By Molly Winans
Let’s try some guided imagery to start the sailing season. Take a deep breath. Relax. Imagine. It’s your first big day on the water and a sunny, 70-degree one. You slip on your new Maui Jims and work your way up on deck to rig up the new jib (this is imagery, right? It’s all shiny and new).
Fast forward to envisioning yourself at the mast. Hoist! Later, you change a sail or two on the bow, mess with the pole, and run down below to pack a chute. Brace yourself for that puff! Whoa, that was a good one. Now you’re in the cockpit. Can you pass up that other headsail? Careful, it’s heavy. I got it. Can you hand me a winch handle? Trim, trim, trim. Ease, ease. Nice. Can you guys hike out a bit? Could you crawl out to skirt the jib?
Such an upbeat sailing day goes by quickly. I’ll take a beer. Ah. Here, I can help you with the boom cover. Need a hand? Hand me that big duffel bag. Pass me the cooler. What a wonderful day, thank you!
Fast forward to the next day. How does your back feel? Let’s slide out of sailing fantasy camp and into reality. How does your back really feel the next morning after the first windy day sail or race? Local sailor Kerry De Vivo knows about painting hulls, hoisting sails, hiking out, doing quick tacks, and how all of it affects the back and body. As a Pilates instructor with Excel Pilates Annapolis, she says, “We’re all trying to get our sea legs back. It’s important to get ahead of the curve and take care of yourself rather than wait until you get hurt.”
De Vivo and her husband Erik Fridley, “racers at heart,” cruise with their five-year-old son more than race these days (although he does tag along for some Wednesday night races on Round Bay on their J/27 Super G). Pilates, says De Vivo, appeals to many sailors because it conditions the body and has mental and spiritual components, but “there’s no chanting as in yoga, which is why a lot of people like it.”
Pilates (pronounced pi-LAH-teez) is a system of exercise, which is a full-body workout—involving mat and apparatus work—focused on core strength. De Vivo, who can tailor programs for sailing crews, notes that strengthening the core is every bit as important as upper body strength for sailing. Core strength is not only helpful in preventing the back injuries common in sailing, but it also greatly improves the flexibility and balance necessary to go under the boom, brace yourself in a puff, switch sides on the rail, or trim sails on windy days.
Here’s one easy exercise De Vivo urges sailors to begin today: “Stand with your heels together and toes a fist distance apart. Stand upright with good posture. Think about lifting your abdominals toward your spine. Posture is huge for injury prevention. Just like when you get your sail in the right position, when your posture is good, you flow” (excelpilatesannapolis.com).
Ben Jenkins, a trainer at Annapolis Athletic Club, recommends three core-strengthening exercises we can all start right now to strengthen our core for sailing. He says to start with “the plank.” Get in push-up position but on your forearms instead of hands (a little more challenging). “Maintain a straight line without letting hips go down or arch up. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Do three reps. Work up to holding it for a minute.” Jenkins also suggests a “V-fit.” Starting in a sit-up position with knees bent, keep your back straight with your arms across your chest. Lean back until you feel your abdominal muscles engage. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds (progress to a minute). Repeat three times. For upper body strength, he recommends two exercises that can be done anywhere: push-ups (do them on your knees if you must) and tricep dips with a chair (annapolisathleticclub.com).
When asked for his top three exercises for sailors, Harry Legum at Annapolis Sailing Fitness, who specializes in training racing sailors, responds, “Because everyone’s so different, it cannot be boiled to the top three exercises, but rather top three routines or types of exercises, such as core, balance, and agility training and cardio. Each has numerous ways to practice such as yoga or Pilates classes, the use of a Bosu ball or paddleboarding, and running or cycling. Strength training with weights should also be mixed in ideally” (annapolissailingfitness.com).
Geez Harry, we were hoping for short cuts. So much for pain-free imagery. If we’re going to be fit for spring sailing, we had better get moving.
Publishers Note: Winans is the Managing Editor of the very popular Annapolis/Eastport, MD based SpinSheet sailing magazine and PropTalk power boating magazine. This column first appeared in SpinSheet April 2011.