How to Turn Your Cat into a Gym

Before we started sailing, we ran a full-time martial arts gym, so having ample space to exercise was a priority when boat shopping. In fact, that was one of the reasons why we selected Zero To Cruising, our PDQ 32 catamaran, instead of a monohull.

Like most things in life, when it comes to exercising on a sailboat, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Sure, there are countless excuses you can make, the most obvious of which is the lack of space, but the flip side of that argument is that sailors are already living in spaces that most people think are too small. So why not exercise there too?

Before we started sailing, we ran a full-time martial arts gym, so having ample space to exercise was a priority when boat shopping. In fact, that was one of the reasons why we selected Zero To Cruising, our PDQ 32 catamaran, instead of a monohull. On a catamaran, the space excuse doesn’t carry much weight, and we’ve since spent a lot of time learning how to best work out onboard.

As for the excuses some monohull sailors put forward, we have been aboard many of our friends’ monohulls to show them how to best use their space to achieve an effective workout, no matter how limited that space may be. Also, during the times we’ve sailed aboard “uni-marans,” we’ve never stopped exercising. It can be done. It’s just a tad easier, and more enjoyable, on a wide, stable cat.

Before attempting to design your own workout routine, keep in mind that all multihulls are laid out slightly differently. We spent four years living aboard our PDQ 32, sailing her from Lake Ontario to Trinidad and spending time at many points in between. However, we recently moved to a Leopard 4600 catamaran, which has resulted in an immense increase in living and exercising space. Although the two boats have their similarities, we still had to rethink our workout routine. I bring this up only to emphasize that you may need to be creative to see exactly how some of these seven suggestions will work on your particular boat.

Go forward. The most obvious place to exercise is on the trampoline. This large, open space is perfect for workouts. One of our favorite techniques, both on and off the boat, is something called “suspension training,” in which you use your body’s own weight for building strength. By rigging a device such as the TRX or Aerosling to the mast, you can harness your weight in an almost infinite number of movements. Work your upper arms with suspension trainer tricep extensions and biceps curls (alternate the two for a great pump) and work your quads with a front squat (above). Take advantage of the wide openness of the trampoline to do some side-to-side movements, such as balance crossover lunges and side lunges (below).

Even without a suspension trainer, all exercises you would normally do while prone are much more comfortable on the trampoline, including crunches or leg-lifts.

Step up. Another popular feature on catamarans are the wide transom steps. These can be used for improvised stepping workouts, although it probably goes without saying that we’d only recommend this when the boat is safely anchored! A good leg workout could include 15 single-leg step-ups with the right leg, 15 single-leg step-ups with the left leg and then 20 calf raises. Repeat those three exercises in sequence for three or more sets, holding onto a nearby rail for balance. One caveat and this applies to all deck surfaces: be sure they are dry before working out on them. Even with antiskid, a wet deck can be slippery, and falling during a workout is potentially dangerous, or at least embarrassing.

Rolling side lunge

Rethink fenders. Another one of our favorite exercise tools is the standard fender or fender ball. You may be familiar with the large inflatable balls found in gyms, typically called “physio” or “Swiss” balls, and a fender makes an excellent physio-ball substitute. While they work perfectly as a platform for common abdominal exercises like crunches, we also enjoy using them in a more dynamic way on the trampoline’s smooth and unobstructed surface, doing exercises like the Rolling Side Lunge and the Fender-ball Pike.

Fender-ball pike

Maintain balance. Another nice attribute of catamarans is how little they roll. When it comes to balance-intensive exercise methods such as yoga or Pilates, this can be an advantage as you can practice on the wide side decks of your cat. Then again, if you want less stability and more of a challenge, head back to the tramp. Like the Bosu balls you often see in fitness clubs—flat on the bottom and rounded and rubbery on top—the tramp can provide you with a good amount of instability.

Go aft. Don’t forget about the rest of the boat! While we love training on the trampoline at anchor and do some training out there while underway in super-calm conditions, while on passage, more often than not we exercise in the security of our cockpit. The cockpit of a cat, even one as small as our little PDQ, wins the space battle against virtually every monohull sailboat. Instead of thinking of the cockpit seats or tables to be obstacles to work around, think about how you can use them as exercise props. For example, we like to position our feet on the cockpit seats to make pushups more challenging. We also hold onto bimini supports to make balance-intensive exercises such as lunges (above) easier to do when the boat is moving. Safety during underway sessions is crucial, as we train to increase our health, not injure ourselves.

Pull up. Do you have a hardtop bimini, some davits, or an arch over your stern? If so, try to find a spot to do some pull-ups, the true king of upper-body exercises. We’ve found ways to do these (above) while hanging off both our bimini and our davits. Take a look around your boat to see if it might be possible. It’s well worth a try.

Branch out. We don’t limit ourselves to these exercises, and neither should you. One of Rebecca’s staple exercises is dance (below), and although it may provoke curious glances from other boats in an anchorage, she conducts at least one training session each week. With our background in martial arts, we also have been known to break out into jiu-jitsu sessions on the trampoline. And Rebecca also enjoys hula hoop and poi, none of which would be possible on the hard and narrow foredeck of a monohull.

With some creativity, your catamaran can easily become an excellent fitness platform. But what if you’re sailing on a monohull and can’t do all of these exercises? That’s easy. Go make friends with the people on the cat anchored beside you. The only thing better than exercising on a cat is having a good training partner with whom to share those workouts.

 Story and photos By Mike and Rebecca Sweeney



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