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Q&A with Head of Strength & Conditioning Coach, Ben William

Yachts and Yachting caught up with our Head of Strength and Conditioning Coach, Ben Williams about all things fitness. Find out more below:

What are the most important areas of fitness to work on for different types of sailor, namely dinghy sailors (hiking/trapeze)/sportsboat/keelboat sailors respectively? 

© Jack Abel Smith

Different classes require different physical qualities. Dinghy’s that require the sailor to hike such as a lazer or finn are very quad and trunk dominant so lots of lower body strength is required and should be complimented by lower body bias CV such as cycling/rowing and core/trunk conditioning.
All dinghies require good pull strength and pull exercises should be integrated into your strength & conditioning programs.
Any boat with a winch such as a keel boat will be upper body dominant in most cases and will require an upper body bias strength program complimented by a high intensity CV program to condition for the short powerful top handle grinds.

What cross training activities are best to help sailors with fitness? 

Land Rover BAR Academy. Skippered by Rob Bunce with team mates Adam Kay, Annabel Vose, Chris Taylor, Sam Batten and William Alloway, . The Red Bull Youth America's Cup in Hamilton, Bermuda on June - Hamilton - Bermuda
© Lloyd Images
Lloyd Images

A good weekly general fitness circuit will be beneficial for all boat classes. Regular spin classes or road cycling will help with hiking classes.

How much exercise should the average sailor typically aim to do to support your sailing? 

I don’t think there is a magic number here. Being regularly active will always help in sport but you have to be realistic with what works with your lifestyle.
If you only have 2 hours a week for the gym then that’s what you have to make work. Once you know how much time you have build your training load steadily. Don’t decide you want to get fitter and run 10 miles tomorrow. Start slow and increase your distance/intensity/weight when you feel ready. You will get less injuries and niggles that way as your letting the body adapt.
In general, I believe doing things you enjoy will give your fitness program sustainability. If you don’t like lifting weights – do circuits. If you don’t like doing CV – play squash. If you have heaps of time – find a good trainer, agree some goals and enjoy the journey. If you train a lot – make sure you build recovery into your program, you can’t adapt from training stimulus without recovery.

Do you have a couple of stats from BAR sailors, e.g. Average max heart rates during races, or XX minutes racing being equivalent to running three marathons, total number of course spent in the gym in a week, etc – that sort of thing, that we can incorporate too to show the elite side of things?

© HARRY KH

During AC35 the sailors were spending 12-15 hours a week in the gym. We worked on mobility, injury prevention and recovery for the whole campaign. We then cycled strength and power depending on the focus of a particular block and the needs of the athlete. We did the same for their CV training working through base, threshold and anaerobic work in cycles throughout the year.
On top of the gym training they also spent up to 20 hours a week on the water. Physically it was a huge demand on the body. To support the physical output demands sailors were taking on over 35000kcals per week.
During the racing, the sailors would be operating at above 85% of their max heart rate for a whole race. We had physical and nutritional recovery protocols in place during the race periods so guys could bounce back the next day in the best possible shape.