Dragon Boat Season Plan – Level 1 (Novice)

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Welcome coaches! This program is the beginner or novice training for paddlers who are new to the sport or only paddle 10-12 weeks, once weekly in the summer.

This program is set up to “Peak” these paddlers for a 500M race. It is wise to take the festival you are planning to attend and work this training backwards 10 weeks from that date.

RPE: This is the abbreviation for “Rate of Perceived Exertion” that is closely related to target heart rate zones rather than percentages of effort. The reason for RPE is that many paddlers NEVER give a full 100% and this chart will assist paddlers to best gauge their effort. 

GOAL: This program will prepare paddlers to be able to sustain RPE 18 for 3 minutes. That is the longer than the body of a race but it’s a great number to work up to in pieces that over prepares paddlers for a 500M race in unfavourable weather conditions. This training will also prepare paddlers to do RPE19-20 as in a start and transition to RPE 18 so coaches can build in “powers” and “finishes”.

PROGRESSION: You will see a build in piece length, then back down as we build in intensity or exertion. Follow the program as laid out even if it seems counterintuitive as this progression is layered.

MODIFY FOR MORE PRACTICES: It is easy to add a few weeks by adding more practices and lengthening the body times of each piece. I would suggest duplicating practices 5, 6 or 7 pieces. Avoid doing duplicate practices after session 7 as they are more targeted to peak paddlers and then taper for racing. You can always add endurance or base sessions as they are the foundation that high intensity is built on. Example: 4 X 4 minute pieces at RPE16.

PEAK TO RACE: It’s wise to give paddlers sufficient rest before racing if possible. 3 days is recommended. However if it is not feasible, tailor your last session to be an endurance piece with a 2 starts followed by 15 strokes. For example: 4 X 3′ at RPE16 + 2 X a start and 15 transition strokes.


Here is a list of equipment required:

Tempo Trainer

If you choose to monitor the teams stroke rate you will need a metronometer or a device that keeps time. I suggest the tempo trainer made by finis. You can find it by clicking on the image. You can assign a lead stroke to wear it.

Loop Bands

These loop bands come in various weights. We will be using the lightest (yellow) so no need to purchase the whole set. You can find it by clicking on the image.

These loop bands come in various weights. We will be using the lightest (yellow) so no need to purchase the whole set. You can find it by clicking on the image.

GPS Tracker and App that tracks speed and distance

I have a garmin watch with the bicycle app I use which is sufficient.

How To Use The Training Sessions:

Step 1 – Choose a drill

Step 2 – Choose Session 1

Step 3 – Do Session 1 with that drill till you feel confident changes have been made to your mechanics

Step 4 – Choose Session 2 with the chosen drill to build and strengthen your mechanics and continue till you can hold the mechanics for the entire piece!

Step 5 – Integrate Session 3 with the same drill

Step 6 – Choose an Advanced Session of 2000M and ingrain your alignment by fatiguing the energy system

Step 7 – Follow with the Advanced 500M and 200M Sessions with this same drill

Step 8 – Start the above steps over with another drill