Get Ready for 2012 Racing with Better Fitness

This article is reprinted from the February 2012 SpinSheet, a magazine about Chesapeake Bay sailing. The monthly “Small Boats, Big Stories” column focuses on dinghy sailing.

Anna Tunnicliffe-Funk is, undoubtedly, one of the fittest sailors on the planet. Hard work in the gym ensures that Anna—2011 ISAF Sailor of the Year, 2011 U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, 2011 Women’s Match Race World Champion skipper, and 2008 Olympic Laser Radial Goal Medalist, among other honors—is ready to respond—physically and mentally—when it’s all chips in on the race course.

This article is reprinted from the February 2012 SpinSheet, a magazine about Chesapeake Bay sailing. The monthly “Small Boats, Big Stories” column focuses on dinghy sailing.

Anna Tunnicliffe-Funk is, undoubtedly, one of the fittest sailors on the planet. Hard work in the gym ensures that Anna—2011 ISAF Sailor of the Year, 2011 U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, 2011 Women’s Match Race World Champion skipper, and 2008 Olympic Laser Radial Goal Medalist, among other honors—is ready to respond—physically and mentally—when it’s all chips in on the race course.

“The fitness is important, not just because our boats are quite physical, but more because our events are very long,” Anna explains. “Not getting tired as easily allows us to do a better job at this.”

Anna and the rest of Team Maclaren, Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi, really focus on fitness, in the gym and while out sailing. They spend between 60 and 90 minutes in the gym, five to six days a week, where they focus mostly on weight lifting (Anna’s current favorite is CrossFit). Cardio work depends on intermediate goals.

“We also strength train on the water by doing timed hikes, or holding a line instead of cleating it, or other little things like that will help in the long run,” Anna adds. And of course, all that is in addition to their rigorous on-the-water training and regatta schedules.

While Olympic and international sailors commit a part-time job’s worth of time to their physical fitness regime, all sailors can benefit from stepping up their fitness programs.

“You don’t have to kill yourself—try for just 10% more and you’ll see results,” says Meka Taulbee. Meka and her husband Kurt are SailFit—a Clearwater, Florida-based team that teaches sailing and fitness together, because, as Meka explains, “each needs the other in order for you to be at your top level.”

Meka, who uses a very holistic approach to fitness and nutrition and who has a certification in plant-based nutrition, emphasizes that sailing success doesn’t depend solely on grinding it out at the gym. She stresses that it’s a combination of mind, body, and boat (sailing ability, boathandling skills), each contributing roughly a third to a sailor’s success.

“I watch a lot of sailors who have a lot of skill and they’re fit, but their mental game is holding them back. They get caught in a bubble, and can’t get out, thinking about their last mistake. Or some people who have the best attitude, but they’re not quite fit enough, or their boat handling skills not up to par. You have to put all of the pieces together,” Meka says.

So how best to build the “body” side in preparation for the 2012 racing season?

Meka suggests that if you already work out three times or more a week, try putting your focus on different things to challenge your body. If you’re doing less, perhaps try for three fitness sessions a week as a good start. While we all have busy lives and can’t likely commit as much time as can Anna and her team, it’s hard to get anything accomplished in a fitness session that’s less than a half hour.

Where to start? “Focus first on balance and agility. In small boats, the ability to be light on your feet and have a good center of balance will help you move more quickly,” says Meka. Once you have a good start there, she stresses that cardio work can help you hold out longer on the water. The final piece of the puzzle is strength.

“What people don’t realize is that when you work on balance and agility, you start to build strength, though it’s a little slower than lifting weights. But you get in to it and things really start to move along,” she encourages. “You want it to be more of a lifestyle change, something that’s going to be a good change, not just a quick fix. In order for those things to happen, it’s going to take a little time.”

A super way to get in many types of training is swimming; Meka says it’s phenomenal for sailing as it really works your core and other parts, and is low impact.

With that, I’m headed to the gym. See you on the race course!

For more info:
• SailFit: More info on sailing fitness, nutrition, and coaching/clinics is online at http://www.sailfit.com/
• Follow Anna and Team Maclaren in their quest for gold in 2012 at http://www.teammaclaren.com/
• You can also follow Team Maclaren and SailFit on Facebook.

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