Sailing can be a brutal sport. In an oceanic and solo race, the physical demands during navigation are immense, every single muscle fibre in the body needs to be able to be triggered and do its part. On the high seas, weather conditions and thus physical and psychological needs, can demand enormous efforts from the athlete, which mean they have to be prepared thanks to all-round, intensive, specific and meticulous training.
Physical preparation is always a combination of aerobic exercise and muscle training that intersect to build the sailor’s body according to individual needs and preferences. "In the case of a regatta like the one facing Ambrogio Beccaria, the first determining factor is the duration of the competition and so the effort the sailor will have to make", says Luca Parisi, athletic coach for the Italian Sailing Federation’s Olympic team.
Unlike the Olympic class- where everything plays out in a few dozen minutes- Beccaria's effort is to be diluted over many days, without pauses, with a boat that will require him to be on the ball at all times. This is why it will be essential for him to train the aerobic part to give his body a physical endurance that can translate into psychological resilience: "Aerobic training, doing cardio, can help a sailor improve resilience under effort, pressure and stress," Parisi explains. "An example, the trainer adds, could be light-stimulating workouts that require immediate reactions from the athlete: there are lights that are turned on alternately and each one requires a specific reaction."
It will then be necessary for him to build a good level of muscle strength, because inevitably the boat will require physicality and a set of high intensity movements requiring great strength, which must be completed in a very short space of time. “In this case – explains Parisi - he needs to prepare by adding an anaerobic or alactacid effort, in other words without the production of lactic acid. Some athletes who complete this kind of crossing also choose to train by repeatedly trying the moves and gestures they will then be making on board and so moving the objects on the boat."
As with all sailors, strengthening the lower limbs and upper limbs is important, but the key to preparation lies in the middle, literally: the sailor has to become very strong along the spine, having to shift large loads. Strengthening the lumbar and abdominal area, the “core”, to build a solid structure that stabilises the spine. In addition, there is the issue of balance, which is a fundamental component to be added to the effort, loading on the weights and to do this, one option is to organise workouts on unstable surfaces, which will also replicate the perception of what will be required during the regatta itself.
Strengthening the core is also about prevention, which must be accompanied by stretching and training in order to perform correctly all the movements and manoeuvres which will then be repeated on the boat. "Prevention is at least as vital as preparation itself, because in a context like this, injuring one hand, dislocating a shoulder, pulling a muscle in a moment of lack of attention could be a huge setback. Keep in mind that during these regattas the sailors only sleep a few hours a day and feeling tired is the status quo, so there is little room to recover from certain problems," says Luca Parisi.
Stretching, too, should always be on the agenda and it has to be done on a frequent basis. Targeted exercises improve the sensitivity of the body, especially in the area of the hips, buttocks, femoral muscles and the lower back. Improved mobility in this area will allow the sailor to “listen” to the boat better.
Lastly, there is no proper preparation without the right diet. In the period leading up to the regatta, if the goal is to increase strength, i.e. hypertrophy, or increased muscle mass, it is advisable to have the right protein intake. It will subsequently become increasingly important, in the lead-up to the race, to have a comprehensive, full diet plan that might make up for the shortcomings of a regatta that forces the sailor to eat short meals and a non-ideal sleep-wake rhythm. Then, of course, as in all competitions, in all disciplines, in the world of sport and beyond, everyone has their needs, their particularities and their preferences.
"Like all forms of training," concludes Luca Parisi, “the plan of approach to the event must be planned according to the needs of the athlete, their preferences. Even strength levels are often simply perceptions of the athlete. There may be athletes who are stronger than others, but they feel the need to increase the load, just to feel fitter. It is a very subjective issue, a perception that also depends on other conditions of the athlete and the person."
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