Do I Really Need The Gym?

If you read the last blog post, you’ll know that I am a strong advocate for strength training if you are trying to improve your freestyle kayaking. In this post, I am going to tell you all the reasons why. There’s more to it than you might think.

The first, and perhaps most obvious reason for getting involved in your local gym is to increase your strength. Without getting too technical about it, strength is your ability to generate force against a load. In the gym, the load is the weights. In the kayak, the load can be your own body weight, the boat, the water or indeed a combination of all three. Have you ever considered how much force does it take to do a front loop in a kayak? What if you don’t quite execute the setup or timing of the movement perfectly? Would it require more or less force? To the best of my knowledge, the answers to these questions are unknown. So it stands to reason that the capacity to generate more force (ie increased strength) is of benefit.

While the ability to produce force lies in our muscles, other body tissues also benefit from weights training; like tendons and ligaments. Our tendons and ligaments keep our joints together and, through weights training, get used to being exposed to significant forces. At what point will a ligament snap or be stretched so much that a joint dislocates? How much force does that require? I don’t know and I don’t want to. What I do know is that, subjecting connective tissues like these to heavy loads in a safe and controlled environment like a gym, makes them less injury-prone. No injuries equals more time being productive in your kayak. That said, you can always just get unlucky and pick up an injury in spite of good technique and diligent preparation. Such unfortunate accidents require us to lean on other, less physical aspects of our training to continue our progression. There’s definitely another blog post in there somewhere.

When you first walk into a gym, it’s ill-advised to pick up the first barbell you see and try to snatch like you’re Dmitry Klokov. There are a lot of new movement patterns to learn. You need to learn to have ‘good form’. Form is a term that gets bounced around in gyms the world over. Essentially, what it boils down to is posture. Good posture is universal. It’s the same in Europe as it is in the US. What’s more, it’s the same in the gym as it is in your kayak. Learning to recognise what good posture looks and feels like in a gym can help you spot when it is off in your kayak. Training good posture in the weights room, reinforces good habits that you bring with you when you get on the water.

One more thing you’ll learn to recognise with weights trainings is DOMS; or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is what it feels like when you can’t sit down on the toilet the morning after a heavy legs training session. It hurts. But, weirdly, it’s a satisfying, ‘I earned it’ kind of pain. It’s distinctly different from the type of pain you get when you hurt yourself; the pain you get from dysfunction. Knowing the difference between the two can be very helpful. DOMS sucks but is nothing major to worry about. Dysfunctional pain should be a red flag. It’s a sign something isn’t right and you should stop and rest.

Beyond all the physical benefits of weights training, 2 major mental benefits also come to mind. The first is patience. Weights training requires dedication and consistency over relatively long periods of time to see measurable improvements in performance. Freestyle kayaking can sometimes feel similar. You may find some tricks can take a long time to learn while others come quickly. In the former scenario, patience really is a virtue. You need to learn to take pride in the small wins and trust the learning process, however slow it might feel at times.

The second mental benefit is that of wellness in a more general sense. Exercise feels good. It gives our brains a spike of endorphins. Gyms offer an accessible, more affordable means of fitting exercise into our lives. It literally makes us happier. Guess what’s easier to do when you’re happy and buzzed on life? Learn. Try learn something when you’re in a foul mood. It isn’t easy. If you’re stoked and feeling good, you stand a far better chance of unlocking that new trick you’ve been dreaming about!

So, are you convinced yet? Ready to get into a gym and start strength training? In the next blog post, I’ll look at where it is you should start to get the absolute most out your training in the gym.

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