Planning a Fitness Programme for Sailing

What the Experts Say

Beggs, Derbyshire and Whitmore - Mental & Physical Fitness for Sailing
Whatever your current level of fitness, make sure that you follow the golden rule: take steady, regular exercise with gradual progression

Michael Blackburn - Sail Fitter
'people differ in the needs and aims of their physical training and therefore there is no single ideal training program for all people'

Jon Emmett - Be Your Own Sailing Coach
Each training session must have a specific goal. If  you try and do everything on one day you will limit your possible improvements.

Videos for Planning a Fitness Programme

I haven't come across any really good videos for planning a fitness program. If you know of something then please send me an email or post in the comments and I'll add it to the page.

Books with information on Planning a Fitness Programme


Alan Beggs, John Derbyshire and John Whitmore - Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing, page 58, page 64, page 70, and page 71

Jon Emmett - Be Your Own Sailing Coach, page 191 and page 195

Michael Blackburn - Sail Fitter, page 15, page 16, and pg 46

Websites and online articles for Planning a Fitness Programme

Michael Blackburn on the 10 things you must do when working on your sailing fitness

This article, for Finn sailors, gives a good overview for sailing fitness for hiking boats

A number of sailors talk about planning for a big event, including how they work on their fitness

A nice article on the importance of planning a fitness programme

If you're thinking of using a personal trainer to help you plan and implement your fitness programme then this article could help...

...but if you want to do it all yourself then this piece has loads of advice for building your own workout routine

The author of this article talks about the importance of time off in any fitness plan, and discusses how to use a periodised programme.

Finally, here are 25 great fitness tips to bear in mind when planning your programme

What We Learned...

Planning a fitness routine can be a bit daunting if you've never done it before but it isn't too bad if you follow some basic steps. Most of the information we've researched has similar suggestions as to how to approach it - we've put together a cheat sheet to give you a step-by-step process to go through, and the detail is below.

Firstly, you are much more likely to follow and to stick with a plan that is yours. That is to say - it has to be built around your needs, your available time, your current fitness level and circumstances. If you try to follow something that is designed for someone else then the chances are that you won't keep it up.

Secondly, plan for the long term. It depends who you listen to, but it seems a fair enough estimate to say that it takes around three months to get fit. In general, there is agreement that it takes a lot less than three months to lose your fitness. You therefore need to keep your fitness going to keep reaping the benefits of your hard work. The authors of Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing offer a "Golden Rule: take steady, regular exercise with gradual progression."

Most of the sources we read for sailing fitness follow a 4- or 5-stage yearly plan for fitness, which look something like this:

Build a Foundation (or Stamina) - work for at least one month (and preferably 3 months) on your basic overall fitness. Michael Blackburn has a nice phrase in Sail Fitter - "Like a pyramid, the bigger the base in training, the higher the peak can be". Focus particularly on aerobic fitness and flexibility during this period. Include a variety of activities, and gradually increase your training load. If you're starting aerobic training from scratch then begin with 15 minutes and build up to 30 - 45 minute sessions

Develop beyond the Foundation (or Strength) (1 to 2 months) - this stage isn't as daunting as perhaps it sounds. Essentially, you build on your basic fitness with some more sailing specific exercises, developing your muscular endurance as well as your aerobic fitness and, of course, your flexibility. When developing muscles you need to decide if you are looking for endurance or strength. For strength you need to vary the number of reps you do, but tending towards fewer reps with bigger weights. For endurance you need higher reps but lower weights (normally 8-15 reps)

Make your sessions Specific (or Speed and Skill)(1 month) - this period is when you really focus on your sailing fitness. Work your hiking (or trapezing) areas and build your strength, muscular endurance and specific sailing motions as well as your flexibility. Workouts should be more intensive at this stage. Aerobic fitness lowers in priority in this period, but must not be ignored. It is important to try to find exercises that match the motions you make on the boat as much as possible in order to get the most benefit with your sailing.

Maintenance (rest of the year) - this period is when you are in the midst of your busy sailing period, and should revolve around maintaining the fitness levels you've achieved.

Make sure you build some regular fitness tests into your plan - preferably one at the very beginning and then every 4 to 6 weeks to help monitor your progress.

Most of the sources we read also recommended taking a short break from sailing and doing other activities once your main events are over.

Try working through the cheat sheet to plan your own fitness programme for the coming year.

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