Warming Up, Warming Down and Stretching

Warming up, warming down and stretching can be a useful way of avoiding injuries and speeding recovery after sailing or exercising.

What the Experts Say

Jack LaLanne - American fitness, exercise and nutritional expert, quoted in The First 20 Minutes

"Warming up is the biggest bunch of horsesh*!t I've ever heard in my life. Fifteen minutes to warm up! Does a lion warm up when he's hungry? 'Uh-oh, here comes an antelope. Better warm up.' No! He just goes out and eats the sucker"

Videos for Warming Up, Warming Down and Stretching

This is a superb warm up routine from Tim Jones and the RYA

Want some variety - here's another great warm up routine, this time from the Australian Sailing Team:

Another really helpful stretching video

Another good, more general dynamic warm up routine

Books with information on Warming Up, Warming Down and Stretching

Alan Beggs, John Derbyshire and John Whitmore - Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing,  page 61, page 64, page 68, and page 78

Ben Tan - Complete Introduction to Laser Racing,  page 177

Michael Blackburn - Sail Fitter, page 43

Websites and online articles for Warming Up, Warming Down and Stretching

good article about the importance and benefits of stretching, with a demonstration video (video is also shown above)

A post-exercise stretching routine in pdf, found via FitnessPlatform.com and Sailing Shack

A good article about warming up for sailing, and the difference it can make to your performance.

Nick Thompson talks about warming up for sailing

good article covering stretching before and after sailing

Another really informative piece on stretching, with some good key stretches specifically for sailors

An article on flexibility which has lots of advice on stretching for sailors

A good general article on the importance of warming up, with a suggested warm up routine (video is shown above)

Some stretches for the Hip Flexors

What We Learned...

The first thing we learned is that this area is rather more hazy and controversial than we had imagined. There is a lack of definitive research in the area of stretching and warming up and down, and what research there is tends to be so recent that it doesn't appear in most of the published material.

Stretching, Dynamic Stretching and Warming Up Before Sailing or Exercise

Most experts seem to agree now that static stretching shouldn't be done immediately before exercise or exertion as it seems to impair performance, possibly as much as 30% for some muscles. However, I haven't found anything to say one way or the other whether static stretching before exercise helps (or hinders) recovery - something that would be useful to know for sailors that compete in regattas over a number of days. It may be that a slight loss in muscle performance is less important to sailors than any potential increase in recovery. We'll keep looking, and if we come across anything that informs this area then we'll update the information here.

Anyway, what the experts do seem to agree on is that a simple warm up is useful before exercising (and therefore before sailing). The aim of the warm up should be to:

  1. raise the temperature of the body - at rest there is less blood flow to muscles and tendons; and
  2. increase the range of motion of the joints that will be used

By warming up you will not only achieve the above, but your oxygen intake will be improved, your muscle speed and force will be optimised, your accumulation of lactic acid will be lower and your nerve impulses will be quicker. That's got to be good, right?

There have been a few studies done that show the benefit of a gentle warm up - one such study for golfers showed a drive length increase of 7% and a drive accuracy improvement of 60% (as cited in The First 20 Minutes).

The recommended warm up tends to be between 5 and 15 minutes, and involves some gentle aerobic exercise and some dynamic stretches:

  1. The aerobic exercise can be anything convenient - fast walking, jogging, skipping, etc.. It should be done at about 60% of maximum heart rate, or at a pace where you can have a chat but you wouldn't be able to sing a song, for people like me that don't really know what max heart rates are.
  2. Dynamic stretches are not actually stretches at all - which seems par for the course for an area where nothing is quite as you expect it. They are really just simple exercises that aim to increase your range of motion and raise your heart rate and body temperature. The best thing to do is to make the warm up specific to the sport you are about to do - in our case either sailing (in which case the video above is perfect) or doing a fitness workout (in which case there are loads of general dynamic stretch videos on Youtube).

Warming Down (or Cooling down) and Stretching after sailing or exercise

Essentially here we're talking about recovery, and how to best facilitate avoiding sore muscles after exercise. Most of the existing literature for sailing recommends stretching after exercise, and it does seem to be a good idea to do this. go through all the major muscle areas that have been used, and hold stretches for at least 30 seconds.

Some people like to have a massage after exercise, although there is evidence to suggest that massage can actually inhibit blood flow to the muscles. That said, the positive well-being effects of massage may (and probably do) outweigh any small negatives. Others like ice baths or cold showers (at some sailing clubs you have a cold shower after sailing whether you like it or not). While it is also not clear that this helps with recovery, most who practice it say that they feel less soreness so there probably is something in it if you can bear the pain.

In conclusion

If you have a system that works for you and that you're happy with then stick to it - there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to change a working system. If you're new to this or want to experiment then the best system seems to be:

  • Warm up with light aerobic exercise and dynamic stretches for a few minutes
  • Sail (or exercise)
  • Do stretches for the muscle groups that were exercised
  • (and have a cold shower / have a massage if you want to)

See our checklist for a more detailed routine, with suggested exercises and stretches.

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