Friday, February 22, 2013

Developing a Personal Sailing Fitness Program

As the competition level continues to rise in sailing, and boats continue to get lighter, faster, and more powerful, getting in shape is more important than ever in many popular classes in the sailing community.  Sailors are hiring personal trainers, competing at the CrossFit® Games, and the US Sailing Team even went to train with the Navy Seals before the London Olympics.  The interesting thing about sailing is that there is not really a standard for how people are supposed to train for regattas.  This is mostly because the sport and the people in it are so diverse in their goals, making every sailor’s fitness needs different.  For example, a 420 sailor should not train the same as a keelboat or skiff sailor, a sailor who mostly competes on short courses should not train the same as a sailor who mostly competes on long courses, and a skipper often times should train differently than a crew.  Furthermore, sailors often alter their routine for a specific boat or event.  If you get a chance to look at photos of Ben Ainslie over the scope of his career, you will see a great example of how much a premiere sailing athlete will modify their physical appearance for different boats or regattas.  While your fitness needs will vary depending on what kind of boats you race, your role in the boat, or the type of racing you do, the basics always remain the same.

The two most important muscle groups in ANY sport are legs and core.  Whether you are throwing a ball, swinging a golf club, hitting a tennis ball, throwing a punch, or hiking out on a boat, the majority of power in any of these movements is actually generated from your legs.  Even NASCAR drivers use a considerable amount of core strength as they go through turns.  One of the interesting things about sailing is that these muscles are used in a lot of different ways.  For example, sometimes your movements are static, like hiking or holding the mainsheet in place.   At other times your movements are explosive or repetitive, like when you are roll tacking or sheet-vanging.  Thus, how your workout is structured should depend on the demands placed on you by the boat you sail.  For example, if you do a lot of long courses where you do a lot of hiking, cardio sessions and wall-sits are typically a much higher priority than dead lifts, squats, and bicep curls.  In sailing, there are no right or wrong fitness programs.  A program is simply more or less efficient for achieving your specific goals on the water.

There are a few important factors to consider other than core and legs when setting up your program.  First of all, engaging in a lot of exercises where you utilize PUSHING movements (e.g. Bench Press) will do very little for you in a sport where you typically PULL things in and ease them out.  When you do focus on your upper body, it is important to remember that almost every movement you do in a sailboat is using a significant amount of core strength.  Thus, finding upper body exercises that heavily engage your core simultaneously will better prepare you for the water than those that do not.  Furthermore, compound movements will also have a greater impact on your fitness because they will hit both large and small muscle groups at the same time.  For example, pull ups engage your back, biceps, and core all at once, just like sheet-vanging a 420 in 25 knots.  In contrast, a bicep curl will only focus on one small muscle group, and will not simulate how you actually use your biceps on the water.

While programs will always vary from person to person in the sailing world, any good sailing program will incorporate all of the following:

1.  Cardio – Cardio is essential for training your heart rate.  Making cardio a part of your program will increase endurance and focus during long days of racing.  Furthermore, cardio will make you more effective in breezy conditions where you are constantly sheet-vanging and moving your body to adjust to waves and changes in pressure.

2.  Static Leg Exercises – This includes any exercise that causes your quadriceps to contract in a static position.  This will improve your endurance and overall strength while hiking.

3.  Static Core Exercises –This includes all exercises that contract your core muscles in a static position.  This will strengthen your support muscles while hiking, making it easier to support your upper body in a maximum hiking position.

4.  Repetitive Core Exercises – This includes any exercise that engages your core via repetitions.  This will help you use your upper body in a more effective way while hiking, by making you more able to torque and work through waves.  When performing, this type of exercise, it’s more effective to do sets with high repetitions rather than low repetitions.

5.  Compound Pulling Movements – This is a broad category mostly meant to engage your Back, Biceps, and Shoulders.  A compound movement will work bigger stronger muscles such as your back and shoulders, while also engaging a smaller muscle group like your abdominals.  Purely bodyweight exercises are preferable to using weights.

6.  Static Upper Body Movements – Another broad category that is mostly reserved for Shoulder, Back, and Bicep Muscles.  The exercises all involve contracting the upper body muscles for a long period of time while also engaging your core muscles.

7.  Pure Strength Movements (Legs) – This is the least necessary to a great program, but using higher weights and lower rep. sequences with exercises like squats, dead lifts, power cleans, etc., can add considerable amounts of strength to your legs and core.  Your legs are your largest muscles, so they are also the most effective way to add muscle weight to your body if you need to get into a bigger weight range.  This is for very specific and advanced training routines.  All necessary precautions should be taken before engaging in this kind of training.

Zim Coach’s Top 10 Most Effective Sailing Exercises
1. Hiking Bench (Static Leg, Static Core)
2. Running, Biking, Ergometer (Cardio)
3. Static Squats (Static Leg, Static Core)
4. Static Leg Lifts (Static Core)
5. Full Sit-Ups/Leg Lifts (Repetitive Core) – NOT CRUNCHES
6. Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups(Compound Pulling)
7. Super Mans (Static Upper Body)
8. Static Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups (Static Upper Body)
9. Power Cleans (Pure strength)
10. Front Squats (Pure Strength)

Zim Coach’s 5 Most Overrated Sailing Exercises
1. Bench Press
2. Dumbbell Flies
3. Any pure triceps exercise
4. Shoulder Press
5. Bicep Curls

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

Disclaimer: Zim Coach's fitness knowledge and recommendations are made as a professional sailor.  Zim Coach is not a licensed or professional personal trainer.

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