Cycling fitness for sailing success 

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Staying motivated during the cold winter months can often be a challenge for many, but with the ‘Road to Rio’ now well underway, maintaining fitness all year round is crucial for the British Sailing Team.

While summertime sees our sailors impressing on the water around the world, a lot of their success can be put down to the fitness foundations they have laid during the off-season – and for many that involves racking up the miles on a bike.  

RS: X windsurfer Bryony Shaw, currently ranked world number one and who has claimed podium finishes in seven of the nine regattas she’s contested this season, explains how important cycling is for her:

“Cycling is really important for me and for many other member of the British Sailing Team, especially during the winter season. It’s a really good base level training to prepare you for the race season.

“This time of the year I will try to get out on the bike at least 3-4 times a week, riding for at least two hours a time which can be great fun when you go out as a big group.  It’s also about trying to get in as much volume as you can – you can combine fat burning training to try and get as lean as possible as well as endurance training. The fitness gained from the bike really complements the fitness used when out on the water windsurfing.”

“Cycling during regattas is also a great form of recovery after a day out on the water and when I have my bike out at regattas I try to incorporate this into my programme. Quite often we will go for a ‘spin’ after sailing which basically means you’re allowing the body to remove all the toxins and lactic acid which you have built up during the day.

VIDEO: Cycling and the British Sailing Team - with Olympic Medallist Bryony Shaw - Winter training

Every winter and spring, the British Sailing Team sports science team organises cycling camps in southern Europe with the sole emphasis of putting in big weeks of training (four to five hours a day for seven to 10 days), which is an effective and sociable way to train with a group.  

The 2008 Beijing bronze medallist continued: “I’ve been cycling since I first joined the programme when I was 18 and it is a really big part of what we do. It’s nice to go out with other members of the British Sailing Team as a group, it makes is much more enjoyable and it also gets you out of the gym and into the fresh air. You can ride different routes, different paces, in different riding groups, sometimes racing to really push your limits and it also give you an opportunity  to explore some really great places.”

In the winter, the focus for a lot of the sailors is on the volume of training, including 10-12 hours a week of aerobic work for the RS:X and more physical classes (Finn, Laser, Radial, and 49er crews etc). However all classes would be expected to completes five to six hours a week.  

The volume does drop as the racing season approaches but sailors can still be found to be putting in two to four hours a week riding in the competitive season. At events, many of the sailors will use cycling for recovery.

Tim Jones, British Sailing Team’s Pathway Sports Scientist, explains why cycling is considered so valuable for the sailors: “Cycling plays a major part of the sailors’ fitness programme. Sailing and cycling use similar muscle groups, and as it is a low impact activity it is suitable for exercising for long periods. Therefore it is ideal for improving cardiovascular fitness.”  

“Our athletes need to be fit all year round and cycling allows the sailors to clock up a high volume of cardiovascular work. Combined with a whole-body conditioning programme including flexibility, cycling can play an important part of your non-sailing training.”  

"Cycling can also be a great way to keep up fitness in the winter months; however it is important that you are safe. As the nights close in, cycling can be dangerous so make sure you are visible by having fully functioning lights, wear a helmet, wear reflective clothing and keep your bike maintained in good working order. Have a look at the weather before you go out, icy or wet conditions can be extremely hazardous so pick your outdoor rides carefully. You can always take your cycling indoors with a turbo trainer or at your local gym." 

So with the off-season looming how can you maintain your sailing fitness this winter?  

Jones gives his five top tips for competitive club sailors that want to start using cycling as part of their conditioning.  

1.       Check the weather before going out and be safe – the last thing you want is to come off your bike, as you may hurt yourself and cost yourself a lot of money.

2.       Use a GPS website or wrist monitor to track your rides accurately so that you are able to progress your training. If you can record heart rate as well that would give you useful insight into training intensity and how your fitness is progressing.

3.       Having proper cycling shoes and pedals can seriously improve your performance and power output, just be careful when ‘clipped in’ as most riders will tell you stories of falling off at traffic lights at slow speeds!

4.       When cycling up long hills it is important to maintain a posture that keeps your breathing unobstructed, so don’t hunch over the handlebars – keep your head up and shoulders back to get the crucial Oxygen to your brain and muscles.

5.       If you are starting out, try to complete 2+ rides of 30mins or more progressing to 3+ rides per week of at least 45-60min. The aim at this time of the year is to build endurance so, try to keep the intensity moderate and look for longer duration.

The British Sailing Team is delighted to be supported by Pinarello and Wattbike, two of the most respected and desirable brands in the cycling world, as official suppliers to the team.

To view the full range of products from Pinarello and for further information visit

For further information on Wattbike and for specific and in depth training programmes visit