WP Remix
Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition


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

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Category : Sailing


Ben Grew January 15, 2009

Hi Michael

I have your book sail fitter, great book ;-)

I have one question about wall sits; you say not to go longer than 15mins,
could you elaborate on that?

It’s just I hear of some laser sailor’s sitting for up to 40min which I
would like to work up to..

Keep up the great work

Ben Grew

Michael January 15, 2009

Hi Ben, thanks.

There are 2 main reasons I don’t favor the wall sit anymore:

1. It’s not nice on the knees - there’s a large sheer loading on the cruciate ligaments and the meniscus of the knee. The knees will handle it (that’s why I suggested 15 min was ok) but you may as well avoid it because…

2. Wall sits are not quite specific enough in terms of muscle use and joint angles. While a wall sit will put a heavy static load on the quads, if you’re going to the trouble, you may as well get it right by exercising in the right position. A hiking bench or Swiss ball hiking works the quads, hips, abs and front of the calf - so there’s more benefit for the pain!

Ben Grew January 30, 2009

Hi Michael
Thanks heaps for that :-)

Ben Grew February 13, 2009

Hi again ;-)

Do you know of any good foods or suppliments that could assist with muscular endurance?

A friend of mine whos is a personal trainer as suggested CoQuinone, which is made up of;

Ubidecareone (Coenzyme Q-10) 30mg &
Alpha Lipoic Acid 12.5mg

Thanks in advance


Michael February 17, 2009

The best bet with respect to nutrition for endurance is to make sure you have enough carbohydrates as well as the vitamins (eg, Vit B) and minerals (eg, iron) that are used by the body in breaking down the carbohydrates and producing energy.

The compounds you mention have relatively minor roles, if any, and won’t make much difference if you haven’t got the bigger (carbohydrate) picture sorted out. I’ve just finished a post on carbohydrates for athletes and will link to that soon.

Having said all that, a supplement that I felt might have helped me is L-arginine. It’s an amino acid that may stimulate the release of growth hormone. It’s available is foods as well as pills!

Ben Grew February 20, 2009

Thanks again Michael!

Ash February 26, 2009

Are hiking benches ok to use because i hear alot of people that say the hiking bench is bad for your knees .

Michael February 26, 2009

A good hiking bench will carry the same hiking strap to gunwale and deck shape and size dimensions as the boat you sail. Having said that, mechanically, there obviously won’t be a lot of difference between hiking on a boat and on a bench.

I think hiking is pretty safe for the knees, unless you operate with the knee bent a lot (eg, close to 90 deg).

Ash February 27, 2009

Thanks Michael

Susan Hextell July 19, 2009

Hi Michael,
I sail a Sabre - there aren’t many Sabres to sail against. I have good body strength, but I fall aprt when I hit a big fleet. Apart from move to Victoria (not an option), how do I go about:
- deciding where to put my best efforts

Michael July 21, 2009

Hi Sue,
A big thing about sailing is that you’ll improve faster when you have other boats to train and race with.

To help you decide where to put your efforts think about where you’re at with respect to each of the areas of boat speed, racing skills, mental skills and boat handling. You could rate yourself out of 10 in each. Naturally, the areas with lower scores demand more attention.

Max March 18, 2010


I recently started using a hiking bench but i am not sure if the time i am spending on the hiking bench is long enough:
6×100 sec (x2)
and that twice a week

Joel May 9, 2010

HI Michael,

Just got your book and it has so much valuable information.

I have just begun crewing in a 29er but I am underweight for this. What are your suggestions on putting on weight but still keeping fit and strong to handle the boat??

Joel Turner

Nice read…
I liked the article.
A have read Sail Fitter…
I thank you for sharing all the good info

Oliver January 5, 2012

Gday Michael,
I have just finished my last nationals in an international cadet and I am now deciding what boat to go into. I wanted to sail a laser but am being told that its dangerous at my age and size 16yo and 65kg. I have asked many people and one told me to check out your book. I was also talking to Nathan Outridge last night at our nationals presentation night and I asked him the same question. What to go into next obviously being a 29er sailor himself he said a 29er mainly but if I wanted to aim high with my sailing a laser or 420 would be a good choice so what do you think.

admin January 5, 2012

G’day Oliver!
I’ve just come back from the Laser nationals and the 4.7 class is full of guys and girls your size/age. The 29er could also be interesting for you - it will actually outnumber the 420 at the Youth nationals this year for the first time so that shows you how much interest there is in it. As Nathan said, aim high by moving to the strongest class - either the Laser if you value tactics, strategy and fitness or the 29er if you value the technical side of sailing a little more.
Good luck, Michael.

Lucia March 26, 2012

Hi Michael:

I started sailing in laser 4.7 at Christmas. I´m 14. AT the moment I´ve taken part in 4 local regattas , Today we had between 22-24 knots at the end of the morning .I am pleased with my results.
I can only sail on weekends,holidays and summer time.
Is there any good place to train near my country (Spain)?
As I am at the very beguining of my sport career , what advice would you give me in general?

admin March 26, 2012

Hi Lucia,
Good to hear you’re loving the Laser! I know there are many good places to train in Spain. It’s important for you to have a lot of fun with it now and really explore how to sail your boat. If you have some good friends to sail with regularly it can make a big difference over the long term.

Matt January 1, 2013

Hi Michael,

I love the resources you’re developing for sailors. In your book you say there are good resources more specifically focussing on the fitness needs of older athletes. As someone returning to sailing over the last couple of years, as I approach 50, I’d be grateful for any books you can recommend about general fitness for this age group, as background to your more specific routines.

Many thanks,


Michael January 3, 2013

Hi Matt,
let me point you to a website of an old Uni lecturer of mine - Peter Reaburn - who has a good book on the subject as well as numerous blog posts you might find of use.



Matt January 7, 2013

Many thaks Michael, Looks good.

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