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Challenger Programme

Everything in its right place

Training … preparing for life at sea

Offshore Sailor

At the highest level of our sport there is no margin for error in physical and mental preparation. The best-equipped, lightest and most high-tech yacht will not go quickly around the course if the sailors onboard are fatigued, distracted, cold and hungry. How sailors train and the nutrition they consume plays a key part in success on the water.

Photo: Alex Palmer

I have been following a specific strength and conditioning programme for the past few years now, and the majority of this is completed during the winter before tailoring off around May once the major races start. The fitness programme’s primary aim is to make me as robust and resistant to injury as possible and consists of four 90 minute sessions a week focussing on aerobic capacity, agility and strength.

Aerobic capacity is very important for offshore sailing as I can be away at sea for a week, a month or more, having to perform a variety of actions – trimming the sails, moving equipment, helming, climbing the mast – for a sustained period of time; that is all day, every day, until I get back to land. I focus mainly on cycling and rowing to improve my aerobic capacity, as just hoisting the sails on your own on a 60 foot boat is a huge feat in itself and pretty much impossible if you’re unfit!

Agility plays a big part in offshore sailing as a great sense of balance and quick reaction times are required to move safely and quickly around the boat, especially when it is surfing at top speed or being slammed off waves when sailing upwind. To help me with this, I focus on core strength in the gym, doing exercises which require a wobble board or balance ball, and yoga, which is also great for improving flexibility and posture; essential to avoid injuries.

Finally, the last part of my programme focuses on strength training. 3 days a week on the upper body, with a lot of push/pull exercises involving weights to strengthen my arms and back, and 1 session a week focusing on the lower body. For these exercises, I work with weights equal to, or more than, my body weight.

Photo: Benjamin Simon Lohezic

Mental preparation cannot be overlooked and I find using visualisation a great tool for revising complicated manoeuvres or walking myself through the course before an event. In terms of mental toughness, I have a number of psychological strategies in place to deal with stress and loneliness, and I like to take part in endurance events such as triathlon to push myself when the going gets tough.

During racing the boat and sails take a lot of wear, so I am required to complete a specific check list before and after each event to check that everything is working order. For example, all of the ropes have to be checked for chaffing, blocks, pulleys and clutches have to be checked for damage, rigging (cables which hold up the mast) must be checked for cracks, sails for tears. The engine and all the electronics also require maintenance. To prepare for big ocean races, most skippers will take a ‘Boat Captain’, somebody trained in boat maintenance, to ensure that everything is good working order before the start.

Photo: Benjamin Simon Lohezic

Once offshore, if anything goes wrong I must be able to fix it myself, so being handy with a screw driver, knowing how to repair sails and how to deal with electronic failure is a must.

I’m also heavily reliant on my Christopher Ward Trident Pro 600 dive watch while racing. Timing is everything on a sailing boat – from crossing the start line at the right time to knowing when the next wind shift is going to happen, and even knowing how long you’ve slept for. Fully waterproof, it takes everything the ocean can throw at it and the 43mm dial ensures I can tell the time easily, even when my watch is under bulky layers. The luminous dial is an absolute must during night hours!

To learn more about the programme and our other exceptional challengers, visit the Challenger Programme.

Everything in its right place
Lizzy explains about the physical and mental training required to prepare for life at sea.

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