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Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition

Pacing Strategies Ever since the heroic fable had the slow but steady tortoise beat the hare, the idea that good pacing is critical to athletic performance has been appreciated.

A key objective in most endurance sports is to ensure that energy output is spread as best as possible during a race and is maximal at the end so that you finish as fast as possible.

Best pace strategy involves the perceptive process of proportioning energy use such that you are never working at too high a level, so as to tire quickly, or at too low a level so as to not reach your potential.

It is often difficult for an endurance athlete to judge accurately the pace at which he or she should work to spend the available energy in such a way that the body’s resources are almost exhausted as he or she crosses the finish line.

The inexperienced athlete may overextend him or herself too early or hold back too much. Going to hard too early and depleting energy reserves or failure to push the body to its limit will result if the individual’s perceptions of how hard they can race are consistently inaccurate.

The decision to increase or reduce effort during competitive endurance exercise has a lot to do with athletes’ pacing ability. Therefore, pacing is a function of athletes’ psychophysical perceptions of their ability to maintain a level of effort for an extended period of time.

Elite Athletes’ Race Pacing Strategy

Research has indicated that elite endurance athletes appear to set a race pace which closely approximates the level of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood.  This pace is set from the athletes’ perceptions of their physiological state as they exercise and possibly also from visual or auditory cues from the immediate environment.

Apparently, elite athletes attend to various discrete physiological symptoms as well as general body feelings, both local and central in origin and then develop an overall subjective feeling of fatigue.

Experience with exercising at different paces is probably the best way to enhance your understanding of what cues you need to pay attention to accurately perceive your level of exertion and achieve an effective race pace.

Research on Pacing Strategy

Relatively evenly paced time trials in Olympic cycling and ice skating competition where the starting half lasts 51% of final time have been found to produce the fastest times.

Cycling and running pacing strategies

In Olympic distance running competitions, the pacing graph shows the athletes tend to start relatively slower and accelerate during the final stages of more prolonged events (e.g., 1500 - 10,000 m), even though the starting half is also around 51% of the final time.

In running, a reduction in effort would be expected to lead to a large deceleration because of large drag forces associated with overland ambulation (ie, running!).

Conversely, the relatively small frictional losses to the road in cycling would cause only a moderate slow down if power output were reduced.

The cyclist may be better off expending relatively more energy accelerating and then ‘coast’ to the finish while the runner may do best by maintaining a manageable oxygen debt before sprinting to the finish.

Therefore, the inherent physical nature of cycling versus running - not to mention race tactics and drafting - may partly dictate the best pacing strategy at a physiological level.  Nonetheless, there remains a conscious decision by the runners to start slower and finish quickly.  Consequently, the basis on which a runner makes the decision to change pace during a race is important to ensure that the pacing strategy is optimal.

Although the athletes’ thoughts in these international level races are unknown, it’s believed that athletes generally learn optimal pacing strategies in training to minimize muscle lactate accumulation or at least the disturbance of pH associated with muscle lactate accumulation.

With extensive practice athletes probably learn to sense low levels of muscle pH (from lactic acid build up) and adjust their pace so that they ideally reach critically low values of pH near the end of a race.  This agrees with the point made earlier that elite endurance athletes appear to set a race pace which closely approximates the level of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the plasma

Race Strategy

In a study considering pacing and thought styles, Silva and Appelbaum (1989) studied contestants in a U.S. Olympic marathon trial via a questionnaire asking about cognitive strategy use during the race.  It was found that a characteristic mental strategy of elite marathon runners in the early part of a race was to ‘mark’ other runners to use them as an indication of pace.

Also, runners finishing 51st or beyond in the marathon tended to adopt a dissociative mental strategy early in the race and maintained this strategy over the majority of the course. On the other hand, top 50 finishers used association (tuning into bodily signals) more regularly over the whole marathon.

The authors suggested that the lack of attention by lower placed finishers to energy expenditure level would cause ineffective pacing.  No physiological data were available to support this conclusion, however and no indication of subjects’ relative performance was given (e.g., personal best times).

In support of Silva and Appelbaum’s (1989) study, Schomer (1987) concluded that an associative mental strategy is better than a dissociative focus for pacing in training since the athlete is constantly tuned-in to his or her current level of exertion.  Indeed, terms such as ‘effort sense’ and ‘rating of perceived exertion’ imply thoughts about what is occurring within the body during heavy exercise.  Thus, it’s most likely that race pacing is optimal under associative thinking and perception.

In a recent review of research to date, Abbiss and Laursen (2008) concluded that during very short duration events (<30 sec) athletes will benfit from an explosive ‘all-out’ pacing strategy. During middle-distance events (1.5-2 mins) athletes tend to adopt a ‘positive’ pacing strategy, whereby after peak speed is reached, the athlete progressively slows.

However, during more prolonged events (>2 mins) it seems that athletes tend to adopt a more ‘even’ or varied pacing strategy based on the environment or hills. During ultra-endurance events (>4 hrs) evidence also suggests that athletes progressively reduce speed as fatigue builds. During such events, nutrition strategies become even more important.

edit: Also worth a read is Ross Tucker’s excellent series of blogs based on his PhD research on pacing and fatigue . Tucker studied under running science legend Tim Noakes .

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Category : Athletics - Running | Sport-General | Sports Psychology

Just as important as what you eat is when you eat - the timing of the intake of key nutrients helps to convert your hard effort in the gym or on the field into a fitter and stronger you.

For instance, a protein-rich mini-meal before a strength training session will provide the building blocks for protein synthesis, while carbohydrate consumed at this time can provide fuel for the session.

After training, the intake of protein and carbohydrates will enhance the recovery processes of refueling, repair and adaptation. However, you do need to train yourself into effectively timing your nutrient intake and plan ahead for when good food is hard to find.

Why is Timing Food Intake so Important?

Resistance exercise leads to overall muscle tissue breakdown. Just after a strength session, the body is actively seeking protein to re-build muscles. A pre-exercise protein snack will mean that protein will already be digested and available to the body’s cells at the end of the session. Post-exercise, consume some more protein, plus carbohydrates to continue the repair and rebuild process.

Endurance training depletes the body’s stores of glycogen (stored carbohydrate). In the first 30 min after exercise the body is starving for carbohydrates and is biochemically more active in storing available carbohydrate. During this post-exercise window, it’s important to give the body the carbohydrates it craves.

Pre-Exercise Nutrition

Allow 1-2 hours between finishing a meal and a beginning a training session. Personally, I like a 2 hour window, but you can get away with shorter periods if the food is more easily digestible (eg, a low-fat & liquid). The aim is to have the stomach empty of food when you start training or competing. Having food in the stomach draws in blood to aid digestion. During exercise that means less blood for the muscles and lower potential performance.

Some athletes may be wary of eating carbohydrates in the hour before exercise for fear of this leading to a rapid drop in blood sugar at the start of exercise, which could impair performance. While this was once a prevalent theory, more recent research and reviews have shown no negatives for performance. However, every athlete should experiment with the timing of carbohydrate intake pre-exercise to determine how it affects them.

Choose a quick and easy snack before early morning workouts. A liquid meal supplement, such as PowerBar ProteinPlus Powder Drink, is a convenient and readily digested source of protein and carbohydrate. Where there is no time, or you are unable to tolerate a meal or snack before a hard morning session, fuel the workout by drinking a sports drink during the session.

Post-Exercise Nutrition

The body starts to replace its depleted energy stores and repair microscopic damage to muscle fiber straight away after exercise. Therefore, provision of depleted nutrients post-exercise will accelerate recovery.

Scientists studying the role of carbohydrate in exercise say that eating carbohydrates starting from 15 to 30 minutes after exercise, followed by additional carbohydrate feedings, will optimize muscle glycogen replacement.

A delay of a few hours in the ingestion of carbohydrates post-exercise will slow the rate at which the body stores glycogen. For the casual athlete, pack some fruit, fruit juice, or a fluid replacement beverage for a post-workout snack. Then, consume a mixed high carbohydrate and protein meal (such as rice with grilled chicken and vegetables) shortly thereafter.

For the heavily training endurance athlete, consume a post-exercise meal with a good source of protein and 100 grams of carbohydrate, followed by an additional carbohydrate feeding about two hours later.

I’d always have a packet of lollies/candies in the glove box of my car to eat on the way home after training. The high Glyemic Index of these sugary sweets gets the energy in fast.

Effective eating after a strength training session has slightly different needs - kick-start the recovery processes by consuming 10–20g of protein and 1gm of carbohydrate per kilogram body mass. If it is not convenient to have a meal soon after the session, start with a snack that can provide these nutrients, and resume normal meal patterns later.

After a gym session, I’d buy a little packet of beef jerky and a flavoured milk drink and consume them on the way home. The jerky is very high in protein while the milk provides fluid, carbohydrates and protein.

For more on this topic you might be interested in the book Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition . I haven’t read it yet, but am keen to as it rates 4.5 stars on Amazon.

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Category : Sports Nutrition

Here are some notes from a great Louise Bourke talk at the AIS last week. Louise is one of Australia’s leading sports nutritionists - she’s no dummy!… but these are key points for the athlete’s nutrition.

Strategies to Loose Weight and Body Fat

There is no single successful strategy - the plan must be tailored to the individuals’ needs and goals.

Biggest problems with loosing weight:

  • Too much food/large serving sizes
  • Too much fat
  • Too much energy - dense, low ’satiety’ food
  • Poor eating behaviors
  • Overdoing sports needs [eg, assuming you need to eat a lot protein bars]

What can you do for weight loss?

  • Have the right sized proportions for you
  • Make meals more filling or slow to eat - salads, fiber, lower GI foods, very hot & spicy foods.
  • Reduce fat intake
  • Avoid easy to consume foods kike drinks and sugary foods
  • Know your real food requirements for training, taper and competing

Sports Nutrition and Protein

  • Gaining protein (and therefore muscle) in the body is all about accumulating situations of increasing protein synthesis vs breakdown over the day [ie, training, then eating the right stuff].
  • It’s all in the timing - there’s a good response when you consume protein in the hour after resistance (and endurance) training.
  • Maximal response occurs with about 20g high quality protein ingested just after training. 10g is ok for those looking to loose weight.
  • Optimal weight gain requires high energy intake (incl. protein).

If you eat too much protein:

  • Expensive!
  • Kidneys will suffer
  • Bones will suffer
  • You will increase your ability to breakdown protein for fuel [and you don't want to breakdown your muscles].

Hydration for Athletes

Sports Drinks

  • Things that help you drink - good taste, a little salt in the drink (which helps keep fluid in the body) and a good plan to replace what you’ve sweated out.
  • Urine output is important too - the body needs to urinate during the day as a regular part of good health.
  • Caffeine has been overrated as a substance that induces dehydration.

Why Drink a Sports Drink?

  • They encourage you to drink more because they are a little salty and taste better than water.
  • They fuel your muscles and brain.

When to Drink a Sports Drink?

  • For quality workouts - high-intensity sessions, especially long sessions.
  • When you need to increase your energy intake to gain weight - it also helps stop protein breakdown during long sessions.
  • When you are in a high volume phase of training - it may protect your immune system.
  • Look after your teeth by brushing well and rinsing your mouth with water.

Recovery Nutrition

  • Refueling, rehydration and protein synthesis can’t occur without nutrition - fluid, carbos, protein.
  • Effective recovery only occurs after eating the right things.
  • Some athletes over-focus on expensive sports foods and supplements, but everyday foods are cheaper and often better.
  • Schedule a meal just after a session where possible.
  • Include a ‘rainbow’ of colors of fruits and vegetables every day.

Supplements for Athletes

  • Advertising messages are often confusing.
  • Adequate attention must be paid to all the ‘big ticket’ items that must can maximize performance - there are no short cuts. ‘Old fashioned’ things like a balanced diet, training and recovery strategies remain as important as ever.
  • Supplements can be contaminated with substances that could produce a positive drug test - check them with your authority.
  • Probably beneficial supplements include caffeine, iron supplements, carbohydrates, proteins - a study showed that relatively low levels of caffeine (700mls of coke) enhanced endurance cycling performance. Louise suggested starting an event without caffeine in the system, taking it toward the middle of the event when it might be needed most. Try caffeine strategies in training as it may affect recovery and sleep. People respond differently to this drug.
  • Little benefit from carnitine, chromium picolinate, ginseng, co-enzyme Q10.
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Category : Sports Nutrition

AIS recovery centre Here are some notes from a recent talk I went to at the Australian Institute of Sport (pictured) by Dr Jo Vaile who did her PhD thesis on recovery techniques for athletes.

Athletes need good recovery for top performance - the sooner you recover, the sooner you can train well again.

When an Athlete’s Recovery is Most Important:

  • Long sessions
  • Training twice a day
  • Perform weight training
  • Competing regularly
  • Athletes with high injury rate
  • High levels of fatigue/damage

Popular Recovery Techniques

  • Sleep - probably the most significant and important thing
  • Stretching
  • Active recovery [light exercise]
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Periodized training program
  • Compression [eg, compression socks and clothes]
  • Psychological means - music, movies, etc.


  • Primary purpose is to relax the muscle
  • Best achieved by short, static stretches of 6-10 sec
  • May increase range of motion
  • May decrease risk of injury

Active Recovery (warm-down)

  • Active recovery enhances the removal of lactate as the result of increased blood flow
  • Aids the recovery of force from eccentric damage and reduces subsequent muscle soreness
  • Beneficial for post-exercise heat dissipation
  • Beneficial effect on subsequent performance

Contrast Water Therapy

The application of alternating hot and cold water to the whole body can help recovery by increasing blood flow, stimulating the central nervous system, decreasing swelling, decreasing stiffness, increasing range of motion, decreasing muscle soreness and increasing the removal of metabolites.

Research suggests that an equal ratio of time in hot and cold water immersion in a bath/spa or shower is ideal. For example, 2 mins in cold, 2 mins in hot water, repeated 3 times.

Always finish with cold water to reduce body temperature and inflammation. This ‘ices’ the whole body which is great for recovery.

Cold Water Immersion and Ice Baths

Cold treatment is the most commonly used strategy for the treatment of soft tissue injuries.

Cold water immersion or an ice bath may be an effective treatment to decrease skin, muscle and core temperatures, decrease metabolism, reduce inflammation, enhance blood flow, decrease pain and reduce muscle spasm.

A very effective temperature is about 15 degrees, for 2-5 mins. But you can get good results using just cold tap water, staying in there a lot longer, eg 5-15 mins.

Recent Research Results

Performance on a static squat (strength test) was improved by hot spas, cold water immersion and contrast therapy.

Performance in a squat jump (power test) was improved by cold water immersion and contrast therapy but not by a hot spa. There was reduced swelling in the legs with the cold/contrast treatments compared with the hot treatment.

Performance in a time trial on successive days (over a 5 day study) was reduced with passive recovery and hot water immersion and maintained with cold/contrast therapy.

Compression Garments

Compression garments have been found to decrease muscle soreness, reduce swelling, decrease lactate levels, increase blood flow and increase venous return.

Since they are easy to use, they should be used often!

The most effective garment is the full-length tights and they work like a kind of pump, pushing blood up the legs and back to the heart.

Jo recommended the 2XU brand of compression garment because the fabric is slightly thicker, they have a higher-quality weave of fabric that retains compression better and they are involved in ongoing research.

For travel and flying, Jo recommended medical grade compression socks (eg, Venosan) from Pharmacies, but they are expensive. The socks can reduce or eliminate swelling in the legs and feet and allow the athlete to get back into full training quicker.

Jo recommended wearing compression garmnets the longer the better - eg, between two training sessions in a day, or even sleep in them (subject to comfort).

Preferably, wash them in a laundry bag, in a cold wash, to help retain the compression effects.

Timing of Recovery Interventions

Jo recommended that recovery strategies be carried out in the following order (where available):

  1. Warm-down and stretching
  2. Nutrition (eg, sports drink)
  3. Hydrotherapy
  4. Compression garments
  5. Nutrition (meal)
  6. Massage
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Category : Sport-General

When I was in high school I knew I wanted to go to University but didn’t know what I wanted to study. Then a teacher told me I could study sport and I thought you beauty! – I love sport!

I did a 3-year undergraduate degree in Sports Science/Coaching and learnt about anatomy, physiology, skill acquisition, biomechanics, psychology, physical conditioning and everything else to do with preparing athletes to compete.

At the time I played a bit of Aussie Rules Football and went Sailing and started to apply what I learnt at Uni to my sports.

I followed on with a 1-year Honours degree – a focus of which was a 6 month study on the physiology of Sailing. Again, I kept applying what I was learning, using myself as a guinea pig. In particular, I discovered I probably wasn’t big or talented enough to be a pro footballer so focused on Sailing.

With a change in Uni’s, I continued in academia, doing a 3-year PhD in Human Movement. My thesis was about the physiology and psychology of runners. I read even more about what it takes to become an elite athlete, their psychological characteristics and training programs.

It occurred to me that to do really well in sport ‘all’ I had to do was to apply what I learnt to my own training and preparation.

I qualified for the World titles in 1994 and finished 26th at my first go. After finishing University I turned to Sailing full-time in an attempt for selection for the 1996 Olympics.

With more time to train and more coaching input I jumped to 5th at the next Worlds. That breakthrough was massive – I had a new standard for myself and there was no way back. The next year I qualified for the Olympics. My studies had gotten me there.

My point is that being an athlete is a job and part of that is learning how to go about it professionally (not in the financial sense). Of course, many athletes follow their interests and do in fact study sport at University. You don’t have to follow that path, but you do need to take on the responsibility of knowing how to be a great athlete.

You should know how today’s training will help you achieve your goals for the year; you should know how each drill or exercise will help you make steps towards that goal; you should have an idea of how each mouthful of food will affect how you perform at your next training session. And you should know whether the butterflies you feel in your stomach before you compete mean you’re nervous or you’re ready.

You might be lucky and have a coach that knows everything and takes total charge of your training - You just turn up, do what he or she says, then go home.

That’s ok, but you won’t excel. You’ll just be part of the team, at best.

Being an elite athlete is a 24/7 job – one that can be very enjoyable… and tiring. You’ll get the best out of yourself and do your job more efficiently if you really know what you’re doing.

Here are just a few ideas and resources that can help you become the complete athlete:

  • Study Sports Science at University – on campus or remotely.
  • Read these books:

o Physiology: Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance

o Strength: Strength Training Anatomy , Starting Strength (2nd edition)

o Nutrition: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Third Edition , Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

o Training plans: Periodization Training For Sports Periodization Training For Sports o Running: Lore of Running , The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer

o Sports Psychology: In Pursuit of Excellence , Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience , Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance

  • Do specific Google searches for your sport and the terms training, strength training, training programs, skills, drills, technique, tactics, strategy, workouts, exercises, tips, rules.
  • Do a coaching course for your sport.
  • Ask your coach something about the contents of each training session.

Of course, your practical experience will increase during every training session and competition - take the opportunity to make notes about your own statistics, results, strategies, tactics and techniques. Combine what you learn about yourself with what you learn about how other athletes have done it.

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Category : Sport-General

At various times in their careers, long term athletes might be prescribed a cortisone injection in a body part that has a niggling injury. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. Also called Corticosteroid, it’s not a pain relieving medication, it only treats the inflammation.

When pain is decreased from cortisone it is because the inflammation has diminished. By injecting the cortisone into a particular area of inflammation, high concentrations of the medication can be given while keeping potential side-effects to a minimum.

They’re particularly useful in long-term injuries that are stubborn, even with extensive rest, physiotherapy and rehab exercises. I had an injection in my elbow after suffering tennis elbow for over a year. After the injection and a focused period of rehab, it steadily improved.

I first went for treatment for back pain in 1993. It hasn’t been around all the time, but just for periods here and there. It flared up enough in 2007 to keep me out of competition. At the time I got a MRI and the report said:

MRI bulging discModerate sized left paracentral disc protrusion at L4/L5 compressing the left L5 nerve root and probably the left L4 nerve root being irritated as well.

Symptoms weren’t there all the time, but were easy to bring on - I just had to sit in a chair for 10 minutes! Not a great lifestyle limitation! I type either standing up or lying down with the laptop on my tummy.

Today, after a period of unsuccessful physiotherapy, I had an epidural injection of Celestone (a brand of cortisone) between L4/L5 vertebrae to try move the injury forward faster. The procedure was relatively comfortable. That report said:

Under CT guidance, a 22 gauge needle was directed into the epidural space at L4/L5 towards to left side from a right approach. Two ampules of Celestone was administered, flushed in with a mixture of saline and contrast. Impression: Successful.

The early signs are good - practically no pain or discomfort. And most pleasingly, the serial tightness I had in my left hamstring and hip flexor muscles seems to have gone - both sides are now about equal in tightness. I believe the tightness was there because the disc was pushing on the nerve root just a little.

Of course, it’s not just about getting an injection and ’she’ll be right’. They’ll be a lot of core stability work, stretching, icing, walking and all that good stuff.

Anyway, today is just day 1 - for my benefit, and anyone who faces similar, I’ll come back to this post and insert updates below.

Day 1 - All fine, no pain in back, just iced it a few times.

Day 2 - A little trouble sleeping last night - they reckon insomnia is a possible side effect!

Day 3 - Back good - feels younger! Starting to do more core exercises. A little stiffer after sailing today, but still definitely better.

1 week - Still really happy with it. I’ve gradually worked it a bit harder and actually have some back soreness from some exercise yesterday, but it feels like regular muscle soreness rather than anything in the disc.

2 weeks - It’s still pretty good - I was worried for a few days but years of thinking about one spot on your body can do that! I can feel some stiffness develop after exercise, but it dissipates with icing and stretching.

3 weeks - Much the same.

1 month - Had some good days and not so good in terms of back discomfort, but I’ve been consistent with core and back exercises and have been able to increase the level of some of the back exercises. I feel less discomfort on a daily basis and consistently wake up less sore than before the injection. I should have had it sooner!

2 months - Improved some more. I don’t feel like it needs to be iced it as much - maybe just twice a day now. I’ve reduce anti-inflammatory drugs and have increased back and abdominal exercises without worry. So it feels like it’s on the up and up. I’m still just walking and a little bit of body-weight lifting for exercise, but hope to do a little jogging and even try cycling gently soon. By the way in the last few months I also read a book called Healing Back Pain and those with chronic back pain may also find it a very interesting read.

3 months - Still relatively good and have done a tiny bit of running plus a little more overall strength training for the back and rest of the body. I do like to keep icing it.

12 months - Went backwards a little a few months ago - got some pain in the back and my left hip when doing some exericse. I iced it, took anti-inflammatories and rested it and it settled down pretty well. It’s been ok since, but I’m still not running or cycling, just walking. I went to see a back surgeon recently and got a MRI. The MRI indicated the discs’ buldge had decreased but there was still a small tear. The Doc concluded he couldn’t make things significantly better by going under the knife. So, my daily exercises continue!

2 years - It’s been fantastic to read the comments from many readers (below). So many people suffer chronic lower back pain from buldging discs and it’s great to hear many have gotten some relief from cortisone injections. I wanted to list definite things that improve the condition (and if you’d like to comment about what’s worked for you, I’ll add it to the list):

Long-term non-invasive solutions:

  • Avoiding any activity that brings on pain
  • Wearing a back brace during activities. A brace will give little extra support when doing a lot of chores and driving, but avoid wearing it all the time. The Mueller Back Support is well liked by Amazon customers. However, I favor the strap arrangement and stiffer lumbar support in the Dr.MED Elastic Lumbo-Sacral Support.
  • Back and core stability exercises
  • Unweighting the spine with swimming, pool running, etc. (inversion tables are less likely to work)

Medium and short-term relief:

  • Cortisone injections
  • Ice - to help reduce inflammation after activity
  • Heat - to relax muscle spasms after periods of inactivity
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Category : Sports Injury

Key Principles of Strength Training

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.

Key Strength Training Exercises for Sailing

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.

Hiking Sailors

Bench Pull 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.

Leg extensions on swiss ball 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.

Back extension 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.

Trapezing Sailors

1. Chin-ups with towel – As per hiking sailors.

Upright row 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-way shoulder work 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.

Side bend with swiss ball 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.

Body pulls are excellent for sailors 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.

Split squat 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.

Yacht Sailors

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’.

Reverse back extension 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.

Bent leg raise 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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Category : Sailing | Weight Training

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