The 3 Best Stretches for Sailing

Improve your sailing and minimize injuries with 3 of the best sailing stretches.

by Brad Walker | First Published November 22, 2010 | Updated May 2, 2019
Sailing has a long history. The earliest representation of a ship under sail appears on a painted disc found in Kuwait dating between 5,500 and 5,000 BCE. The Egyptians used sail boats primarily for trade and travel, while the Romans were the first to use them for war and battle.

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.

Sailing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Muscles used in Sailing

Regardless of the size of the craft, sailing will require all the upper body strength you can muster. From the keel to the mainsail, your upper torso, including your shoulders, arms and abdominal muscles will play a major role in operating a sailboat.

You must have a strong lower back and core to absorb the strain of pulling ropes and wrestling with the keel. Utilizing the muscles in your upper arms and shoulders will provide the power to tack and trim sails as needed. 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

When boating, you need to be aware of everything that is going on around you. The most common injuries in sailing come from accidents, and include:

  • Rope burns;
  • Hypothermia (from extreme exposure);
  • Drowning (from being swept overboard);
  • Concussion;
  • Muscle bruises and contusions;
  • Wrist and hand fractures;
  • Upper and lower back strain, including disc injuries;
  • Shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff tears and shoulder dislocation;
  • Knee injuries, including Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) sprain and meniscus tear; and
  • Ankle sprain.
Stretches for Sailing

Injury Prevention Strategies

First and foremost, before you go out to sail you need to do two important things: Tell someone that you are going; and put on a flotation device. Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Conduct a warm-up, including some gentle stretches, prior to getting on the boat.
  • Cool down after sailing with some basic sailing stretches.
  • A good overall conditioning program to strengthen the muscles mentioned above will help prevent many of the strain and sprain type injuries common to sailing.
  • Incorporate cardiovascular training to prevent fatigue during long days and nights spent sailing.
  • A comprehensive set of sailing stretches, with emphasis on the lower back, shoulders and arms, will help avoid many of the injuries common to sailing.
  • Proper training on water safety and swimming will help prevent drowning or near-drowning injuries.
  • Research the weather conditions before leaving and dress appropriately.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 3 Best Sailing Stretches

Sailing stretches are 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 of the best stretches for sailing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.

Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

Shoulder stretch for sailing
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.
Lower back and core stretch for sailing
Lying Knee Roll-over Lower Back 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.
Adductor and groin stretch for sailing
Squatting Leg-out Groin and 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.

Want more Sailing Stretches?

While the recommendations on this page are a good place to start, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility you'll...

  • The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMDo away with stiff, tight muscles and joints;
  • Improve your freedom of movement;
  • Get rid of injuries, aches and pains;
  • Improve your sporting performance; and
  • Take your flexibility to the next level.

You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.

If you want to improve your flexibility and loosen up stiff, tight muscles fast, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.

Research and References

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad Walker 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 (author page) 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 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.

Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.

Finally, an amazingly effective way to loosen up stiff muscles fast, even if you feel like your muscles are made of rock!
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