Friday, March 25, 2016

Paddling and Pumping Iron with Mark Athanacio

For those who haven't been reading my blog lately, Mark Athanacio is the tough, 50ish guy who has been my constant competitor and often mentor in standup paddleboard racing in Southwest Florida.

Mark is strict and strident regarding the philosophies of personal health, athletic training and fair competition that he has developed and followed over a long career in physical education. In other words, and even by his own admission, he is kind of an a--hole. So when the CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards race team recently entered into a formal training arrangement with him it was like this...

Anyway, we've been training with Athanacio for two weeks now, and so far, so good. Despite his high standards and ferocious competitiveness, Mark is quite positive and encouraging as a coach. He has us doing two types of training:

1. 3x per week group sessions on the water after work. The workouts are generally short, about 30 minutes / 3 km, and broken up into intervals of varying intensity, including a lot of full-on sprint intensity work. Athanacio hovers around and gives us tips before, after, and during the workouts. He's pretty creative about designing courses and staggering the start times of faster/slower team members, which challenges us all to deal with "race traffic," obstacles, and passing situations. One of his themes has been teaching us how to push through feelings of exhaustion to faster than normal speeds, with confidence that we can recover at normal speed once the push is over. Another of his themes is maintaining form and intensity throughout the workout, and ending the workout earlier rather than going to the point where you're just practicing sloppy half-hearted paddling.

2. Strength training on non-paddle days. Mark says there are a lot of little ways to improve your paddle performance, e.g., technique, equipment, nutrition, etc. But the one SURE THING that will improve anyone's paddle performance is proper strength training, because the standup paddleboarding motion is so strength-dependent. Most of the team members are doing strength training independently on off days, but Mark has been extra nice to me and one other guy on the team by giving us strength training lessons in his home gym. Mark's gym is actually the entire lower level of his tiny river house.

(It's a unique house that has been featured on HGTV. The living quarters is a tiny cabin-like thing sitting atop one corner of a normal sized garage. The house is a good fit with Mark and his yogi girlfriend Jen's healthy, minimalist life philosophies.)

Anyway, pumping iron with Mark has been challenging, but not in the energetically exhausting way that I'm used to from my normal gym mode of going around the YMCA doing lots of moderate-weight reps on every machine. Mark's gym workouts are mainly challenging because they involve meticulous attention to posture and movement patterns in lifts that require the whole body. There are three main things that we do- squats, deadlifts, and standing military press. All involve a single, big barbell. We also do some pushups, pullups, and various hanging/stretching activities, but those are mainly just to get us warmed up for the big barbell things. I've been feeling good types of sore after the workouts, and I think they're going to help a lot with the ability to maintain a strong, sturdy posture and a dynamic paddle stroke during races. We'll see.

Next race is a local one, Easter morning, where I'm going to have to face Athanacio again. Aaack!


Johnny Douglass said...

Maybe the big Kahuna will be an even better coach than racer and you can trim down that 2 seconds by which he bested you in the last race. Whatever, don't hurt any manatees.

Ali K. said...

I'm glad you guys have this opportunity...even though I think Rhonda and I share a certain opinion of your trainer 😉