Staying in sailing shape

Top tips for things you could be doing this winter to keep afloat come spring.

Top tips for things you could be doing this winter to keep afloat come spring.

Sailing fitness

Keeping fit and staying in sailing shape during the off-season is a sure way to ensure that when your boat comes out of hibernation next spring the aches and pains are kept to a minimum even if your sailing skills still need the cobwebs blowing away.

Here are just a few top tips for things you could be doing this winter to keep afloat come spring.

Aerobic fitness

Aerobic fitness is the physical foundation to all sailing; the better your aerobic fitness the greater your ability is to sail at your best. As soon as you become tired, and your body can’t keep up with the physical demands being placed on it, your performance level inevitably drops and mental function takes a big hit as fatigue takes its toll.

Making even small improvements in aerobic fitness is easy and cheap to do.

  • Anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a prolonged period will be doing you some good. So do whatever you enjoy most, whether running, cycling, swimming, rowing, playing a team or racquet sport, walking fast.
  • Variety is the best recipe. The better rounded your choice of activities the better prepared your body gets.
  • How long you should exercise for will depend on you, the fitter you are the longer you will be able to keep going for, but don’t go mad to start with! If you’re only just beginning on a new fitness programme start with a comfortable 15-20 minute session and slowly build up so you can do at least an hour of continuous exercise three times a week. And don’t forget, recovery is as important as the work out. It’s during this time the body adapts to the benefits of the training.”

Interval training

You know what it’s like when the breeze gets up and your muscles are screaming as you bid to keep the boat going as fast as possible.

Part of aerobic training is your body’s ability to work at high intensity for long periods of time. The only way to be able to replicate the ferocity of breezy, intense racing on the water is by doing ‘interval training’ on land.

Interval training means doing short, sharp but intense sets of sprints, repetitions, revolutions; whatever exercise you’re doing that pushes your ‘lactate threshold’ on each go.

How long each hard interval and each recovery interval should be depends on your level of fitness. But it’s important you keep active in the rest period as this speeds recovery between bouts. Don’t stop completely!

Basic Strength

So you’ve done your aerobic training, but what use is any of this if when it comes to pulling ropes forcefully and effectively enough to get the wind into the sails quickly, making the boat go faster, you’re found wanting.

This is where strength comes in.

Sailing fitness

Strength is quite a complex concept – muscular strength, muscular endurance and muscular power all contribute to how ‘strong’ you are.

Also depending on what boat you sail and your role on the boat will determine what parts of your body need to be strongest. However, most sailors would benefit from having good basic strength in the major muscles and movement planes.

Once you know the muscle groups you want to improve there are three main types of strength training:

  • Circuits – using your own body weight as the resistance
  • Machine-based weights - bicep curl, lap press, shoulder press, leg press etc.
  • Free weights – dumbbells, barbells, bench press etc.

Sailing fitness can be very sailor and boat specific but anyone can maintain a basic level of good sailing fitness over the winter months. However, if you are new to exercise consult your GP before starting any training programme.

Warm Up Video

For some great sailing warm up exercises check out the RYA’s Sailing Fitness – Warm Up video with RYA and British Sailing Team Sports Scientist Tim Jones.

Images by Richard Langdon