Cruising

Fitness First

Bookmark and Share

Simple strength training for sailing By Michael Blackburn

Being strong makes racing more enjoyable, but many strength-training programs are complicated to follow and necessitate gym access and ample free time. Luckily, you don’t need a gym to improve your sailing-specific strength. You can do this short workout anywhere.

Allow three weekly sessions (20 to 30 minutes each) to build base strength. Once you attain this base level, you’ll need only two weekly sessions (20–30 minutes) to maintain it. Separate your workouts by 1 to 2 days to allow for muscle recovery. Intensity is important, but it’s equally important to keep good form to avoid injury. Strive for fluidity, and avoid fast or jerky movements.

Follow this routine every session, treating steps 2–4 as one circuit and steps 5–7 as another. Perform each circuit twice. Start with one set of step 2, followed by one of step 3 and one of step 4; repeat. Then move on to the second circuit; perform steps 5 through 7 twice, as above. One set consists of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. Rest for 30 seconds between sets. Control the speed of each repetition, and don’t skip the warm-up or cool-down!

Warm-up (Step 1)
Start with light aerobic activity for 5 minutes.

Body pull-up (Step 2)
Since sailing involves pulling things, back and bicep exercises are critical. Start with the body pull-up. Lie face-up on the floor under a table or desk and grip its edge. Have your arms nearly straight, hands shoulder-width. Pull your chest up to the underside of the table and then lower. You can move your feet in or out to adjust the resistance. Start with your feet closer to your body and fewer repetitions until you build strength.

Opposites (Step 3)
To avoid a muscle imbalance it’s important to exercise opposite muscle groups. Start with modified push-ups, where you support your body on your hands and knees, and then progress to full push-ups with your toes on the ground.

Legs and shoulders (Step 4)
For a leg workout, try body-weight squats. Begin standing up and then squat down until you have a 90-degree bend at your knees, with your back straight. After pausing at the bottom, rise up again. You can carry weights in your hands for added resistance.

For the shoulders, try assisted chin-ups, keeping the bar low and taking some weight on one leg.

Five feet of thick shockcord is a handy piece of equipment with a variety of uses. For example, you can loop it around a strong point, grip it with both hands, and then pull back against the cord’s resistance as though you’re rowing. You can also stand on the shockcord and bicep-curl it up to your shoulders or use it for resistance when doing squats.

Forearm plank (Step 5)
Lying face down, support yourself on your toes and elbows/forearms, keeping your body flat. Hold steady for 20 to 30 seconds.

Alternate arm-leg raise (Step 6)
Lying face down with your arms stretched out in front, lift your opposite arm/leg off the floor for 2 seconds, then lower and repeat with the opposite arm/leg combo.

Ankle touch (Step 7)
Start by lying on your back with your feet on the ground and your knees at a 90-degree angle. Curl up so that your shoulders are off the ground. Slide your trunk alternately to either side, touching each ankle with your fingers.

Cool-down and stretch (Step 8)
Finish by stretching the muscle groups you’ve worked. Include the prone half-press-up: Lie on your stomach, hands near your shoulders, as if you’re doing a push-up. Slowly push your shoulders up, keeping your hips on the floor and letting your upper back and then lower back and stomach sag. Slowly lower your shoulders, letting your back curl down. Repeat. Relax.

Keep the initial loads relatively easy and add weight as your strength increases. If you miss a week, return to your prebreak loads for one week. After three weeks increase to three sets, and after five weeks increase the resistance.


Michael Blackburn is the 2006 Laser World Champion, author of Sail Fitter: Sailing Fitness and Training, and the only sailor to have sailed Bass Strait on a Laser.

  • facebook
  • twitter