Muscle Strengthening Exercises for Sailors

May 15, 2019

Why strength training is important for sailors

With our clinics based on the south coast, we often see patients form the local sailing communities. I was lucky enough to be a Physio at the London 2012 Olympics based at Weymouth and Portland Polyclinic and Sailing Venue, where I was fortunate enough to treat a number of the Olympic sailing teams.

The most common injuries amongst sailors are usually lower back pain, arm and upper body pains/sprains, ankle and knee injuries. These are commonly caused by repetitive activities such as steering, pulling the ropes and sails and winching, all of which use great strength, whether you are a recreational or a competitive sailor.

Strength and conditioning training reduces overuse injuries by 50%!

According to the evidence “Strength training reduced sports injuries by less than a 1/3 and overuse injuries could almost be halved” (Lauersen et al, 2013).

The common areas of weakness we find are; pectorals, lats, biceps (upper body), transverse abdominus (core stability muscles), quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (back upper leg) and gastrocnemius/soleus (calf muscles).

Strengthening Exercises

Below are some top strengthening exercises we would recommend for sailing and watersports, remember safety first and ALWAYS wear a life jacket.

We recommend doing two-three strength sessions per week and work the muscles to fatigue (until they are aching).

Initially aim to repeat each exercise 25 times with good control and quality.

Once you can complete each exercise 25 times then add weight and reduce repetitions.

Aim to repeat:

  •     1-3 sets of 8 to 12 reps (working to fatigue within those reps)
  •     2 minutes rest between sets
  •     Repeat 3 sessions per week on non consecutive days

It is important to add load during strength sessions, because high loads are put through your body when sailing.

Please be aware of your body and take advice from your GP or Physiotherapist before exercising, if you have any aches or pains then please send us an email to for advice and guidance.

Get help

Bicep curls

  • Stand on the theraband
  • Start with your arms down by your side and palms facing forwards
  • Bend your arms at your elbows taking your hands up toward your shoulders

Press ups

  • Place your hands shoulder-width apart with arms straight and so your shoulders, elbows and wrists line up.
  • Your fingers should be slightly splayed and pointing forward, with your hands forming right angles with your forearms.
  • Initiate the move by bending your elbows to lower your chest towards the ground.
  • Your hips should remain in line with your shoulders for the entirety of the set.
  • The closer you can get your chest to the floor the better because this makes the working muscles move through a full range of motion.

Bent over rows 1 side at a time

  • Bend forwards from the hips
  • Raise your arm up towards the ceiling and control back down


  • Stand with your legs in a lunge position.
  • Go down and up keeping your weight evenly distributed through your legs.
  • Make sure you keep your knees in line with your second toes and your back up straight.
  • This should be slow and controlled, so down for a count of 3 seconds and up for 3 seconds
  • Repeat until fatigue

 Deep Squats

  • In standing, with feet hip width apart.
  • Slowly bend at your hips until your knees are at about 90 degrees.
  • Make sure your back is kept straight and your knees are in line with your second toe.
  • This should be slow and controlled, so down for a count of 3 seconds and up for 3 seconds
  • Repeat until fatigue


  • Start on elbows and knees
  • Straighten your legs and raise your body so that you’re supported by the balls of your feet, with feet hip-distance apart.
  • Face the floor, being careful not to arch your back or stick your bottom in the air.
  • Hold this position for 45 seconds to begin with, extending the time as you get stronger.
  • You should feel this on your tummy muscles if you get lower back pain then stop

Single Leg Bridge

  • Lying on your back
  • Bend one knee
  • Keep the other leg straight and level with the other knee
  • Push down through your heel on the bent leg and lift your hips up
  • Repeat until fatigue
  • Repeat on the other side

Single Leg Calf Raise

  • Standing balance on one foot.
  • Push up onto the ball of your foot
  • Go down and up slowly for a count of 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down.
  • Repeat until fatigue
  • Then repeat on the other side

Get help

If you are a sailor, windsurfer or kitesurfer and have aches, pains or niggles or want advice about what you can do to reduce the risk of injury then please get in contact with us, 023 9435 0270 or book your appointment online today.

Please see our exercises on our YouTube channel. Don’t forget to subscribe to get all the latest videos as they’re posted! We have a specific exercise video for neck and shoulder tension in sailors, windsurfers and kite surfers.

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