Sailing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Sailing stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with sailing injuries for good.

by Brad Walker | First Published November 22, 2010 | Updated August 14, 2017

Sailing Stretching ExercisesSailing can open up a world of new experiences for you. It is also the ultimate in aerobic exercises and strength training as you fight the wind for control of your sails. It can be pursued as an individual sport, a team sport, or just as a whole lot of fun for the family.

Sailing has a long history. The first known sailboat was made thousands of years ago. The boats have changed greatly over the years, making use of a host of different masts, sails and keel designs.

The only constant is that a sailboat must rely on the wind to move. The first boats to use sails were of Egyptian design, used primarily for trade and travel. The Romans were the first to take that design for their own use, changing and enlarging it to use in battle in their quest for dominance.

Today, there are boats designed for pleasure boating, racing competitions, and larger yacht designs meant to be used for sailing around the world for pleasure and competition.

Anatomy Involved

Irrespective of whether your craft has one hull or two, one sail or many, it will require all of the upper body strength you can muster to master the steering of it. From the keel to the mainsail, your upper torso, including your shoulders, arms and abdominal muscles are going to play a major role in the operation of a sailboat.

You must have a strong core to absorb the strain of pulling ropes and wrestling with the keel so that your lower back muscles do not suffer from the strain of it all. Bracing yourself with your feet against the hull, you will be pulling on the ropes that control the sails utilizing the muscles in your upper arms and shoulders to provide the power to tack and trim the sails as needed to power the boat with the prevailing winds.

The main muscles in play are the rhomboids, trapezius and rotator cuff in the shoulders, and the deltoids of the upper arms. The biceps and triceps provide the impetus of the pull, working against the wind to keep the boat on course and tacking in the right direction.

Most Common Sailing Injuries

Sailing Stretches and Flexibility ExercisesWhen you are boating, you need to be aware of everything that is going on around you, especially when moving around the boat. The most common injuries in sailing come from accidents; getting hit in the head with the sail boom, tripping over ropes, winches and cleats, and being swept overboard. The last one is the cause of most sailing fatalities, which could have easily been prevented by simply wearing a floatation device at all times.

Severe head injuries can also come about from being knocked about by the sail boom. It is the biggest single moving object on the boat, and everyone must be observant when moving about the boat to avoid being hit by it when it swings. Communication between people on a boat is very important, and literally giving your mates a heads up when moving the boom can be the difference between life and death on a sailboat.

Not operating winches properly on a boat can lead to hand injuries. The various cleats that hold the anchor ropes, and the ropes themselves, are the cause of most falls or tripping incidents on boats, leading to scrapes, contusions and broken bones from falls. Rope burns and hypothermia from extreme temperature exposure round out the list of the most common reported sailing injuries.

Injury Prevention Strategies

First and foremost, whenever you go out to sail you need to be certain that you do two important things before you even leave the dock: Tell someone that you are going, and put on some kind of floatation device. Winds change suddenly, and can be more powerful than you can safely handle, especially if a storm blows up. If no one knows that you are out on the water, rescue may not be forthcoming, and wearing a floatation device will improve your chances of survival until help can arrive, especially if you go overboard into the cold water.

Hypothermia can be prevented by dressing appropriately for the weather. You must keep in mind that even if the air temperature is warm, the temperature of the water will most likely be colder, and you will be getting sprayed with it during your journey. Even the lightest mist of cold water can be dangerous to your health if endured for hours at a time. Hypothermia can drain your energy, and most importantly, drain the strength you need to operate the boat safely.

While in the boat, before you leave the dock, take a look around. Make sure that all ropes are coiled up and stowed safely away if not in use, and keep track of the ones that are in use once you are underway. If anyone is sailing with you, keep track of them during the trip, especially when turning and tacking or trimming the sails. You have to be vocal while working the sails as well, so that everyone is aware of the boom at all times. It also pays to research the weather before leaving, so that you know what to expect.

Here are a few other things for consideration to help make sure you’re in tip-top shape before hitting the water.

  • If possible, take frequent breaks and change positions during long periods of sailing. This will help prevent the muscles from becoming tight and causing pain.
  • A good overall conditioning program to strengthen the muscles mentioned above will also help prevent many of the strain and sprain type injuries common to sailing.
  • A solid overall stretching routine, with extra work for the lower back, shoulders and arms, will also help avoid many of the injuries incurred during sailing.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking water every 20-30 minutes even if you do not feel thirsty. Dehydration leads to fatigue, nausea, and disorientation, all factors that can result in slips and falls.

The Top 3 Sailing Stretches

Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for sailing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.

Sailing shoulder stretch

Bent Arm Shoulder Stretch: Stand upright and place one arm across your body. Bend your arm at 90 degrees and pull your elbow towards your body.

Sailing lower back and core stretch

Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.

Sailing adductor and groin stretch

Squatting Leg-out Adductor Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.

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Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden without “paying-for-it” the next day.

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Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.