Success in SailGP comes down to teamwork and communication. As a one-design class, all 10 teams use the same equipment for each race and have access to each other’s team data. The F50 catamaran can reach speeds of up to 60 mph and is designed so that performance and results are placed directly in the hands of the elite athletes on board such as Jimmy Spithill.
As the skipper for the United States SailGP Team, Jimmy Spithill is responsible for knowing the logistics of the event in case there are any changes to where the start and finish point will be, communicating with his crew on board, and making the decision on where to go on the racecourse. While simple in explanation, Spithill’s training is anything but. U.S. SailGP Team Athletic Performance Director Craig McFarlane is tasked with making sure each member on the team is at their best come race day.
Below, is just what one of Spithill’s sessions entails. Also, don’t forget to hydrate, he says.
Jimmy Spithill’s SailGP Strength & HIIT Session Flow
- Mobility & Activation (10 min.)
- Agility & Reactive drills (10 min.)
- Structural strength (15 min.)
- HIIT / MetCon (20-30 min.)
- Recovery (5-10 min.)
Mobility + Activation Session
U.S. SailGP Team Athletic Performance Director Craig McFarlane says that the key concept here is to prep Jimmy Spithill for the movements and muscle groups that he will be using in the session, especially at the beginning.
- Spine: MacFarlane focuses on spinal mobility through all ranges: flexion, extension, and rotation. This releases a lot of muscular tension and creates more pliability with the musculoskeletal system.
- Hips: Various hip openers and yoga-derived poses are performed each day. The hip region are prime movers for any sport and are the center of power and stability. Jimmy, like most drivers on an F50 have tight hips — both posterior and anterior — due to constantly standing and stabilizing in such a dynamic and aggressive environment to allow for the upper limbs to perform unimpeded global movement (steering) & finer complex sensory movement (button function on the steering wheel).
- Shoulders: Maintain shoulder mobility and flexibility is very injury preventive and mitigates any down-streaming tendinopathy that drivers can experience with their elbows/forearms, due to the constant gripping required on the wheel.
There is a bias toward the posterior chain – we’re talking glutes, hamstrings, lower back. Spithill’s sailing position involves standing. This is the position in which he lives on the F50, so we need to make the activation movements and exercises translatable.
Agility & Reactive Drills
Some cognitive qualities that the F50 drivers need to work on are: focus, concentration, reaction time, and foot work.
“I like to wake up the nervous system and higher function cognition earlier in the session. I will use various close-space reactive agility drills where I will utilize all sensory elements such as sight, sound, touch.
I will start off with a combination of jump rope work into a band-resisted fast-leg turnover drill. I will loop a resistance band around the waist, and I provide an anchor and resistance from behind. The athlete maximally sprints on the spot for five seconds then an easy jog for five seconds, three times for two rounds. These low-level resisted legs turn over drills will help all the F50 athletes be more deliberate and quicker crossing the platform between maneuvers to perform their positional sailing function quicker.
Then there will be footwork and agility drills in which he will react to a multiple sensory training prompt — starting with a visual cue then reacting with multiple verbals during the drill or task. These drills will progressively increase in complexity.
Strength is as much about injury prevention and building physical resilience. A driver like Spithill will get thrown around just as much as the grinders on the F50. Strength equals stability equals performance!
There is big focus on asymmetrical, and midline core strength training that will challenge all structural systems. The strength component will involve a key lower-body movement with a complementary lower-body accessory exercise for three to four sets with a short rest.
MacFarlane will make use of the “dead time” during the rest period between sets and include injury-prevention work specific to the athlete or positional needs. Shoulder stability and rotator cuff strengthening is a go-to for the drivers.
1a. Single-leg Kettlebell Deadlift as the Key Movement
- Posterior chain: glutes, hamstrings, back.
- Posterior slings: fascia that travel down from and diagonally, that keeps the skeletal system stable when unbalanced.
1b. Single Balance with Lateral Wall Ball Throw
- Hand-eye coordination
I will follow up the lower body couplet with a short upper body strength couplet that will have Push + Pull. To get maximal benefits and stimulus, it’s important for the drivers to lift heavy and challenging loads as well.
This upper will be shorter three sets with very short rest (about 60 seconds) between sets:
2a. Single-arm Standing Cable or Band Press: Go heavy for six reps.
- Heavy weight will challenge all structural systems
- Standing will engage core to keep stable, square, and avoid forces rotation
- Ability to anchor and stabilize from hips down whilst upper is dynamically moving under heavily loaded stress. An extreme simulation of F50 stress
- Pushing strength
2b. Single-arm Kettlebell Bentover Row (unsupported): Heavy for 8 reps.
- Back strength.
- Posterior chain under an Isometric (non-moving) load.
Setting up in a stable hinge position with a wide stable base, pull the kettlebell up to side of torso, keeping elbow high and close to your side.
Remember to make use of the “dead time” during the rest period between sets. This is also good for a low-level physical work out. Most drivers like to work on grip strength or finer grip strength. So various carries that challenge the grip.
Cardio Block – HIIT/ MetCon
These cardio blocks are very metabolically dense — which includes high-energy expenditure, and target multiple energy capacities, skill, and sensory elements.
Boxing would be one of the biggest bangs for your cardio buck for all SailGP F50 drivers. When you look at the F50 crossover benefits, you can understand why Jimmy Spithill has not only embraced this art but taken it to another level.
Drivers need to work on:
- Reaction rime
The boxing will build up skill and technique work getting the hips and feet moving, covering all punch variations and evasive techniques. The skill complexity will progress quickly having to remember multiple punch and movement combinations whilst avoiding getting hit with the pads. All of the combinations challenge focus, concentration and reaction time. Then only when the complexity settles in the magic is added — compromising the breathing and heart rate. This is done through integrating shuttle work, boat weight, core exercises, and overlaying the sensory reaction training similar to earlier in the session.
This cardio block will undulate blocks of intensity with very short recovery periods. It’s during the recovery periods that Jimmy will focus on breathwork and breathing techniques to lower his heart rate rapidly, shift out of the flight or fight sympathetic state to a more relaxed parasympathetic state. This is a technique he uses on the F50.
This is three to five minutes of very low-intensity cardio or walk, followed by stretching for key body areas.
Keep the stretch block very simple – three key stretches and hold then for two to four minutes each!!
- Couch Stretch: This hits the anterior hips, quads.
- Half-seated straddle: We do this for the hamstrings, adductor, lower back.
- Bench stretch: This works the back and shoulders.