Nick Dempsey

Sailing Fitness - Part 1 

RYA exercise Physiologist, Adrian Campbell tells us what we can do to increase our fitness level for sailing

In this series Adrian will provide us with exercise advice and techniques to help us get the most of our time on water, starting with the basics of aerobic fitness.

Exercise 1 Aerobic Fitness

Your aerobic fitness is the backbone to your physical performance for almost all sailing classes and positions. Without a decent level of aerobic fitness your ability to sail and to race to your best is limited, as your body just cannot keep up with the physical demands that are being placed upon it. Consider aerobic fitness to be the engine of your body; the better the engine the quicker and longer your body can perform for.

Improving your aerobic fitness is simple to do and can require little equipment or cost. Running is the cheapest form of aerobic fitness (only good running shoes needed to protect your joints) and the options are endless of what to do; run, swim, row, cross train, fast walk, windsurf, football, hockey, any activity that gets your heart rate (HR) up and keeps it up at a set intensity.

The intensity to exercise at will vary depending on what you read and what exactly you are aiming to achieve, be it fitness gains, weight loss, anaerobic fitness. However, exercising at around 70-75% of your maximum HR is a good rule of thumb for the majority of people for all fitness goals. To work out you maximum HR use the simple equation of 220-age (so a 35 year old would have a max HR of 220-35=185 beats per minute. Exercising at 70-75% of this would be around 130-139 beat per minute. To keep a check on your HR as you exercise you could either buy a cheap HR monitor (prices start as low as 15) or just take your pulse at the neck or wrist.

How long you should exercise for is a hard question to answer as it varies so much per person. The fitter you are the longer your body will allow you to exercise for comfortably. If you are new to training then start with a 15-20 minute session and slowly build up so you can do at least 60 minutes continuous exercise 3 times a week. The more you train the longer and more sessions you will be able to do. Regardless of ability you want to follow four golden rules of training:

  1. Overload you need to keep training regularly for improvements to be made but also to slowly increase the training load. This can be achieved by manipulating Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type ( FITT).
  2. Specificity training must be specific to what you are targeting. Aerobic training for aerobic fitness!
  3. Progression As fitness improves, a higher level of exercise stress is needed to induce a fitness improvement
  4. Recovery - Adequate recovery is needed after training. It is during this time that the body adapts to training

If you follow the four rules above you will get fitter and the benefits of improving your aerobic fitness are vast. When you exercise regularly your heart becomes more trained and becomes more powerful and stronger, pumping out more oxygenated blood to the muscles with less effort.

Lung function (the amount you can breathe in and out) and your gas diffusion is improved while your blood transport system is more efficient at getting the necessary energy to the muscle more quickly. Your body will also benefit from an increased muscle tone (stronger muscles), an increase in the amount of fat oxidation (resulting in less fat being stored in the body, i.e. you become leaner!), not to mention reducing the risk of developing ill-health diseases.

With a fitter and more efficient heart, lungs, muscle and transport system you will find the demands of sailing less strenuous. Your body will allow you to work the boat harder, hike for longer, work the sheets with more force and recover from all your actions more quickly. Essentially you are able to sail the boat quicker! Aerobic fitness is not just all about physicality however; physical and mental fitness are well linked and the more you tire physically the worse your levels of concentration and decision making will become. So if you are aerobically fitter than another sailor you may have the mental edge over them when they get physically tired.

Aerobic fitness is the foundation of your physical sailing ability. The fitter you are the quicker you could sail!

NB. If you are new to exercise please consult your GP before starting any training program.

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Article Published: May 19, 2009 13:37

Article Updated: March 28, 2013 11:40


Tagged with: Dinghy Racing, Windsurfing

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