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A Winter Fitness Program For Sailing Windsurfing and Kitesurfing

Posted by Stephen Bateman | Posted in muscle building apps, safety at sea | Posted on 04-02-2013

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Winter fitness program for sailing windsurfing and kite surfing

Sailing, windsurfing and kite surfing all require strength, balance and agility

At iGlimpse we believe there is no substitute for sailing fitness, and that all sailors should maintain a high level of physical exercise year-round so they can enjoy the benefits of better health, performance and safety at sea.

Sailing demands physical fitness, balance and stability 

Hiking, trapezing, lugging sails, throwing and catching heavy mooring lines and operating manual winches are all demanding tasks requiring strength and endurance. These physical tasks are made more challenging by confined space where it’s difficult to achieve an optimal bio-mechanical body position.

Furthermore, sailors and surfers are operating on an unstable platform making holding a balanced and stable position difficult, especially on vessels where there are lots of obstacles to fall against in rough seas.

Sailing fitness programs that include muscle strengthening exercises like dumbbell lunges, bench step-ups and bar bell leg squats, including exercises like back extensions and abdominal crunches play a critical role in a competitive sailor’s year-round fitness regimen.

In an effort to help our growing Nav Lights and ColRegs users with their winter fitness program, we’ve dipped into our fitness apps and healthy back apps to put together a fitness program for sailing, wind and kite surfing to help you combat the winter blues and hit the ground (err…water) running!

Key Fitness Exercises to build strength in the arms, legs, back, core, abs and shoulders 

Winter fitness program for sailing windsurfing and kite surfing

Upper, core and lower body leg exercices for sailing and windsurfing

Try these exercises paying attention to correct technique:

  1. Flat Bench Hyperextensions. Target muscle group:  Lower back. Lie supine on a flat bench with sternum even with bench’s upper edge. Upper chest and head should hang off the top of the bench. Hook feet under bench, securing yourself in stable start position. Place hands at sides of head, fingertips touching ears. With arms bent and elbows out, raise upper body about 8 to 12 inches off the bench. Slowly lower body to the start position. Repeat. Our tip: Do not hold your breath during this exercise. Exhale as you raise your body, and inhale as you lower your body to starting position. Wear shoes that support a strong grip on the underside of the flat bench. This is a first rate back strengthening exercise that sailors need to do to maintain back stability and strength. The exercise can also be performed lying facing forward over a swiss ball.
  2. Rope Push Down. Greta for arms, shoulders and back muscles. Attach the rope to highest setting of cable machine. Stand with feet parallel and shoulder width, knees slightly bent, and pelvis tucked in slightly. Grasp rope with hands in hammer-grip position. Keep elbows tucked in toward sides of body, lower weight down toward thighs. Slowly raise cable weight back to start position. Our tips: For proper position, keep your neck back and your chin slightly up. Exhale as you lower the cable weight, and inhale as you bring it back to the starting position. Take a slight pause at the lowest point of the movement.
  3. Rotated Back Extension. Excellent strengthening exercise for back and oblique muscles. Lie prone on a Swiss ball, so that your navel is on the center of the ball. Extend your legs behind you, resting on your toes. Place your hands behind your head, with your elbows out. Extend your back, lifting your chest away from the ball, and rotate your torso to the right. Hold for five seconds, and then lower your chest and shoulders back to the starting position. Repeat, extending your back and rotating your torso to the left. Repeat entire sequence three times in both directions. OUr tips: Keep your toes firmly planted on the floor. Keep your arms out at a 90-degree angle to your body with your elbows bent. Widen your feet for increased stability. Avoid shifting your hips as you rotate—hold them square to the ball throughout the movement.
  4. Balance Ball Crunch. Target muscles: Upper abdominals. Lie on a balance ball with shoulders and head hanging off the ball, keeping knees and hips bent. Gently hyperextend  back to conform to the contour of the ball. Place hands on the sides of  head, with elbows bent. Flex waist to raise upper torso. Return to the starting position, and repeat. Our tips: Keep feet planted firmly on the floor. If you feel neck strain, take a small towel and place it behind the occipital bone of your head. Grip the ends with each hand, and keeping your elbows in, lift your chin toward the ceiling. A bosu ball works best, but if none are available, use a balance ball.
  5. Body Ball Extension. A top exercises to maintain core strength in back extensor muscles and abdominals. Lie supine over a Swiss ball, with your upper chest and head hanging off the edge of the ball. Firmly plant your feet to stabilize yourself over the ball, and place your hands on either side of your head. With arms bent and elbows out, raise your upper body about eight to twelve inches off the ball. Slowly and carefully lower your body to the starting position. Repeat ten times. OUr tips: Keep your glutes and thighs constantly engaged while you perform this exercise. Keep your lower body taut. Keep your head in neutral position.  Keep a wide base for extra balance. Avoid elevating your shoulders and lifting your hip bones off the ball.
Back exercises for sailing and windsurfing

Build core strength in back extensor muscles and abdominals

Get fit for the Trapeze

Trapezing with your feet close together and handling a jib sheet when you’re lying flat out requires specific muscle group fitness. Here are a few suggestions


Strength training for sailing and windsurfing

Strengthen the deltoids, shoulders, calves and core for added stability


  1. Standing Bar Bell Row – The standing bar bell row works the muscles you’d use when handling a jib sheet flat out on trapeze. Grasp the barbell with hands, palms facing down in an overhead grip about shoulder width apart. Stand with feet parallel and shoulder width apart, parallel and shoulder width apart, and pelvis tucked in and knees slightly bent. To get into start position, rest the barbell against the top of your thighs. Arms should be against top of thighs. Arms should be extended with a slight bend in at elbows. Back should be straight. Focus on engaging side deltoids to lift barbell to chest height. Pause at the top of the movement, and return to top of the movement, and return to start position.
  2. Reverse Fly – Great exercise to strengthen and stabilise the shoulder and deltoid muscles. Hold dumbbell in each hand and straddle the inclined bench, facing forward. With hands in hammer-grip position, lower dumbbells off incline bench. Lower body to bench, simultaneously lowering dumbbells to start position. With palms facing toward each other, draw arms up to side and away from body. Lift until reaching shoulder height, then lower dumbbells back to start position. Repeat several times.
  3. Dumbbell Calf Raise – This is a good exercise for developing strong calves and endurance in the ankles to help you extend fully on the trapeze and sustain a stable footing. Stand with feet parallel and shoulder width apart, hold dumbbell in each hand in hammer-grip position, palms facing each other. Keep arms close to sides of body. Slowly raise onto balls of feet, concentrating on contracting calf muscles as you raise. Slowly lower back to start position, and repeat. Tips: exhale as you raise onto your toes, and inhale as you lower back to the starting position.
  4. The Plank: For core strength and stability. Every sailor needs a sturdy core of stomach and back muscles to help them balance and remain stable onboard a vessel in rough seas. Windsurfers and Kite surfers in particular  must keep their balance on top of an ever changing water surface while also controlling a sail being pushed by the forces of the wind. We recommend the forward facing and side-plank for stabilising the core and strengthening the abdominals. Lie supine on a mat, supporting your upper body on your forearms. Bend your legs, and rest your weight on your knees. Push through your forearms to bring your shoulders up toward the ceiling as you straighten your legs. With control, lower your shoulders until you feel them coming together in your back. Return to the starting position, and repeat several times.Tip: lengthen through your neck and avoid allowing your back to sag.

Lower body and leg strengthening 

Strength in the quads and gluteus will also help boarders with added balance and stability.

Best exercises for sailing and windsurfing

Practise exercises to improve balance on the water

Dumbbell Walking Lunge  – This exercise is hard work for both the quads and gluteus but also the lower legs and feet, forcing you to maintain balance. Stand with feet parallel and slightly narrower than shoulder width apart, hold dumbbell in each hand in hammer-grip position, palms facing each other. Keep arms close to sides of body. Step forward with left leg until left foot is approximately two feet from right foot, keeping torso upright as you lower upper body. Concentrate on using left heel, push up and forward, return to start stance position. Repeat steps 2 and 3 starting with right leg. Tips: Inhale as you step forward and exhale as you raise back to the starting position.

To improve your balance and stability on board moving vessels, you might also try a wobble board in a gym to practise balancing, or if you’re at home, one exercise you can do is to stand on one leg and, with the other leg raised , write in the air drawing numbers 1-10 with your raised foot.


Stretches and exercises for sailing

A series of well targeted stretches will help improve flexibility and avoid injury

Being fit for sailing and boarding is not just about strength. Rigid or tight muscles can lead to injury during falls and wipeouts, making flexibility important. Collisions on a boat and wipeouts in the water can be violent with the body being twisted and thrown about. Tight muscles are more likely to sustain injuries than flexible muscles.

For the sake of flexibility we recommend you do warm up activities and stretches prior to your physical exercise routine, including Hamstring-Abductor stretches, simple toe-touch bends, groin stretches (photo), Seated or Supine Glute stretches ( photo), ankle flex and calf stretches (picture) and triceps stretches (photo).

Our Healthy Back apps and Strength Builing apps (from which this selection of exercises is taken) include a much wider variety of fully illustrated warm ups and stretches with anatomical cut-through diagrams.

The exercises we’ve suggested are strenuous and we recommend you allow 2 days between strength training sessions to rest and recover fully. Always seek the advice of a medical practitioner before undergoing a fitness program. Always warm-up before exercise.

To see a video demonstration of our apps click here 

Happy Sailing !