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Fitness for yachtsmen on distance passage

As yachtsman will be aware there are a number of fitness issues which arise out of the marked change in pattern of activity which occurs when transferring from our normal life to the demands of distance sailing.  During distance passages strains on the body arise out of a generally more sedentary lifestyle involving long periods of sitting with short bursts of generally upper body activity.  There is virtually no aerobic work involved in distance sailing and therefore the reduced energy burnt results in a tendency to gain weight.  

The purpose of these exercises is to give yachtsman the opportunity to combat the increased risk of creating strains as a result of unusual activity and the possibility of reawakening old problems.


On long passages one is often sitting unsupported in the cockpit for long periods in a rotated position looking out in the direction you are going.  This can result in an unusually sagged posture overloading the discs, ligaments and muscles of the lower spine and neck.

Some dos and donts 

Either sit close to the edge of the cockpit seat (resist the temptation to slouch into the back of it) or find a position where your back can be supported.  Ideally you should be facing in the direction you are looking.

Do try to be good with your posture all of the time, as this will make less demands on the spine and recognise the need to take as many short breaks as you can to give the muscles a chance to recharge.  Intermittent periods of standing between sitting will help you improve the blood supply to the muscles and spine.  Move around whenever you can. Even minutes of walking on the spot can help the blood supply return from the legs and introduce movement in the spine which is helpful.  

Exercises for the spine 

Laying on a flat surface on your side with your knees bent and your back straight.
Tuck your shoulder blades gently down and back if you can.
Tighten pelvic floor muscles if you know how (for men this is how you stop urinary flow when you are passing water).  
Tighten the deep tummy muscles below the tummy button and at the belt line.
Perform full (100%) contractions at first in the lying position.  If this gives you any of your pain then lower the level of contraction to a more comfortable one.  Also perform some low level (20%) contractions.
Hold each contraction for 10 to 15 seconds, 10 times, 4 times a day (start with 10 seconds twice a day).  
You may find that you have time to spend some time doing the higher level (100%) exercises so that you can feel what the muscles are doing before you do the lower level exercises.  


Perform low level (20%) contractions standing or sitting upright with the shoulder blades down and back a little and the chin tucked down a little whenever you can. 

Laying on you back with knees bent and feet on the floor

Gently rock your knees from side to side in a 30 degree arc for a minute or two.  This stretches the muscles at the side of the trunk.
Hug alternate knees to chest 10 or 20 times.  This stretches the muscles of the low back.  
Lay on a hard surface and place a rolled up towel in the middle of the curve of your ribcage, between ribcage and the floor.  This stretches the ribcage backwards after a long day standing and sitting when it can become stiff and flexed forwards.


4.   General Exercises

To increase the aerobic use and pulse rate you need to use the muscles of the thighs, the quadriceps at the front and the hamstrings at the back.  These use a large volume of blood and their repeated use is the only real way to increase pulse rate and energy burning capacity.  

Without the use of a bike or a stepper it is difficult and the only other ways to do this on a yacht are to use repeated squats or step up so that the knees are at right angles and, if you can to hold at the full bent position of the squat for a count of 2 or 3 before coming upright again, this will be helpful.  Do these in batches of between 10 and 30 times, depending on your ability.  (Beware that if you have not done this before do build up steadily and if you start to generate knee pain then you must stop).

The only other helpful way to use the thigh muscles could be running on the spot if the boat is not moving around too much, or step ups onto the cockpit seat in the event of periods of time at sea.   (Please be aware of the possible risks of step-ups whilst the boat is moving around).   

It is possible to exercise the upper and lower limbs by using a gym programme with a gadget called Flexranger which can be purchased from Physiomed  tel 01457 860444.  

Adapt dumbbell weights by using bottles filled with water (in this way the skipper will not complain about carrying extra weight!).

These are just a few ideas to help yachtsman on their way to avoid back pain or specific skeletal problems. For further advice or to make an appointment call Andrew Gilmour and Associates 01394 387818

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