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Sailors are put through their paces at bi-annual fitness assessments

To finish on the podium at World Class Sailing events time after time, the British Sailing Team needs to be at the top of its game come the starting line of any regatta which means the hard work starts long before the sailors get in the boat and out on the water.

A key component to a sailor’s success at the top of the sport is not only down to sailing technique and racing skill, it is the hours of hard work, dedication and commitment which goes into the their fitness programmes, not only by the sailors themselves but by the Sport Science Team behind the sailors.

At the beginning of May, members of the British Sailing Team Podium Squad were put through their paces in Weymouth as the Sports Science Team conducted their bi-annual fitness assessments, giving them a snapshot of where the sailors were physically in preparation for the regatta season.

Head of Sports Science for the British Sailing Team

Paul Mullan, Head of Sports Science for the British Sailing Team, explains the importance behind the testing: “The fitness testing which we carry out on the sailors is crucial to what we do as a part of the Sport Science Team. The testing enables us to screen the athletes on all sorts of areas that there training programmes are applied to helping them progress in there sailing performance.”

“Our main aim from the fitness testing is to gather as much data as possible from a variety of fitness tests on all the athletes within the Podium Squad to then look at some objective markers to see how they have been progressing within their programmes. “It also gives the sailors an opportunity to profile priority areas within their programmes which the Sports Science Team will then set programmes for them to progress against in the next quarter. The ultimate aim of this process is to support those critical areas of their performance to help win medals.”

Charlotte Dobson - 49er FX

For British Sailing Team’s Charlotte Dobson, who has this year made the switch from the single handed Laser Radial class to the new 49er FX class, the fitness testing is crucial in helping her identify her strengths and weaknesses in her new class.

“Fitness in sailing is massive, everyone thinks that within sailing you sit around with your gin and tonic but it’s really not like that at all,” laughed Dobson. “It is a full athletic sport with each discipline requiring different types of fitness.”

“The testing is crucial for all sailors but in particular for me right now as I’m still trying to learn what I need to get good at for the 49erFX. It’s amazing to see that you might be OK at some of the agility stuff but for similar exercises I struggle, so it maybe that if I was a little better at these ones then I would be a little quicker around the boat in some scenarios or that I may not fall over in some scenarios. 

“It’s really good to have a baseline outside the boat of where you’re good, where you’re bad or where potentially your opportunities are especially in a new class where you don’t actually know what the gold standards are just yet which is why the testing is so important for me in these early stages.”

Dobson has seen dramatic changes to her training programme since taking the reins of the high performance skiff. The demands of 49erFX sailing are a whole new experience for the former radial sailor with the exciting new challenges all adding to the enjoyment of her new campaign.

“I have moved from the Laser Radial which involves a lot of strength, endurance and trunk strength into the 49erFX which is a lot more about running around, being quick on your feet and having good agility along with great flexibility. You need to be able to get around the boat quickly but also making sure that you are strong throughout that flexibility range. So basically it has been a completely different programme but one which I am really enjoying,” explained the 2013 Hyeres World Cup silver medallist.

“I think for the new class agility is always going to be key. It is something which we will always need to work on and improve and I’m sure we will be working hard on it for next four years in the build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio. Agility is definitely going to be the priority but I think we will also be working hard on our strength as you can never be too strong for this class. But having said that, the aerobic side of things is also important, so I think it is going to a multi-discipline, multi-attack kind of fitness programme."

Dobson made her debut in the 49erFX class at the Princess Sofia Trophy back in April, with her second regatta coming a week later in Hyeres.  The 26-year-old admits that with the new class still in its early stages, it is hard to tell who has the upper edge when it comes to fitness out on the racecourse.

“It is hard to tell who has been working hard on their fitness or who has the edge over other boats as that sort of thing is disguised with people making boat handling errors and that sort of thing.

“We’re not really too focussed on what the other FX girls are doing at the moment, we are more looking towards the 49er boys and In particular our own GBR 49er boys who are extremely fit in the boat to identify where are priorities should be and where the benchmarks which we should be aiming for are.”

Ben Saxton  - Nacra 17

In a similar position to Dobson is Podium Squad sailor Ben Saxton who has also made the transition from one class to another for the start of the 2016 Olympic cycle, switching from the 470 to the Nacra 17 multihull. Saxton explains that the Sports Science team were straight to work with what was needed for this new class in terms of sailing-related fitness.

“In preparing for the new Nacra 17 I have spent a lot of time with the Sports Science team. Initially it began with them spending long hours out on the water just watching, observing and seeing what the new Multihull class was all about. Once they had sat down, analysed all the findings from the new class we ended up with tailored specific programmes to the Nacra 17 class which is fantastic!

Saxton continued: “The Sports Science team are unbelievably important to us as athletes as in sailing there are a lot of uncontrollables  - they  are one on the very few controllables so it’s easy to get a gain on the rest of the fleet, and if not then to just make sure that you are in line with everybody else in terms of performance, fitness and our nutrition. Come the starting line out on the race course all you want to do as a sailor is know that you have done absolutely everything. These guys are brought in to help us but they don’t do it because it’s their job they do it because they love it and that’s great.”