Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 top tips for becoming sailing fit

Five tips for becoming sailing fit
Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 is harsh on the boats, tough on the shore team and physically, unbelievable brutal on the race crew. All teams know that being in the best shape possible will be critical to victory. So does Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s chief physiotherapist Sarah Burney, who gives us her top tips for getting fit for sailing.

When vital seconds can mean the difference between winning and being the first loser - even on a course that spans 39,000 nautical miles - crews need to maintain peak physical fitness to ensure their competitiveness and avoid injury.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
It is about being able to lift two tonne sails over and over again and surviving the rigours of life on-board, whether it is limiting damage from crawling through narrow spaces on your hands and knees to reach the nav station; managing dehydration and abdominal pain because the toilet is not exactly ergonomically friendly and is too awkward to use; or dealing with chronic fatigue because sleeping is not easy in cot berths which may be a bit on the short side.

That doesn’t even include the constant threat of back injury – the most common complaint from sailors. In the last race, 36 cases of back problems were reported alone, ranging from significant trauma – when a sailor is smashed against a hard object – to overuse injuries caused by the lifting of heavy sails, repeatedly stacking several tonnes of equipment or grinding.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing training in the Solent, UK.
© Ian Roman / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
So how does one prepare for the demands of ocean racing? Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s chief physiotherapist, Sarah Burney, has five key tips for getting sailing fit.

1. Train smarter, not harder.
Efficient training ensures the best results. Plan your sessions with an appropriately qualified practitioner / trainer to ensure a good balance of cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, stability and co-ordination training. Organise training schedules initially with the trainer and choose your exercises wisely to get the best out of your body and make the biggest gains. Review your plans regularly while thinking, ‘will this exercise help me achieve my goals?’ and ‘is this training the best use of my time?’

2. Core stability prevents injuries.
Your spine is a rigid and mobile structure from which all your muscles and limbs stem. Core training ensures your spine stays protected while you load all the other muscles and bones that are designed to take the weight. Make sure you include some one-sided exercises or exercises on uneven surfaces to continually stimulate your core and therefore maintain spine control during movement. With a strong core, you might even find yourself lifting heavier weights, lasting longer, and avoiding injuries. Again, talk to your trainer to identify correct techniques and your specific progressions.

3. Stretching the right muscles.
Stretching after exercise is the best way to prevent future injuries. Consider the muscle group that you have just been training and stretch those specific muscles after the session. Stretching will help decrease muscle soreness after training and help you recover more quickly. If you know you have muscles that are always tight, stretch them more often to encourage lengthening. Avoid over-stretching long muscles. If your stretch involves more than one muscle group, the longest muscle will always stretch more than the tight ones you are targeting. It is important to review these stretches with a qualified practitioner to make sure you are focusing on stretching the correct structures.

4. Adequate recovery ensures efficient training.
Avoid over-training. When you are training, both general fitness and strength training, your body needs enough time to recover before you begin your next session. If you do not allow sufficient recovery time then your body will not perform at its best in every session and you won’t make the gains you are aiming for. You want to make every training session count, so make sure you include rest days and recovery sessions within your weekly programme. Listen to your body.

5. Sport-specific training for best results.
Do not forget your ultimate goal. You want to win the race, so train for the race. If your race is a short sprint for example, make sure you are predominantly interval training. If your race is going to last longer than 20 minutes, like a half-marathon, then ensure the bulk of your training is endurance. On the other hand, if your sport requires you to be standing the whole time, you should be focusing your strength and core training in a standing position. Take some time to analyse your sport and adjust your training adequately.

Remember, train smarter, not harder!