Next July, Bermuda’s Great Sound will host the 35th America’s Cup, one of the oldest and most-watched sailing races in the world. Six teams will compete for the 165-year-old trophy: USA, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan, France and Britain. Under the command of skipper James Spithill and funded by Larry Ellison, the billionaire Oracle co-founder, Team USA has held the cup for six years — and they plan on keeping it.
Team USA’s desire to win can be seen most clearly in their training regimen. It is relentless. Since they last won the cup in 2013, the sailors have been lifting, running and dieting almost non-stop, and it shows in their rugby-player physiques. Yacht racing demands gargantuan levels of core, arm and lower-back strength, along with incredible stamina and sharp focus; indeed, the fastest sailing crews are among the world’s most gifted athletes.
Craig MacFarlane and Scott Tindal are the two men responsible for keeping Team USA in cup-winning shape. As physical performance manager, MacFarlane oversees the team’s workout routine. Tindal, the head physiotherapist and team nutritionist, mostly handles recovery and diet. Together, MacFarlane and Tindal build a holistic training regimen for each sailor. Some sailors need more strength training; others need more cardio. But every sailor has one workout in common, built around one core-shredding exercise called “grinding.” And it just might be one of the best workouts you’ve never tried.
“Grinding is a whole body exercise, not just upper body,” MacFarlane said. “You generate power from the floor through your hips and upper body. It’s a cyclic movement where you synchronize a pushing and pulling movement with opposing arms.” On racing cats like the USA-17, grinding is how the sailors control the boat’s gears. The grinding pedestal looks and functions much like a bike pedal, with two opposing cranks on each side, only it’s propped up to meet at the sailor’s torso. You grip the handles and start grinding, either forward or backward, and the sail trims up or down, which in turn changes the boat’s speed.
In the gym, grinding is a bit different. Team USA uses special grinding machines — sort of like trimmed-down ellipticals — that are rarely found in traditional gyms. Luckily, for us landlubbers, there are ways to train just like Team USA without the special machinery. The following workout, which is adapted from Team USA’s twice-a-week cardio and grinding session, is meant to blast the lower back, arms, lungs and heart. And it can be done in just about any gym.
1Start on the rowing machine. Row at a steady pace for 30 seconds. When 30 seconds is up, jump off the machine and begin a 20-second shuttle run. Run 10 meters out, and 10 meters back in. Repeat 4 times. With 10 seconds remaining of the last set, row at maximum effort.
2Run. Once you’ve finished the grinding/rowing, and your heart rate is around 85 percent of its maximum rate, MacFarlane says to start running at a “bloody good clip.” This is where your heart and lungs go into overdrive, while your upper body muscles take a short break. Run 1 lap (a quarter of a mile), and return to the weights.
3Dumbbell thrusters (x10). Begin like you would an Olympic clean. Squat low with your feet slightly wider shoulder-width apart. Grab the dumbbells (use a high-rep weight, around 20 pounds) off the floor, explode upwards, and extend the dumbbells over your head. Alternatively, swap in a barbell for more weight. “If you look at a squat movement, it’s the whole body. If the dumbbell heavy enough, and you lift it over your head, your rate will stay up. It’s one of the hardest movements you can do. If you’re lifting a barbell, it’s even harder, because you’re lifting more weight,” MacFarlane said.
4Pull-ups (x12). For more challenge, do full chin-ups or kipping pull-ups (an acrobatic upward lunge as you swing your body upward), or, for a core-centric exercise, raise your toes to the bar.
5Kettlebell swings (x15). Here’s where the workout begins to wind down. MacFarlane says kettlebell swings are perfect for sailors, as they work the posterior muscle chain (sailors are constantly hunched over). Sit low, arch your back, drop the kettlebell through your inner thigh and then burst your arms upward, ending the movement at the top of your head.
6Work your brain with a puzzle. At this point, your lungs will be screaming and you heart will be thumping through your chest. It’ll be hard to focus. This is the perfect time to train your mind to make game-time decisions. MacFarlane has the sailors do a small geometric puzzle — though a simple game on your phone would be a good alternative.
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