WP Remix
Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition


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


Michael July 23, 2009

Thanks mate, really handy. I was looking for some training exercises specifically made for sailing, AIS or SASI (and other institutions like that) wouldnt give out any for me.

I look forward to my winter weight training, and then seeing the results in the season.

Andrew November 17, 2011

where did you get the high bench? trying to find one for my gym

christian January 17, 2012

I have been training a
lot of sailors of late ….re Sydney to Hobart and trying to get my hands on a good stand up grinder…May be a second hand one

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