Tips from the top: Fit to win

by Josh Adams
Photos by Walter Cooper

(August 2005 article - reprinted with permission from SAIL magazine)

TERRY HUTCHINSON LOOKS like he is going to be ill. It’s 0700and he’s 30 minutes into his morning workout with trainer Harry Legum, the architect of the Fitness for Sailing program at the Annapolis Athletic Club. A 38 year-old professional sailor who races grand-prix keelboats-mostly in the afterguard of a Farr 40 and on Emirates Team New Zealand the America’s Cup Class racer-Hutchinson signed on to Legum’s program for sailors because he had “nowhere to go but up”

Hutchinson fits the profile of one type of Legum client-a professional who wants to improve his all-around strength and balance to keep up with younger sailors. Others go to Legum to build specific muscles for their type of sailing. Brian Bissell, for example, is a 25 year –old sailmaker who races dinghies and small keelboats. To increase his hiking stamina and agility, Bissell built up his quadriceps and abs. He did pulling exercises to strengthen trimming muscles.

Core strength. Any sailor looking to increase his or her fitness for sailing should begin by building core strength. A sturdy core of stomach and back muscles is necessary for good balance and overall strength. Each physical task in sailing-hiking on a dinghy, trimming a jib, jumping a halyard, carrying a flaked headsail belowdecks, or gybing a spinnaker pole-is complicated by the boat’s movement through the water. For instance, trimming a 200-square-foot jib with a winch is straightforward on a flat and stationary surface. Adding 15 degrees of heel and a pitching motion complicates the action. In each case you rely on strong leg, stomach, and back muscles to maintain balance and support other muscle groups.

Standing on a Bosu ball –a half sphere filled with air-Hutchinson bends his legs, twitching up and down as he tries to stay balanced while doing a rowing exercise, in which he pulls weight towards his stomach. Muscles in his legs, back, and stomach are utilized, as he uses his arms to pull the weight. A variety of exercises-walking lunges while holding light dumbbells, high kicks on a punching bag-work similar core muscles from different angles.

Fit and trim. Working with a keelboat trimmer, Legum starts with core exercises and then focuses on specific muscles. “I place clients in positions similar to those used on big boats and then work those muscles in a way that mirrors working the boat-knees bent, bending at the waist,” he explains. “The exercises I use-chest fly, seated one-arm row, standing row on a Bosu ball-would be followed by a fast-twitch muscle exercise, such as a squat thrust. Then I would have the client rest, then explode to duplicate tacking.”

Hike harder. According to Legum, all that time you may have spent on a homemade hiking bench pays off. Hiking in dinghies is very hard on the back, stomach and legs, and you shouldn’t enter a regatta cold. “I lead abs exercises in a way that requires alertness and focus.” says Legum. “I may have a 420 sailor drop for push-ups and then spring into pull-ups. While he or she does this, I’ll start a hanging abs workout, paying close attention to breathing, back flexion, and abs contraction.” Doing crunches on a bench, with your back raised, is a good exercise that simulates hiking on a small boat.

The sailor gym. Legum envisions a custom workout studio for sailors as the next step for Annapolis Sailing Fitness (” We’ll have hiking benches, winches, a mast section to climb, and a simulation of halyards to jump,” he says. A sailing-specific routine, Legum continues, must also include a heavy dose of sailing.” The only way to become a great sailor is to sail.”