Many people participate in sailing racing dinghies, at a wide range of levels. Unfortunately, the ergonomic design of racing dinghies often promotes poor posture for the sailor. Pilates can help.
There are two key positions. When a sailor ‘hikes’ they sit with hips and upper bodies extended outside the side of the boat, upper bodies curled forwards. Their body weight supported through their legs and stomach, with their feet under straps to prevent falling out. In this suspended seated position, they pull sustained heavy loads to control the sails. Alternatively, sailors stand on the side of the boat ‘trapezing’, suspended on a wire connected from the top of the mast to their waist, connecting to a ‘trapeze harness’. Frequently, they work with the upper body curled and rotated whilst they pull on ropes.
Sports physio-therapist Chris Gordon, works with many top UK sailors and Olympians including Sir Ben Ainslie and advocates Pilates for competitive sailors.
Chris explains, “The boats’ ergonomic issues won’t change. So I teach my sailors to understand the consequences to their bodies, so we can undo the damage when they are not sailing. Good conditioning and mindful movement is the best protection from postural issues. Pilates plays a central role in that.
Typical patterns for hiking sailors are very tight quadriceps and hip flexors and a very strong and short ‘six-pack’ (Rectus Abdominis). This pulls the lumbar spine into hyperextension and pulls the front of the rib cage down. Pilates exercises that tuck the tail bone under and lift the rib cage are ideal for this pattern.
Trapeze sailors typically become very flexed in their thoracic (upper) spines, again the anterior rib cage gets pulled down and the cervical spine is compromised. Often their thoracic rotation becomes very restricted. Pilates exercises to open the ribs and improve thoracic rotation are perfect for trapeze sailors.”
Building core strength is considered essential by the professional sailing community. It is as important for amateurs too, as well as sailors competing for the Olympics, or in the highly powerful America’s Cup ‘foiling’ catamarans.
Chris introduced Pilates into the British Sailing Team training centre in Weymouth, when he was head physiotherapist for the Athens and Beijing Olympic programmes.
“All Olympic sailors will have some Pilates based exercises as part of their conditioning programme, even if they don’t know it. It supports our physio treatments and really helps build the sailors awareness of their posture, alignment and muscular imbalances. Plus, injury prevention for professional sailors is essential.”