Exercises & Workout Plan For Liveaboard Sailors

Exercises & Workout Plan For Liveaboard Sailors | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Bennett D. Richardson, PT, DPT, CSCS

June 15, 2022

For those that are considering or currently living on their boat, implementing a proper exercise and workout plan for liveaboard sailors is a must.

The liveaboard lifestyle is not for the faint of heart. It comes with it’s own set of challenges and is inherently a minimalist lifestyle. However, for those that do choose this path, there are some exercise considerations that need to be taken into account in order to stay healthy.

Living on your boat may sound like the absolute perfect life to you. You get to be one with nature, away from all the hustle and bustle of traditional living on land. However, liveaboard sailors do need to consider some factors in order to stay healthy. Living in potentially cramped quarters can cause postural issues that can affect the rest of your life, if not addressed early. Additionally, with the limited space on your boat, you’re unlikely to get as many daily steps in as you might on land, which will decrease the amount of cardiovascular exercise you would normally get with a traditional lifestyle on land. In this article, we’ll cover some exercise considerations that liveaboard sailors must consider in order to have a pain-free life out at sea, as well as outlining a general workout plan tailored to these individuals.

This article was prepared and written by Bennett Richardson, an orthopedic physical therapist. All of the information presented was strictly written with the intent to educate, not to provide medical advice. You should always consult with your doctor or other qualified medical professional if considering any changes in lifestyle or health practices. All claims will either be cited with the available link, or if uncited, assume it is my opinion based on my clinical experience.


Table of contents

General Considerations for Liveaboard Sailors

The allure of the sea is something many of us can relate to. However, there are many considerations that need to be taken into account when one is considering the switch to a life on the water. Some of these considerations are as follows:

  • Less Space. While boats certainly vary in size, on average, your boat is probably going to have less storage space than your home. So, what will you do with all of your stuff? Will you give it away? Sell it? These are things that may seem inconsequential at first glance, but definitely bear consideration when considering the liveaboard lifestyle.
  • Temperature. Will you be installing any form of temperature control, or are you ok with just living in the ambient temperature? This could be a big adjustment if you are someone who is constantly toggling the thermostat at home.
  • Boat Maintenance. If you own a boat and a home, when your boat springs a leak, it’s certainly annoying, but you can still go home at the end of the day. When you are a liveaboard, the boat is your home. How much time and effort are you going to have to devote to maintenance with this new lifestyle?

How do these Considerations Relate to Exercise?

When you decide to make the switch to a liveaboard life, you’ll need to make sure your body is up for the task.

  1. Less Space and Exercise. If you are living on a boat with much less space as compared to your home, you are likely not going to want to fill that space with exercise equipment. Therefore you will need to rely on exercises that help to keep you strong and healthy using only your body weight or objects you have at hand. Luckily, there are plenty of exercises that require little to no equipment and can provide you with a comprehensive program that can be performed with very little space.
  2. Temperature and Exercise. Liveaboard sailors need to strongly consider the factors involved with body temperature regulation during exercise. As you might expect, your body’s core temperature rises when you are exercising. If this happens in an especially hot temperature outdoors, it can lead to heat-related illnesses and even death. The effects of this can be mitigated by maintaining a high level of cardiovascular fitness and frequently exposing yourself to warmer temperatures so that you are able to adapt to the demands of exercise in the heat.
  3. Boat Maintenance and Exercise. To maintain a boat requires a significant level of muscular endurance and flexibility. Therefore, it is critical that the liveaboard sailor is completing frequent resistance training and flexibility exercises, which will be examined more specifically later in this article.

What are Specific Exercises That Liveaboard Sailors should Perform?

Liveaboard sailors need to prioritize exercises that emphasize good posture as well as appropriately stress the cardiovascular system.

Postural and Resistance Exercises

When you think about the ideal posture, generally the image that comes to mind is that of a soldier: shoulders back, chest up, facing forward. While this image is a little beyond what is required of the average individual, it does offer a good example of a posture that puts less stress on the body.

Some examples of postural exercises that liveaboard sailors can easily perform on their boat are as follows:

  • Scap Retracts. The shoulder blades or scapulae are a good guiding landmark for how to properly keep posture in the upper body. In performing this exercise, think about pulling your shoulder blades down and back, as if you are pinching a pencil between the lowest corners of your shoulder blades. This movement forces you to open up your chest and is an opposing movement to where most of us feel comfortable: slouching. Perform daily: 10 repetitions, holding the contraction for 15 seconds each time.
  • Push ups. Try as we might, we have yet to perfect the push up as far as convenience and effectiveness goes for strength training exercise. To perform a pushup, begin on hands and toes and slowly lower your chest toward the ground. Once you are at the bottom of the movement, push yourself back up into the starting position. Perform at least 3 days a week: repetitions to fatigue, 3 sets.
  • Prone “T’s”. This exercise will also serve to stretch the chest and counteract the slouch. Lying on your stomach, bring your straight arms toward the ceiling, making a “T” shape with your body and arms. Perform at least 3 times a week, adding light weight as exercise becomes easier: 10-12 repetitions, 3 sets.
  • Squats. Just like the push up, there is nothing that compares to the squat in terms of ease and effectiveness. In standing, sit down as low as you can comfortably and slowly stand back up, returning to the starting position. Perform at least 3 days a week, adding weight with any objects available as squats become easier: 10-12 reps, 3 sets.

Flexibility Exercise

Flexibility is probably one of the easiest dimensions of fitness for the liveaboard sailor to complete, as many flexibility movements can be done in a very small space. Exercises to increase and maintain flexibility do not need to be overly complicated; all that is required is a few feet of space and the will to complete the exercises. Examples of some flexibility exercises that can be incorporated into the liveaboard sailor’s routine are as follows:

  • Seated Hamstring Stretch. Sitting with back and knees straight, legs extended in front of you with toes pointed to the ceiling Fold forward until a stretch is felt in the back of thighs. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times at least 5 days a week.
  • Standing Quad Stretch. In standing, bend your right knee behind you as if kicking yourself in buttocks. Grasp right ankle with right hand and pull upward until stretch is felt in front of thigh. Repeat 4 times per side holding for 30 seconds each time. Perform at least 5 times per week.
  • Standing Pec/Shoulder Stretch. In standing, lace fingers together behind you and press hands down towards the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times, at least 5 days per week.
  • Rhomboid Stretch. In standing, interlace fingers and reach forward, rounding shoulders until stretch is felt in the midline of the back. Repeat 4 times holding for 30 seconds each time. Perform at least 5 days per week.
  • Wrist Flexion Stretch. In standing, reach your right arm out in front of you with your palm facing down. Grasp right hand with left hand and bend wrist forward further until a stretch is felt in back of forearm. Repeat 4 times on each side holding for 30 seconds each time. Perform stretch at least 5 times per week.
  • Wrist Extension Stretch. In standing, reach your right arm out in front of you with your palm facing upward. With your left hand, grasp your right hand and bend your wrist backward so that your palm is now facing forward. Hold stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times on each side. Perform stretch at least 5 times per week.

Cardiovascular Exercise

The most important muscle in the body is the heart. If we don’t keep it strong and healthy, we are going to suffer in the long run. A liveaboard sailor is in a unique situation in terms of cardiovascular exercise, as he or she has access to water exercise at all times, but very little access to walking exercise, in contrast to the average person living in a home.

General recommendations for cardiovascular exercise are to work at a moderate intensity and perform CV exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, however you’d like to break that up per day. Again, for the average person, the easiest way to accomplish this is to go on a walk for 30 minutes, 5x/week. For the liveaboard sailor however, other options are more appropriate due to the limited space to walk on board.

Swimming is a great form of cardiovascular exercise, and can easily fill the requirements for CV activity in the liveaboard sailor. One thing to consider, however, is that swimming is not the best CV activity for increasing bone mass. This is likely due to the fact that exercise forms that create impact and tension forces through bones tend to cause more of an increase in bone mass. Therefore, the liveaboard sailor needs to be regularly performing his or her resistance training exercise to ensure that the bones are getting proper force application as well.

If you get sick of swimming for exercise, you can certainly get creative in finding ways to get your heart rate up as well. Another terrific form of cardiovascular exercise that requires minimal space is shadowboxing. Squaring off against your shadow and punching as hard and as fast as you can, while shuffling your feet will get your heart rate up and get your blood pumping quickly.

Another option is to perform callisthenics movements in a circuit fashion. This could be done in a variety of ways, but one way would be to perform 3 exercises back to back, moving immediately on to the next one once completing the first, for a total of 30 minutes. For example, you may complete ten burpees, then 10 jumping jacks, then 10 lunges in a circuit over and over for 30 minutes. This is another great way to get the heart working. Use your imagination and get creative!

Whichever way you choose to get your cardiovascular exercise in for the week, just ensure that you do complete it. It’s one of the best ways to stay healthy overall.

Table 1.

Type of Exercise How Often Living on Land Liveaboard Sailor
Cardiovascular 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week Biking, walking, jogging, elliptical, etc Swimming, shadowboxing,
circuit training
Resistance exercise At least 3 days per week Lifting weights, using bodyweight resistance, using resistance bands, cables, etc Lifting heavy objects on board, using bodyweight resistance
Flexibility At least 5 days per week Machine assists, trainers, etc Self stretching
Exercises & Workout Plan For Liveaboard Sailors
Bennett D. Richardson, PT, DPT, CSCS

Bennett D. Richardson, PT, DPT, CSCS

Bennett is a physical therapist in the Pittsburgh, PA region who specializes in the areas of orthopedics, ergonomics, and weight loss. Bennett graduated from Slippery Rock University’s DPT program in 2017. He also obtained his BS from SRU in 2014 in Exercise Science with a Gerontology minor. In his work, Bennett has had the unique opportunity to rehabilitate many novice and experienced sailors. The advice he provides is always research-based.

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