Fit for sailing

Can you improve your strength and core stability in less time? Andrew Verdon says you can.

Training methods are evolving all the time as more research is done into new and established techniques in the quest to get an edge in high performance sport or find a health benefit for the wider population.

You may have read or heard of short but hard interval style training or even tried this “new” style of training that has become more main stream via Cross Fit/Boot camps and other training styles that are popular at present.

Intervals, Tabata protocols, metabolic circuits, high intensity intervals training (HIIT) - lots of names are being thrown around at present. The correct name is Micro Intervals; short but intense efforts (normally 60 seconds or less) repeated several times with some active recovery between them.
Micro Intervals have been around for a long time in the athletic world - Roger Bannister relied on them during his half hour lunch breaks as a med student before he broke the four minute mile in 1954.

Benefit for sailors

Sailing is a sport with a constant low to moderate level of activity with bursts of high activity and repeat during a race. Many sailors (both professional and recreational) have demanding lives with work, travel, family and other commitments and do not have the large amounts of spare time to exercise.

Benefits include:

    * Weight loss through increased metabolism and fat burning.
    * Increased overall fitness and work capacity.
    * Links become more efficient between brain and muscle via the nervous system.
    * Less wear and tear on joints.
    * Good when travelling with no equipment or when a hotel gym has minimal equipment.

How does it work?

This style of training helps to improve the structure and function of the blood vessel system (arteries) by delivering blood from the heart to the working muscles and return. As demand increases in the working muscles, this process must adapt and become more efficient to cope with demand over successive training sessions. Research is allowing us to learn more and more about how micro intervals work and the processes involved.

Increase fat burning

Studies show increase of transport of glucose fatty acids in the process of providing fuel. The net outcome of this is that fat is burned as a fuel source at higher intensities (it is normally a low intensity fuel source) and for a longer duration into the exercise- a nice double whammy!

Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption

Micro intervals may also help weight loss via EPOC. (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) Also called after-burn, EPOC is an increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity. It is a general term to the many combined processes that restore the body to a resting state and help it adapt it to the exercise just performed. EPOC is accompanied by an elevated consumption of fuel- so you basically continue to burn fat after the workout has finished. (Metabolism remains elevated for up to 16 hours after a single session).

Save time

The total time for micro interval session can be as little as 12 minutes to achieve a benefit. A general time would be 20- 30 minutes and no more.
Other studies in 2006 showed that a total of 2.5 hours of intense interval training (accumulated over seven days) produces similar results to 10.5 total hours of lower intensity training. That’s only 24% of the time for a similar result!

How long and how many?

For the timing of the intervals and rest period see the examples in the box. Aim for 3-4 sessions per week and one steady-state session preferably low impact such as swimming or cycling. Build up to them - do one per week then add one per week after the end of first month.

How hard?

You need to be out of your comfort zone for them to work - i.e. high intensity. Hence the name of high intensity intervals! Aim for an 85-100% effort on each burst. But at least they are over quickly!

My tips:

If doing these as a cardio session then use a rower or bike or even boxing and skipping not running! The stress on the joints from all-out running is too great.

If you want to do them as a strength circuit then alternate lower to upper body exercises. I would recommend using body weight exercises or use dumbell’s or kettle bells - not machines.

I would suggest doing one or two of each per week - both cardio and strength but no matter which you do (or both), keep varying the format periodically (say every 4-6 weeks).


THEY DO CARRY SOME RISK. Check with your doctor if you have any medical conditions or are unsure if they are suitable for you and any medical conditions or medication you may be taking.

If you are male over 35 and have not been exercising, these are not a good place to start!

It is best you have some form of fitness base before trying them - I suggest about three months of continuous training and no current injuries or niggles.

Start with one per week.

Always do a 10 min warm up before this session.

They will be very uncomfortable when done correctly- they hurt!


Typical “Tabata” style session:

5 minute warm up - getting harder over the time.
Then 8 x 20 secs maximum effort i.e. “full gas” with 10 seconds easy between.
3 minutes warm down at walking pace.
Total time: 12 minute session

Other sessions:

10 seconds hard, 20 seconds easy for 10 minutes, then rest 5 minutes (do nothing). Repeat.
30 sec flat out one minute easy, repeat several times. Start with four and build to 8-10 repeats.
1 minute all out then 1-2 minute rest. Repeat 10 times.

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