With physical demands from the modern high performance sailing boats on the rise and weight limits a governing factor, we checked in with Strength and Conditioning coach, Dan Smith of Pinnacle Performance to get some top tips on training for high performance sailing.
What do you consider are the most important factors when it comes to fitness for sailing?
As with almost any sport, being robust and resistant to injury should be the primary factor when devising a strength & conditioning program, however there are certain physical attributes that stand out specific to sailing.
The order of importance depends on the sailing discipline and the athlete’s current strengths and weaknesses which should be assessed prior to starting a program to ensure each physical attribute is being progressed in accordance with the results of the assessment.
With the above in mind, here is a brief list and simple explanation of the physical attributes required for sailing:
Aerobic Capacity – Athletes are required to tolerate repeated efforts over a varied time frame depending on the sailing discipline. The most basic example would be grinding; obviously, strength is important for this too but being able to sustain this action over an extended period requires endurance and an efficient aerobic system.
Agility – This is perhaps one of the most overlooked physical attributes in sailing and can be difficult to replicate in a gym setting if you are striving for specificity. However, with that said – attempting to be too specific is often where athlete’s and their coaches fall short. We have seen many examples of complicated agility drills set up when they could often be simplified for less time investment and usually always greater physical output.
Another example would be the balance and agility required moving from different positions on the boat during higher speeds. Motor skill acquisition research suggests that balance is a non-transferrable skill and the way that balance is required on the boat is highly unpredictable so training balance is perhaps a waste of time and should be left purely to time spent on the boat.
Strength – This come’s hand in hand with robustness/injury resistance. Strength should be developed with structural balance in mind. Sailing athletes are often ‘pull’ dominant, meaning the muscular structures which initiate any pulling motions are often over developed relative to ‘push’ dominant muscles which can produce numerous muscular imbalances.
However, it is also common to see a pull-push deficit but with clear postural issues. Although a deficit can still be addressed, it would be more important to focus on addressing the postural issues as more often than not this will limit strength long term and put the athlete at greater injury risk.
What advice can you offer women who are aspiring to improve their fitness?
As previously discussed, prior to beginning any fitness regime it is pivotal to firstly conduct the appropriate physical assessments to gauge current strengths and weaknesses.
For serious athletes, I would advise hiring an experienced strength & conditioning coach with a track record of producing results to conduct the physical assessment and subsequent training program.
For some athlete’s, seeking the services of a coach might be out of their current budget, to simply put it – those athlete’s need to re-assess their priorities and understand that hiring a coach is an investment and not an expense. Being accountable to a coach will ensure you don’t miss sessions and fast track you to success!
Can you expand on training those different aspects – i.e split ratio/duration/frequency?
The duration of each session and how it is programmed is firstly dependent on how frequently the athlete can train and secondly based on the results of the pre-training physical assessment. Sessions can last between 45 – 90 minutes and 3 – 9 sessions per week.
A serious athlete should allocate time to train and absolute minimum of 3 sessions per week. Women are habitually weaker per kg of bodyweight than men, especially in the upper body, so an upper body dominant program is recommended, with at least two dedicated upper body training sessions per week, leaving the other session to be a dedicated lower body and midsection session. Aerobic capacity sessions should be completed on either the same day after sessions, later in the day or on separate days.
Although respectable results can be produced following a 3-day routine, a 5-day, AM & PM routine is the ideal format for serious athlete striving to make progress rapidly. A typical format our professional sailors follow:
Day 1 AM) Upper Body 1
Day 1 PM) Grind/Row
Day 2 AM) Lower Body 1
Day 2 PM) Cycle/Run
Day 3 AM & PM) Off
Day 4 AM) Upper Body 2
Day 4 PM) Grind/Row
Day 5 AM) Lower Body 2
Day 5 PM) Cycle/Run
Day 6 AM & PM) Off
Day 7 AM) Recovery/Mobility
Day 7 PM) Off
Can you highlight any sailing specific exercises that you incorporate at Pinnacle Performance? We program exercises on a continuum of general > less specific > specific > more specific, so initially athlete’s will be performing general
routines to address any structural weaknesses as previously alluded to with greater specificity being added as the program develops and the athlete gets closer to peaking for an event, campaign or physical testing with a professional sailing team.
In our experience, the most specific exercises we have found to be pivotal to sailing performance are single-arm push/pull variants, lower back and midsection strength, shoulder stability and grip endurance. If you are a sailor and your program doesn’t include exercises that focus on the above, address it now!
Furthermore, specific exercises for aerobic capacity can be a non-starter for most unless you have access to right equipment or able to frequently get out on the boat. However, the specificity in the gym comes with the duration. For example, as an America’s cup athlete gets closer to an event, training in the gym would mimic the energy systems and intensities required for a race lasting the same duration, tracking heart rate variability to gauge intensity.
Nutrition/supplements to training?
Nutrition and supplements is often highly overlooked and ignored by many, especially those training so frequently which is where in becomes even more important – too perform optimally you must be fuelled and hydrated appropriately, starting at a minimum of 50 ml/kg of body weight.
The degree of detail that needs to be allocated to nutrition and supplementation depends on the training objective and how far away from the objective the athlete is. For example, an athlete currently weighs 100 kg and needs to be 90 kg for the boat and has 8 weeks to achieve it. This is achievable but requires an extensive nutrition program with a macronutrient breakdown and potentially meal plans – this is the job of a dietician.
From our perspective, we have had great success through creating habits with gradual change and recommendations to an athlete’s diet without outlining restrictions or devising meal plans, simplicity is the key. The amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat advised to an athlete’s diet varies depending on current body composition, training objective and time frame in which to achieve that objective.
For most, a high protein diet with fat and carbohydrate divided based on preference is the usual starting point using mostly whole foods. Depending on progress, the next step to be introduced is caloric requirements which you would advise the athlete to track using one of the available mobile applications.
With thanks to Daniel Smith, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Pinnacle Performance, Hamble, UK. Pinnacle Performance & Training provides a leading marine athlete development programme to develop physical fitness for sailing and a host of other marine-based sports. For more information visit: http://www.pinnaclept.co.uk