Sailing requires control and fitness in equal proportions.

Sailing is the art of controlling a boat with large (usually fabric) foils called sails. By changing the rigging, rudder, and sometimes the keel or centre board, a sailor manages the force of the wind on the sails in order to change the direction and speed of a boat. Mastery of the skill requires not only experience in varying wind and sea conditions, but also high level of fitness.

How fit you need to be?

Fit enough to sail as hard on the last leg of the course of the last race, as you did on the first leg of the course of the first race in the upper wind range. Championship races these days tends to comprise two – three races a day, therefore the emphasis must be placed on mobility and flexibility as well as stamina and strength.

Prior to sailing

To supply oxygen and warm up the working muscles, preliminary warm up routines are highly essential. Dynamic stretches should be done before launching the dinghy, as they are designed to put the joints through the full range of motion. It avoids undue stress.

Fitness training

Training depends upon the time available and motivation of the athlete.3 sessions a week of cycling, jogging / running or swimming will improve overall stamina. Periodic fitness assessment and body analysis and required to keep a check on body weight.

Training to win

Physical fitness increases mental fitness; mental fitness increases confidence, and confidence brings on board the will to win. To be a top sailor racing skills along with physical fitness is essential. As a rule best training is achieved simply by carrying out the activity for which one is training, i.e. Functional training. As fitness is not an absolute term, it can only be described relative to a specific activity. As a sailor think about the special requirements of the job you do on the boat.

Are you a dinghy helm or a crew in a non – trapeze dinghy? If so, your emphasis must be on hiking endurance and on arm work.

Are you a trapeze crew? Then speed and agility (arm & leg) will be at a premium and less on abdominal muscle endurance.

Are you a winch – man? All the focus must be on arm power.

Specific sailing exercise

For general training would include sit ups, pushups, pull ups, burpees, star jumps, squat thrust.

For specific workouts a “Hiking bench” is best. But make sure it matches your boat. It is pointless during training, to be supported at mid thigh if in reality the gunwhale of boat supports you behind your knees.

Remember while hiking a dinghy it is important to extend your over the water to obtain greater leverage when going windward.

Training for sheeting in; it is important to do pull ups on a tail of a rope.

Training for trapeze work; it is important to focus on trunk exercises [Abdomen & back].

Training for winch man; multi planar rotational movements of arms is advised.

Remember to train opposing muscles whilst weight training. For e.g. training back thigh (hamstrings) whilst working on front thigh (quadriceps) would avoid any muscle imbalance.

To sum up, pace yourself during fitness training. You don't want to reach a brick wall just before your event and be burned out! Above all never forget to enjoy sailing first and think of performances next. And concentrate on learning how to win, not what to win.

Consider these...

Type of boat

Body weight

Strength: General and Core


Flexibility/ Mobility


The most critical of all is body weight.

Nothing worse than wrong body in a wrong boat.

Progression of training

First phase: build general fitness. Such as circuit training and swimming.

Second phase: build specific muscle endurance. For e.g. core exercises for hiking.

Third phase: work on specific muscle strength. Increase load on specific muscle.

Fourth phase: add specific speed. Increase in tempo and decrease in load.

The author is a Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist, FitnessOne India Ltd.

Keywords: Sailing


72 and still sailingMay 19, 2010