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Sailing Fitness in the Off-Season

Temperatures hover around freezing, the daylight hours are short and those sailing boots have most likely been pushed to the farthest depths of your closet. By now, most boats are hibernating safely in the garage or basement. Yes, it’s winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay in “sailing shape” during the off-season…and it might be easier than you think!

Most sailors are not very diligent about working out over the winter months. Consequently, they spend the first few weeks of the sailing season trying to get re-acclimated to the physical demands sailing puts on their body. Wouldn’t it be nice to hit the ground running for the 2009 season, knowing you’re already in shape? In this article I will outline some simple exercises to keep your body in top form without even leaving your house.

First, I’d like to suggest purchasing a few simple, inexpensive pieces of equipment for your new home gym: a jump rope, an exercise/ abs ball (55 centimeters if you are 4’11”-5’3” or 56cm if you’re 5’4”-5’11”), 5, 10 and 15 lb. dumbbell sets and a foam mat for floor exercises. Using this basic gear, I will take you through a 30-45 minute workout that will target the same muscle groups you use on the boat: abs, back, biceps, triceps, forearms, quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, calves and ankles.

First and foremost is the cardio warm-up. If you happen to have a treadmill, run 5 minutes at a comfortable “conversation” pace. If no treadmill is available, use the jump rope for 5 minutes. Don’t worry if you get tripped up - just get going again as quickly as possible. You’ll get better with practice and muscle memory. The goal of the warm-up is to prepare the body for the workout by raising your heart rate a little and breaking a light sweat. The warm-up should not fatigue you. After the cardio warm-up, spend 10 minutes stretching all of your major muscle groups, especially quads, hamstrings, groin, calves, back, arms, and neck rolls. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 20-30 seconds. Remember to grab a quick drink of water during stretching before the bulk of the workout begins.

Exercise #1: Ball Squats

With your hands behind your back, hold the exercise ball at the base of your tailbone. Keeping the ball in this position, lean back onto a wall so you’re leaning on the ball and the ball is leaning on the wall. Place your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward. Using the ball as support, squat down until your knees bend to 90 degrees. As you squat down, keep your back straight and the ball will roll up your back. Hold the max down position for 1 second then push back upward to the standing position. As you squat down, keep your back straight and the ball will roll up your back. If you bend over too much, the ball will fall. 10 squat repetitions forms one set and you should complete three sets (10 reps X 3 sets = 30 total reps). Take breaks between each set and remember to sip water. If you want to make this exercise more challenging, perform the squats holding a 5 lb. dumbbell in each hand. This will give you more resistance.

Exercise #2: Exercise Ball Crunch

Lie facing upwards on your exercise ball with the ball positioned under your lower back. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle with feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead. Allow your back to extend over the curve of the ball. Cross your arms over your chest and slowly crunch your upper body forward. Concentrate on doing this slowly, first raising your shoulder blades off the ball. Once you reach the full upright position, slowly lower your upper body back down over the ball. These crunches should not be performed for speed, but rather for form. Complete 3 sets consisting of 20 reps each for a total of 60 crunches.

Exercise #3: Prone Iso Abs

Lie on your foam mat, face down on the floor with your feet together and forearms on the ground. Lift your entire body off the ground using only your toes and forearms to balance yourself. Your body should be a straight line (like a board) from head to toe. Hold this position as long as you can without breaking form. Repeat 2 times. Over the course of a few weeks, you should be able to increase the amount of time you can hold this position. A great way to check your progress is to keep a weekly workout journal documenting each exercise.

Exercise #4: Dumbbell Chest Press on Exercise Ball

Lie facing upward on your exercise ball, with the ball placed between your shoulder blades. Place your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing straight forward. Hold a 10 or 15 lb. dumbbell in each hand at chest level with your elbows flexed (bent). Press both dumbbells straight up and together above your head. Hold for 1 second then slowly return the dumbbells to the starting position. Complete 3 sets consisting of 8 reps in each for a total of 24 reps. If a 10 or 15 lb. dumbbell is too heavy, start with 5 lb. and work your way up to more weight.

Exercise #5: Push-Ups

Almost everyone knows what a push-up is. However, few know correct form and this is the key to maximizing this exercise. Your feet should always be together, only using your tiptoes for support over the ground. Keep hands flat and shoulder width apart. Your back should always remain as straight as a board with your head looking straight down at the space between your hands on the ground. Do not arch your back or bend your knees. Complete 1 set of 10 pushups. If you cannot complete 10 full reps, do as many as you can, working your way up to 10. If you can’t complete one push-up with correct form, a simple regression is to go off your knees instead of toes.

Exercise #6: Bicep Curls

Starting with a 5 or 10 lb. dumbbell, stand with feet shoulder width apart. Hold the dumbbells at your side with the palm of your hand facing forward. Curl both dumbbells up to your chest, hold for 1 second then slowly return to the starting position. Complete 3 sets of 8 reps for a total of 24 total reps.

Exercise #7: Triceps Extensions on Exercise Ball

Lie facing upward on your exercise ball with the ball placed between your shoulder blades. Place your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing straight forward. Hold 5 lb. dumbbells in each hand with the elbows in line with the shoulders arms straight over your chest. Flex (bend) your elbows to a 90-degree angle, hold for 1 second, then return to the starting position. Complete 3 sets of 8 reps for a total of 24 total reps.

Exercise #8: Exercise Ball Dumbbell Row

Lie face down on your exercise ball with the ball placed under your abdomen. Keep your feet pointed down and legs completely straight. Hold a 5 lb. dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms in front of you (you should be looking down at your dumbbells). Flex (bend) your elbows, bringing the dumbbells towards your armpits until your thumbs are level with your shoulders. You should feel your shoulder blades retracting or pressing down. Return to the starting position. Complete 2 sets of 8–10 reps for a total of 16-20 reps.

Exercise #9: Star Jumps

Start in a low squat position with your arms tucked in at your sides. In one explosive, quick movement, jump as high as you can, extending your arms above your head. Return to the starting position. You should be putting everything you have left into each jump- this will be very tiring! Complete 10 full star jumps.

Exercise #10: Cool Down and Stretch

Never end your workout on the last exercise. Always take the time to do a proper cool down and stretch routine. This will help your body recover and prevent injury. For cool down, you can walk on a treadmill or simply walk around the room. The object is to get your heart rate to return to a pre-workout rate and your breathing back to normal, especially after those Star Jumps! Use the same stretching routine from your warm-up and remember to be thorough. Hold every stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds. ✦

Sarah Mergenthaler, along with helm Amanda Clark, represented the U.S. in the 470 class at the 2008 Olympic Sailing Regatta in Qingdao, China. Their website is teamgosail.org.


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