Why Top Sailors Cross Train on the Bike

Published on November 1st, 2016

If we had a dime for every incident where a sailor wiped out while cross training on their bike, we’d have a tall stack of dimes. However, like many things in life, the rewards outweigh the risks, as explained in this report by Justin Norton published by the International Sailing Academy

It’s no secret that the majority of Laser sailors use cycling as a method of cross training for the boat. The demand for fitness in the Laser is essential to sail consistently fast but why do so many turn to cycling, and more specifically road biking?

In this article I will discuss the main benefits road biking has had on my sailing since getting my first ride almost two years ago.

Like many athletes I have a strength and conditioning program that includes a substantial amount of cardio. Most of it takes the form of rowing on the erg, running, or interval training on the stationary bike. While I saw my aerobic capacity increase from this style of training it wasn’t until I decided to get my first road bike that I would see my conditioning and awareness significantly improve in the boat.

Sail GP

The first and most obvious place I noticed its effectiveness surrounded the demands on the quadriceps. Before the road bike I was able to maintain a solid hiking posture but when I was done, I was done and the boat would come to a halt when I sat up. The conditioning I received from cycling allowed me to drop into a 80% mode of hiking for a “break” and then back into proper form.

I attribute this to that point you reach while cycling when you “explode” from pedalling too hard. I would take a break by slowing down to recover and then get back on pace again. Note: you still need to push through pain barriers when hiking and cycling to increase your stamina and pain threshold.

On the bike, however, if you take a break you will not get run over by a fleet of boats and you are allowing for recovery to keep riding; the focus is fitness on the bike, not winning.

What I have described above is very similar to the idea interval training. However the beautiful thing about the bike is that it almost happens naturally over the course of a ride. While there is a need for specific interval training it is far more enjoyable to spend two hours on the road than on a stationary bike staring at a clock.

When you are on the bike I find you become more present in the task at hand. Your entire focus lies on the section of road you are on or the effort you are putting into the hill you are climbing not agonizing over the time on the watch.

With any activity there is an associated risk and cycling is no exception. The speeds that you travel at in close proximity to moving vehicles can be deterring for some. However, with every risk there is a reward. I immediately became more aware of my surroundings and was forced into constantly surveying what was in my periphery.

This skill is paramount when sailing as you can quickly take yourself out of a race by not seeing the wind coming in on the other side of the course. I notice when I am cycling frequently that I become unconsciously more vigilant about surveying the race course on the water.

Road biking is not for everyone and by no means the only answer to fitness for the Laser. One thing I can say for certain is that it provides a steep learning curve and the conditioning you receive from it is almost instantaneously noticeable in the boat. Furthermore it takes the monotony out of dry land training and is an excellent escape to clear your head.
The International Sailing Academy provides all-inclusive Laser training camps for all levels in the paradise location of Banderas Bay, Mexico, near Puerto Vallarta. Details here.

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