences. Once you have a feel for cadence you can then start using it to improve your performance.

Monitoring your cadence during time trials or key interval set is effective for indentifying optimal cadence ranges as well as tracking performance improvements. As with swimming, if you are able to go faster with fewer strokes it indicates that your technique has improved and you are able to produce more power per stroke. In the real world this will result in faster time trial and interval times.

Equipment comparison

There are endless discussions and debates about the best blade design, ideal paddle length and the fastest boat. Because every athlete has different strengths and weakness in different areas of their paddling this debate is going to have varied answers for everyone. Testing different paddle blades, paddle lengths and trialling different boats a set cadence and monitoring speed and or heart rate will give you the ‘hard numbers’ as to what equipment is most suited to you as an individual.

As an example performing a comparison of different paddle lengths over different distances will help refine your paddle length for optimal speed for different distant races. An elite paddler will hold a cadence of 40 – 45 dspm over a 10 km race. Whereas, over 1 km they will maintain ~ 55 dspm and over a 200 m sprint cadence can hit 80 dspm. For intermediate to advanced paddles racing distances over 8 km they should be aiming for a cadence of 40 dspm. If they cannot sustain this, their paddle is probably too long for their strength and fitness level. For a 1 km race a cadence of 50+ dspm is a good target, while over 200 m a cadence of 65+ dspm is sustainable for trained paddlers. The best thing you can do is get out on the water with a cadence sensor and start experimenting for yourself to see what suits you best. Once you have identified these ranges for you and optimised your paddle length you can start using cadence to pace yourself during races.

Example training sessions

These are example sessions using the training zones outlined in the above table. It is by no means a complete training guide. Try integrating some of these sessions into your training as you explore training with real time cadence feedback.

  • Recovery session: Paddling with a low cadence of 28 – 32 dspm not only helps stimulate recovery it is also the perfect time to work on your technique at this slow rate. An example technique/ recovery session would be a 45 min paddle keeping your cadence within the recovery cadence range, while working on different aspects of your technique such as your catch, top drive hand, rotational weight transfer and recovery for 2 min ‘focus blocks’ throughout the session. You should finish this session feeling fresh.

  • Endurance session: Steady 1 – 2 hour paddle maintaining your cadence at 34 – 35 dspm. Focus on your technique throughout the session working on increasing your speed while maintaining your cadence. This can be broken up into 5 – 10 min ‘focus blocks’ in which you work on maintaining this cadence interspersed with 1 -2 minutes of unstructured recovery time. During this time keep paddling without focusing on your cadence to give your neuromuscular system a break, as holding a consistent cadence can be challenging when you first start.

  • Tempo session: Following a steady 10 – 15 min warm up perform 1-4 x 15 min intervals holding your cadence between 36 – 38 dspm focusing on a smooth powerful paddle stroke. Paddle easy for 5 min between repetitions with a cadence < 32 dspm. This type of session is good during the transition phase between your base endurance and your threshold training phases. During the intervals your intensity is not ‘hard’ but more a strong controlled effort for the full duration.

  • Threshold session: Following a steady 10 – 15 min warm up perform 5-10 x 1 km intervals holding your cadence between 38 – 44 dspm. Find your comfortable cadence and work to achieve this while maintaining the same speed across all of the repetitions. Over the weeks of training aim to maintain this cadence while increasing the speed at which the 1 km intervals are performed at. Between repetitions paddle easy for half of the time taken to complete the 1 km with a cadence < 32 dspm. This 2:1 work to recovery ratio is the key for developing your anaerobic threshold. It allows partial recovery resulting in the accumulation of lactate in the muscle and blood stream. This accumulation stimulates adaptations in the body so it becomes better at dealing with high levels of lactate (so you can paddle hard for longer). This work to rest ratio also allows just enough recovery time so you can maintain the required intensity in the successive repetitions.

  • VO2max session: Following a steady 10 – 15 min warm up perform 5-8x500 m intervals holding a cadence of 45 – 50 dspm. Between repetitions paddle easy for the same amount of time as the 500 m interval took you to complete at a cadence of <32 dspm. This 1:1 work to recovery ratio is key for developing your VO2max. It allows adequate recovery between repetitions so that the correct high intensity required to stimulate adaptations in VO2max can be achieved in the successive repetitions.

  • Anaerobic capacity session: Following a steady 10 – 15 min warm up perform 8-10x200 m intervals holding your cadence between 50 – 70 dspm depending on your ability. Between repetitions paddle easy for twice the amount of time as the 200 m interval took you to complete at a cadence of <32 dspm. This 2:1 work to recovery ratio is key for developing your anaerobic capacity as it allows you to start each repetition relatively well rested so you can perform a maximal effort.

These example sessions will give you a starting point when training with cadence. While all of the above training sessions could be performed without a cadence sensor, having the cadence feedback and focusing on holding these set rates, will help you train with more precision and maximise your time on the water.

For more information on the Vaaka Kayak Cadence Sensor visit Or for questions of training with cadence feel free to contact me.

Matty Graham

MPhEd, BPhEd

Sport Scientist and Performance Coach

Exponential Performance Coaching

Exponential Performance
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