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CrackerSports.com is a new online service to accelerate skills learning and development in sport. Currently in beta using the sport of Sailing as a test subject, CrackerSports boasts these features:
If your a sailor looking to improve your skills, you’re most welcome to have a look around (registration is free) and go ahead and create your performance profile using the CrackerGuide. There’s some instruction videos at YouTube.com/user/CrackerSports . You can let us know what you think via the comments box below or the email address at the bottom of this page.
Most of my research for this article involved me spending a lot of the summer falling off a windsurfer. My goal was to teach myself a new skill - how to windsurf. It is quite rare as adults we take on the challenge of a mastering a new skill from scratch. When was the last time you learnt a skill from scratch? Sometimes we tend to avoid it due to the fear of looking silly or the time it would take to learn.
The study of learning new skills in sports has given rise to the field of Skill Acquisition. It is now an increasingly important part of sports science in elite sports.
To acquire any new skill the individual goes through three stages:
1. Cognitive Stage
Here the learner faces a problem and the main priority for them is to understand the task then organize a solution. This is the most important cognitive or mental stage. The learner thinks extensively about the behaviour/ movements needed to master the task. Errors occur frequently.
2. Associative Stage
As the learner practices the movements more they are able to think about it less. The emphasis here is on practice – the emphasis here is on the physical. The errors reduce in number and are smaller. The learner starts to gain confidence and more at ease with the task.
3. Autonomous Stage
Here the skill is almost in inherent or with vey little thought or mental effort. Learners would describe the skill as almost automatic and instinctive. Their movements would be described as smooth and efficient. Most important they can divert their attention to other cues while performing the skill or task.
The improvement in any skill is always rapid at first then the gains get smaller due to the law of diminishing returns – further and further practice results in reducing gains.
What is the best way to learn a new skill? Studies have shown that the optimal way to learn a new skill is to practice it daily but only for 1 hour per day. The spaced practice of motor skills produces better performance and faster learning than say two sessions of 4 hours per week. This is due to:
• Allowing the brain to process the information gained each day (this happens while sleeping)
• Reduces the effect of fatigue
• Maintains motivation
• Keeps attention high over the practice session
Not all of us can devote an hour each day to sail so I dedicated 1 hour 4 days per week to windsurf. (Easy with daylight saving after work) I can happily say the gains with this type of spaced frequent practice have been noticeable!
I can now windsurf!
1. Overload : You must gradually work the muscles harder and harder to get stronger. Gradually add to your training – weight, number of repetitions, variety and/or number of sets.
2. Overhaul : Every 4 weeks or so you should revamp your program to give the muscles completely new exercises and loads.
3. Specificity : Your strength gains are specific to the movements and speed of movement you do in training. If you need high arm speed and moderate strength to pull up a kite, then your gym training should reflect this movement speed and muscle groups used.
4. Progression & periodisation : Sequence training such that you start with a period of building muscles, then move towards very sport-specific exercises, loads and movement speeds. As an example, given a period of, say, 6 months to develop your strength, begin with 1 build-up month of 3 x 12-15 reps, followed by 2 months of gradually heavier weights and fewer reps to get you really strong (eg 3-4 sets x 6-10 reps). Then turn towards endurance with a month of 3 x 15-25 followed with a month of circuit-style exercises (40s on, 20s off). Finish with a month of pure strength/endurance work – higher reps of very sailing-specific exercises (see below for examples).
5. Recovery : Allow 48 hours between strength sessions.
And, talking of sailing, these are the two key things are especially important when weight training for sailing:
1. Include exercises that improve posture, balance, joint stability, abdominal and back muscles.
2. Be prepared to modify and fine tune your training each day to allow for not feeling 100%, persistent windy weather (meaning harder on-water training) and a desire to add variety.
I recommend these exercises as fundamental parts of sailors’ weight training. A few more will be needed to round out a session, especially abdominal/back/core exercises, but these are mainstays. My book, Sail Fitter: Sailing Fitness and Training , has information on how to put these exercises together into a weight training session for sailing.
1. Bench pull – Lie on a high bench with a barbell underneath. Pull the bar up to touch under the bench and then back to the ground. Excellent and safe isolation of the muscles of the arms, shoulders and back that pull ropes.
2. Swiss Ball leg extensions – Sit on a Swiss Ball, roughly in a hiking position, with your toes under something heavy. Straighten your legs at the knees, lifting your trunk. Lean back for a little more resistance. The way to do 60 reps is to do 15-20 in a row, followed by a 5-10s rest, then 15-20 more, etc. A safer and more specific alternative to a leg press.
3. Chin-ups with towel – Sling a towel over a chin up bar, grip it firmly and do chin-ups. Slightly harder than a normal chin-up, the towel will also help develop your grip strength.
4. Swiss ball leg curls – Lying on the ground with a Swiss ball under the heels, straighten your body (shoulders and head remain on ground) and then draw the ball in towards your bottom by bending your knees. Leg curls work the opposite side of the body and provide balance in muscle group development.
5. Back extension – Bend over a Swiss ball (with feet anchored), face down. Slowly raise your trunk so that your body is flat, not above, and lower. A top choice of the many back exercises that sailors need to do to maintain back stability, strength and health.
1. Chin-ups with towel – As per hiking sailors.
2. Upright row – Standing, pull a barbell up to near your chin, aiming to keep your elbows level. Your legs should be comfortably bent. Avoid swinging your trunk. The upright row works the muscles you’d use when handling a sheet flat out on trapeze.
3. 3-way shoulder work – Lie flat and face down on a high bench with a couple of relatively light weights in each hand. Keeping the arms straight, swing them forward, like superman, then out to the side, like you’re trying to fly, then behind you, like you’re skiing. Your hands should reach bench height at the top of each rep. Great exercise for the large shoulder muscles that stabilize and move the arms.
4. Skipping – Good for developing the calves to help you extend fully on trapeze.
5. Side bend – Lay on the floor, on your side, leaning on an elbow, with your feet up on a Swiss Ball. You can use your left hand to balance while lifting your whole body off the floor. Raise and lower your hip area, so that your body does side bends up and down at the waist. A tough stability and abdominal exercise that’ll improve your core stability.
1. Swiss ball squats – Put a Swiss Ball inside the cage of a Smith Machine. Carefully step onto the ball. Take your time to stand fully upright, holding onto the bars of the machine or a barbell which is racked in the machine. When ready, still with a light grip of the machine for balance, slowly and surely perform normal, unweighted, squats. It’s fairly gentle work for the quads and gluteus but heavy work for your lower legs and feet to maintain balance. Eventually you won’t need anything to help balance.
2. Body pulls – Lie under a bar or table and put your feet on the floor or a Swiss Ball. With hands about shoulder width on the bar, pull your chest up to touch the bar and lower until arms are straight. A simple, but specific exercise for the arms and back, also training balance through the use of the Ball.
3. Forearm plank – Lay face down on a mat. Support your body by your elbows and toes. Hold that position, body as flat as possible, for 30s, thinking ‘pull my belly button towards my spine’. Board sailors need lots of core stability and this one encourages a strong, stable position.
4. Scapular retraction – Set yourself up on a seated rowing machine. The action starts with you gripping the handles, arms straight, then squeeze the shoulder blades (scapular) together firmly while keeping the arms straight. Finish the repetition by letting the shoulders forward again. Excellent shoulder stability exercise that’ll help make your arms work better.
5. Split squat – With a dumbbell in each hand, step forward about 50cm with one foot and regain your balance there. Carefully lower your weight straight down by bending at both knees and drive back up. Change legs. This exercises your balance a little more and requires uneven force from each leg, as often happens sailboarding.
1. Push up on Swiss Ball – Face down, arms straight, hands are spread wide as possible on the Swiss Ball, toes are on the ground and the body is straight. Ease your chest down towards the ball and then drive back up. Avoid bouncing your chest off the ball! A great chest, tricep and shoulder stability exercise.
2. Bench pull – as per ‘Hikers’.
3. Reverse back extension – Using a back extension machine or similar, mount it the other way around, so that our legs can be raised (to horizontal) and lowered. A handy exercise to develop your neglected back and hammies.
4. Bent leg raise – Lay on the floor on your back with knees bent. Tighten your abdominals (‘draw your belly button towards your spine’), then slowly lift one leg off the floor and hold 10sec. Breathe normally, maintain abdominal control and don’t allow your lower back to arch further. Rest, then change legs. A good, well controlled abdominal exercise.
5. 3-way shoulder work – as per Trapezers’.
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Stretching is kinda boring. It’s sometimes uncomfortable. And it’s not obvious that it actually achieves much.
That is, until you go to a physiotherapist with an injury, they have a look over you and tell you that part of the reason you got the injury is that your muscles are unbalanced or too tight, thereby stuffing up your joint mechanics.
That sort of thing happens to many athletes who like to push themselves hard, and even those who don’t! So a little daily prevention can save a lot more pain later.
The research on stretching and athletic performance is still in progress but the quick summary is that stretching is somewhat useful before exercise and definitely important after exercise to speed up recovery and add looseness to the exercised muscles.
To check what the top sailors do, I asked some experienced and successful competitors their thoughts. My subjects were Malcolm Page, 470 World champion and 2008 Gold medalist and Michael Blackburn, Laser World Champion, Olympic medalist and 2008 Olympic Coach.
I asked them to name their favorite stretches to do after a day on the water racing or training.
Here are my two favorite stretches for any position on any type of boat. I like these because they are great “bang for your buck” stretches. Ie, they hit many muscle groups at one time and stretch in the opposite direction to many movements done during dinghy sailing.
So there are just a few great stretches to help you recover from a day on the water. For more info on things to do to help your daily recovery see Daily Sailing Regatta Plan . To finish, a quick a reminder about how to stretch:
Some classes have events that you have to weigh in for. As the risk of doing things out of order, this post is about how to recover well when you have to take steps to dip your body weight in the last few days before a regatta.
A future post will cover how to easily execute a short-term weight loss for the weigh in.
So for now, I would like to give you some tips for what to do following the weigh in with regards to nutrition and hydration so you’re in the greatest possible condition for racing.
I always try to encourage crews to weigh in the day before the first race day if possible as this gives more time to refuel and rehydrate and prepare to race
Here are some key strategies to ensure recovery between weigh in and the first race (expected the next day):
1. Replace fluids: If you have restricted your fluid intake for the final dip to weigh in then 150% of the fluid loss should be replaced within 2 hours of weigh in. For example, if you have dipped 1kg in body weight then 1.5 liters of fluid should be consumed to rehydrate.
2. Sports drinks: Rehydration can be rapid if electrolytes are consumed in this fluid. A sports drink is ideal - the sodium facilitates water absorption and maintains the drive for thirst. Plain water can reduce the drive to drink. Most sports drinks contain some sodium and other electrolytes and minerals.
3. Carbohydrate meal: Energy restriction from reduced food intake can cause a drop in muscle and liver glycogen levels. Glycogen is how carbohydrate is stored in the body. Thus a high carbohydrate meal should be consumed post weigh in.
4. Hi GI! Glycogen storage can be maximized if this carbohydrate meal has a high glycaemic index (GI). A high GI food is something that is absorbed rapidly into the blood stream. A banana smoothie would satisfy all these requirements.
If you weigh in the morning of the first race then the ideas above need to be compressed into the time between the weigh in and the first race - even on the way out to the start line.
Oh, and Merry Christmas!
Here’s a question I get asked a lot around one design keel boat regattas where the crew hikes from behind life lines (as opposed to hiking out from foot straps dinghy style). I find it quite common in Sydney 38s and Farr 40’s where the crews hike very hard with the upper body extended from the lower life lines.
The pressure from the lifelines cause impingement of a sensory nerve, most likely the Lateral Femoral Cutaneous nerve of the thigh. This nerve is a sensory nerve, which means it supplies sensations back to the brain via the central nervous system. It runs from the spine around the abdomen and down the outside of the thigh. This condition is known as Meralgia Parasthetica. Big scary words but what does this mean?
It’s cause by pressure over the nerve, particularly where it passes under the inguinal ligament, just below the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) the bony prominence on the front of your hip bone.
If there’s a lot of pressure being put through that area it compresses the nerve and results in pain or loss of feeling on the outer side of the thigh, occasionally extending to the outer side of the knee, with people often describing a burning sensation, tingling, or numbness in the same area. Other people often note pins and needle like feelings extending down towards the feet. It is usually only on one side of the body and is more sensitive to light touch than to firm pressure. These symptoms are due to partial damage to the nerve and often gets worse as the day progresses. Not very pleasant!
How do we avoid this? The best treatment is to remove the cause of the compression by modifying your actions and position. The following may be helpful:
• Rest periods to interrupt long periods of aggravating activity- move around as much as you can during tacks and between races
• Weight loss in overweight individuals
• Core and trunk exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles
• Padding it up might be a good idea to relieve the pressure around the front of the hip
Basically you want to take off as much load as possible from just under the ASIS. Changing position slightly whilst hiking should also ease the feeling of numbness but this might be difficult to do at times!
It may take time for the pain to stop and, in some cases, numbness will persist. In severe cases a combination of local anaesthetic and non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be administered.
In persistent and severe cases, surgery may be needed to decompress the nerve but be aware this treatment could result in permanent numbness in the area.
I heard reports from crew members after the windy 2005 Farr 40 Worlds in Sydney that they had no feeling in their outer thighs for up to 4+ weeks following the event. This is not a good sign as it means the nerve ( a pretty major one) has stopped working for this period. Get it checked out by a good quality sports physiotherapist or doctor if symptoms persist.
Let’s look at how you could follow an ideal day at a regatta - this is the same for a local 2 day event or 7 day National Championship and remains pretty standard across classes from dinghies to keel boats. Obviously, the more physical the class, then the more preparation and recovery you would do. Like wise, a windy day will be more physically demanding than a light wind day.
There are three main areas to focus on each day:
1. Wake up at a similar time each day. Even on lay days. This helps regulate the body’s internal clock. Have a glass of water soon after rising.
2. Have a substantial breakfast that includes some carbohydrates and protein. Examples could include eggs, toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt and juice.
3. Do some light activity before leaving home. Aim for about 15-20 minutes to get the body moving - walk, swim, cycle or a just light stretch.
1. Ensure you have some fluid during or as soon as possible after each race on a multiple race day.
2. After the final race aim to have something carbohydrate-based as a snack and more fluid within 45 minutes after finishing.
3. Have a light stretch at the venue if it has been a demanding race day. Do this before any social activities.
1. Once home have a shower and finish with cold water only to help recovery .
2. With dinner, aim for a balanced meal that includes some protein - chicken, fish or meat. A bowl of pasta and sauce is not the best option. Keep drinking non-alcoholic fluids to stay hydrated.
3. After dinner is a good time to stretch or to do some self massage or get some release work done on tight muscles.
4. To switch off mentally you could read, listen to some music, watch a DVD, play games or anything that helps you to wind down. Try to put the days’ racing to bed and get the brain ready to sleep and recuperate.
5. If you are hungry then a light snack is fine before bed. A yogurt or small smoothie would be ideal here.
6. Aim to get to bed at a consistent time each night that allows for 8+ hours of quality sleep.
Be sure to try this routine on club race days or at small events before your major event for the year. Like new sails or mast, a major event is not the time to introduce anything new. Be comfortable with how your body reacts to racing and what you need to do to prepare it for racing the next day. If you arrive at a venue early then slot into this routine in the days leading into event. The body loves consistency and you will feel remarkably fresh by the final race of the final day - when it all counts!
It’s been about 7 years since I wrote a book on Sailing Fitness and Training [Edit: New edition published Dec 2010!] . While I think the book is excellent resource on the topic (why wouldn’t I!), on many occasions, I wish I had included a few more things, or at least placed more emphasis on some points that are keys to Sailing Fitness.
So let me take you through a few of the key areas that need updating or that I have learnt more about since the book was published, in my list of 10 Things You Must Do for Your Sailing Fitness!
1. Be Adaptable. Set a general training plan, then adapt it constantly. Books on training for sport say to set a periodized training plan a few months or even a whole year in advance, then follow it. However, more and more now in Sailing and other sports , that’s just not good enough to get the best out of yourself at each and every session. And it’s particularly true of Sailing where wind strength has such a big impact on the physical intensity of training.
Sometimes, you might want to do a hard session, but the wind isn’t there - to compensate, you can add on a little fitness work post-sailing or do another gym session the next morning. Sometimes, you turn up to training in not-so-good condition (eg, lingering fatigue), so then you might reduce the volume and/or intensity of the session.
Have a good idea of what you want to achieve today and this week, check the weather forecast and be prepared to modify your Sailing training plans as needed.
2. Recover Well. Use ice and cold water recovery practices. Remember that you don’t get fitter from training until you get a chance to rest and let the body rebound. You can recover faster for your next training session using recovery strategies like via cold water immersion.
Some people recommend making the bath really cold - 12-15 deg C (54-59 F), but I like it straight out of the tap (about 18 deg C/64 F). I sit in the half-full bath, cooling my back and legs, for 5-8 mins. That usually has me shivering so it feels like it’s enough. While getting in is hard, afterwards you really feel a difference by way of reduced soreness and faster recovery. Here’s how a runner does it.
3. Develop Your Back. Take particular care of your back. Sailors suffer injuries to their backs more than any other part of the body. Try to include exercises for your lower back and deep abdominal muscles everyday. There are specific exercises in my book and here is a video series of lower back exercises and here is a good series of abdominal exercises .
4. Have Stable Shoulders. Take particular care of your shoulders. After backs, shoulders are sailors’ next most injured body part. Sailing often requires sudden, strong movements of the arms over a large range of motion and these can trouble the shoulder joints. Serious sailors should include shoulder stabilization exercises as part of their strength training routine.
5. Hip Flexors. Alongside working on your abdominal muscles, work on your hip flexors. Most of the time when you’re Sailing, the hip flexors are in a shortened position so you need to correct that at the end of the day with some stretches . Hip flexor stretches can help improve your posture, help the muscles recover and participate in reducing lower back issues.
6. Equipment. Think of ways your equipment can help enhance your Sailing endurance. The obvious item are battened hiking pants which spread the load and improve blood flow. Also consider whether your grip on the boat is good enough (gloves, boots, wetsuit). I glue pieces of rubber on my hiking pants where they touch the gunwale to improve grip and make it more efficient when I try to throw the boat around.
Make sure your ankles and body are well supported (boots and trapeze harness) and lastly, try to keep your muscles cool rather than hot when racing as overly hot muscles are less efficient.
7. Whey Protein. If you need to gain weight, supplement your diet with commercial whey protein powders combined with a quality size-building weight training program (it won’t work by itself). Here’s some more info on whey protein by a good company that sells the stuff. There’s weight training information for Sailing in my book.
8. Be Scientific. Keep quality records of your fitness. The aim here is to find out what works through trial and error (hopefully not so much error). Body weight is the first thing you should keep track of over the long term. After that, think of tests you can apply to yourself to measure your fitness for Sailing. (You might start with the home fitness tests in my book (but don’t do the wall sit - it can hurt the knees).
I have a master spreadsheet with 10 years of my results from time trials in cycling, rowing machine, pool running, and even surf ski paddling. It’s great to be able to look back and see the improvements.
9. Hike. Use a Swiss ball as a hiking bench to train the legs when the wind is light. If you should have done some hiking but there wasn’t enough wind, Swiss ball leg extensions can be a great substitute. Try 15-20 reps, rest for 5 sec, then do 15-20 reps and continue through to 100 reps in total.
10. Better Technique. Hike at 90% effort, rather than trying to sustain a more intense position that compromises your ability to steer, trim and decide tactics and strategy. You may not get as much righting moment, but you will gain more by trimming the boat accurately and being in a better mental state to decide which way to go. However, do go flat-out off the start.
- Good sailing, Michael Blackburn
Success means different things to different people. But I think you win when you get absorbed in a contest and perform well, regardless of the outcome.
Every Saturday in summer when I was 16 I felt nervous and excited while getting my boat ready for a club race on small lake in Australia. The nerves came about because sometimes it seemed the outcome of the race was more important than participating and having fun.
Still today, there is the perennial post-race question ‘How did you go?’, almost as if your value as a person is influenced by your performance in the pretty arbitrary task of maneuvering a boat with sails around a course. For ages I hated hearing that question because what I was learning at Uni about Sports Psychology taught me to focus on the process rather than the outcome. “Focus on the elements of completing the task and the outcome will take care of itself.” If I kept thinking about ‘winning’, (or worse, ‘loosing’) how could my mind be free enough to sort out the complex set of variables that must be considered when deciding tactics and strategy?
The mind can only do so much at one time and if it’s clouded with unnecessary thoughts, or too many ideas, performance will suffer. However, it’s not easy to stop thinking about something; just as the more you try to go to sleep, the less likely you’ll nod off – you just have to relax and let it happen. Rather than trying not to think about being anxious, I started to try filling my mind with the things that mattered, and gradually, there was less room in my head for distractions. I could be relieved in the fact that I didn’t have to consciously try to win a sailing race in order to do well. But I did have to consciously try to fill my mind with good thoughts about what needed to be done at each stage of a race.
So my advice is that during the contest you simply need to get absorbed in the experience, be in the present and trust your body. You’ve sailed and raced a bit before, no doubt, so use what you have learnt and let your body do what you’ve trained it to do (assuming your training is on target!).
Accordingly, before a race try to occupy your mind with information which has to do with performing your best. Make all the normal checks – the bias on the line, wind direction, transits from both ends of the start line, current, wave effects, top mark position, the position of other marks and starting mark laylines.
Set up your boat for those conditions – vang, outhaul, cunningham, traveller and so on. At the same time keep assessing the wind and what it is likely to do during the race. Start to get a feel for what is happening and try to fill your mind with the relevant information. In particular, try to identify what will enable you to get clear air at the start, sail fast and look around in the first 100m to confirm the best way to go up the first beat.
Now this may sound pretty easy now you’re sitting down reading this blog. But putting it in practice on the water is a bigger challenge when you can be distracted by the range of things you have to consider. Then there are the indeterminable factors like what the wind is going to do next and who’s going to stuff you up.
Of course, the point I’m getting to is that your mental performance – decision making, the execution of skills, arousal control and so on – contributes most to the outcome of a race. So what mental training do you do?
Studies on elite athletes found that they felt they could have reached the top much sooner if they had worked on strengthening their mental skills earlier in their careers. Some mentioned they had had the same technical and physical skills honed to perfection four years before becoming world champions, but they had not yet learned how to hold their best focus in important competitions. These athletes said that it was not until their focusing skills were refined and enhanced that their dreams became a reality.
Mental preparation needn’t take a lot of time, maybe a few minutes a week. You may already do some ad-hoc training of your mind skills. For instance, when you think about tacking, you might naturally see and feel yourself going through the actions. However, some systematic work will really see you advance.
Mental preparation truly starts to pay off when a big regatta is just around the corner. There are many things you can do to prepare yourself mentally for a big event and with some trial and error you’ll find a process that puts you in a good frame of mind more often than it doesn’t.
Something I did years ago was to voice a series of tracks onto audio cassette. The tracks led me through things like imagery of racing, reminders about dealing with distractions, arousal control as well as some dialogue on the outcome versus performance focus. I took this tape overseas and it really helped my focus in the weeks and days before big events.
I get sick of listening to myself after a while, so I mixed in some favorite music as well. You can listen to much more refined samples of the mental preparation tracks I’m talking about over at Sports Mind Skills .
As Dr Stuart Walker says, above all, aim to do the simple things in sailboat racing well. Consider that just five things matter: strategy, boat speed, boat-handling, tactics and psychology. A desire to do these five things well often results in winning. The desire to win rarely results in sailing well. So, at the end of a race ask yourself, “How well did I sail?”
Otherwise, we’re all in a ‘pack-up, commiserate and celebrate phase’. It’s not time yet to get into a serious review of everyone’s performances; it’s time to relax and enjoy the Olympic environment!
For those continuing on as athletes, a once a year ‘transition’ phase, involving just mild exercise, fun stuff and time away from the main sport, is important to help remember why we do it in the first place.