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Muscles for Windsurfing

by Windshark

Which muscles are used in the sport of windsurfing, you may ask. The answer is - all of them.
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When not windsurfing on a regular basis of two to three times a week (that covers most of us) the body's muscles may atrophy or become stiff. To be ready for that next free day of high wind a conditioned body will help sailors stay out longer, perform better, prevent injury, and generally have more fun.

Before we go on let me say some things about muscle size and density. Large muscles do not necessarily mean strong muscles. A small muscle may or may not be stronger than a large muscle depending on the density of the muscle fibers. Small, dense muscles generally will have more sustainable endurance compared to large and inflated muscles, but the physics of large muscles may allow for short bursts of greater strength.

When training muscles for sports like windsurfing heavy weights can be an asset, but they are not necessary. Most of the exercises I mention here can be done without weights; small dumb bells will suffice for some. Compared to lifting heavy weights, you may perform more reps of the same exercise. If you are looking to develop muscle mass ,not just muscle strength, then heavy weights (especially free-weights) are highly recommended.

Also, I have not gone in-depth on the fine details of performing these exercises, so feel free to research the exercises mentioned to determine how you will proceed in your workout. Rather I am outlining how each muscle group works in windsurfing and how you might develop them.

Click this windsurfer dude for muscle details.
Click this windsurfer dude for muscle details.
Heart and Lungs

In no particular order:

The Heart and Cardio Vascular Endurance

Windsurfing is primarily thought of as a resistance exercise. However this is true only if the sailor is running straight reaches without jibing much or falling, and with perfectly tuned gear. The first thing that can tax the cardiovascular system is a sudden rush of adrenaline. This happens all too often when sailors have not been out in high wind for a while and the shear speed or thrill of windsurfing causes the heart to race or the lungs to work overtime. Sometimes it can be such a severe rush that the sailor must take a break.

Water-starting, which involves a good bit of swimming, is an extremely aerobic workout. Constant turning and maneuvering requires a lot of cardiovascular energy as well, to say nothing about high wind freestyle.

When forced to endure periods of time with no windsurfing, the occasional jump rope for five-ten minutes, a nice twenty minute jog, a sustained swim, twenty minutes on the treadmill, or anything to get the heart rate up for a while will insure a smooth flow of sustained energy when out on the water.
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I will not go over all the dozens of muscles that control the neck. However neck muscles play a major role in windsurfing. It is always important to look in the correct direction in windsurfing. Being able to freely move the head helps to maintain course, turn and jibe, jump, and even loop among many other things.

Also, should a windsurfer take a nasty fall, being able to tense the neck can prevent injuries. The least complex of all the usual neck exercises is arguably the most effective. Slowly lean your head back as far as it naturally falls, then very slowly lift back up to a center position. Do this in all directions. Also, sit-ups naturally help with the neck muscles.
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Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is perhaps one of the most essential muscles for windsurfing and many other sports. This is a group of six muscles in the inner-lower part of the shoulder. These muscles arise from the scapula and connect to the head of the humerus, forming a cuff at the shoulder joint. In other words, they keep the shoulder joint stable and in place.

This is important in windsurfing because of the enormity of pressure that is pulled out from the arms exerted by the sail. These muscles do not have any performance oriented function, but strong rotator cuff muscles can prevent a tear that can rather quickly end the sailing session, and possibly keep a sailor down for three to eight weeks. The symptom of a rotator cuff injury is a dull, aching pain when the arm is raised above the head, or when pulling pressure is exerted from the arm (the author has had some experience with this).

There are several exercises for strengthening the rotator cuff and preventing injury. The most effective is the side-lying external rotation, which activates the supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus and teres minor. Lie on a bench sideways, with the arm next to the side and flexed about 90 degrees at the elbow. Rotate the upper arm, raising the dumbbell towards the ceiling to a 45 degree angle. Keep the elbow flexed, and the upper arm close to the body. Pace at two seconds up and four seconds down.

Other exercises include the propped external rotator and the lateral raise with internal rotation.

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The deltoid muscle is the muscle forming the rounded contour of the shoulder. It consists of three sets of fibers that converge to a point on the arm. At the convergence is a thick tendon that extends deep into the fascia of the arm.

The three parts of the deltoid each have their own function. The anterior (front) deltoid assists the pectoral for pushing movements in front of the body. The lateral (center or side) deltoid controls lateral movement, such as raising the arm to the side. The posterior deltoid, along with the rhomboids control arm movements towards the back or pulling actions.

Along with all the arm and back muscles, in windsurfing the deltoids allow for stable sail handling, especially in gusts, and allow sailors to stay on the water for long periods of time. These muscles are especially useful in heavy chop or waves when sail position must constantly shift to maneuver and control the power. While sailing hard and fast on long reaches it is the anterior deltoids along with the upper pectorals that are engaged; keeping these muscles strong will increase sailing endurance.

Great exercises for the deltoids are the seated dumbbell press, the side lateral raise, and the military press.

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The pectorals or pecs are the large chest muscles consisting of the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is the portion that is visible, while the pectoralis minor is a thin layer of muscle beneath the pectoralis major.

The pectorals power most pushing motions, be it to the front or the side of the body, as well as motions that bring the arms toward the center of the body or 'bear hug' motions. Since the pectorals are large muscles and cover a large range of motion, the upper pectorals and lower pectorals are often trained separately.

In windsurfing, controlling the sail is easier with strong pectorals. When sailing dynamically in waves, chop, frequent jibing or turning, and freestyle, stronger pectorals can increase time on the water. If the boom is set particularly high, the upper pectorals will work harder in conjunction with the anterior (forward) deltoids.

Good exercises for pectorals are the bench press, military press (for upper pects) and pushups.

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Biceps and Brachialis

The biceps brachii (simply biceps in common parlance) is a muscle located on the upper arm. The biceps has several functions, the most important being to rotate the forearm and to flex the elbow.

Contrary to popular belief, the biceps is not the strongest flexor for the forearm and elbow, but rather for rotating the forearm. The strongest flexor for the forearm is the brachialis, which extends from the deltoids all the way along the side of the arm to just past the elbow joint.

Again good sail handling is easier with strong biceps and brachialis muscles. This is very useful if sailing with the front hand underhanded on the boom, as most intermediate and greater level windsurfers do. The biceps and brachialis are constantly flexed as the forearm is moved forward and back to make sail adjustments.

A good exercise for these muscles is the bicep curl.

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External Obliques

The external oblique is situated on the lateral and anterior parts of the abdomen. It is broad, thin, and irregularly quadrilateral, consisting of several serrations that attach to the rib cage.

Along with the abdominals these muscles contribute to a strong and stable core, which is essential for proper carriage, posture, and most importantly, balance. They also help keep the back straight which prevents back pain or injury.

Good exercises for the external oblique are crunches or sit-ups.
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Internal Obliques

The internal oblique muscle is the intermediate muscle of the abdomen, lying just underneath the external oblique and just above the transverse abdominal muscle.

These muscles aid in contracting the lower abdomen for breathing. They help to twist the trunk and bend from side to side. This muscle is another core muscle, contributing to good balance and proper carriage.

Great exercises for internal oblique are the dumbbell side bend, side bridge, and crunches.

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The quadriceps, or quads, is the group of four muscles on the front of the thigh.

The quadricep is the strongest and leanest muscle of the human body, and is responsible for the extension of the lower leg as well as the abduction of the hip (lifting of the leg from the hip). They are essential for walking, running, jumping, squatting, and windsurfing.

The back leg of a windsurfer is almost always bent. To maintain the bent knee position the quadricep must be tensed. Furthermore, exerting pressure against the fin at high speeds is accomplished by the extension of the knee, and the constant flexing of the quadriceps.

If the quadriceps are not stretched or in otherwise good condition, a high wind session can result in a tear (the author has some unpleasant first hand experience with this).

The primary exercise for the quadriceps is the leg extension. Squats are also very useful.

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Tibialis Anterior

The tibialis anterior is a muscle that originates in the upper two-thirds of the lateral surface of the tibia .

It allows the foot to dorsiflex, or decrease the angle between the leg and the foot. This is a very important action for controlling the pitch and roll of the board, as well as make good use of the foot straps. When planing up wind, the front foot is often flexed outward against the strap.

There are several exercises for this muscle. One effective method is to walk on your heals. Another is to stand against a wall with the legs straight, and raise the toes off the ground repeatedly.
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Adductors (Thighs)

The adductor longus is the large muscle of the inner thigh.

It allows the legs to draw together. This is very useful in windsurfing for good foot work, and water starting. When water starting with one leg on the board and the other in the water, the leg must be brought inward to draw the board under the body.

Lunges are a very good exercise for the adductor.

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The abdominals or abs for short -- are a group of muscles located on the front of the body between the ribs and the pelvis. There are four pairs of upper abdominal muscles and a large triangular shaped portion for the lower abdominals.

The abdominals, in conjunction with the internal and external obliques, keep the body upright and in balance. The core of the body is where everything comes together. In windsurfing, this helps to keep the body rigid, the back straight, and maintain good balance. Strong abdominals will always yield an overall improvement in performance and technique.

There are dozens of exercises for abdominals such as the tried and true sit-ups and crunches in all their variations.

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The rhomboids are two sets of muscles, the rhomboid major and the rhomboid minor, that act on the shoulder blades (scapulae) and connect to the upper spine. They serve to pull the shoulder blades back which act on the position of the upper arm. They are also what keeps the shoulder blades stable and in place.

In windsurfing, strong rhomboids keep the upper back in proper position, they help to pull the rig toward the body, and they keep the shoulder blades stable.

Good exercises for rhomboids are the shoulder squeeze, seated row, and rhomboid pullbacks.

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Erector Spinae (lower back)

The erector spinae runs from the sacrum at the base of the back bone all along the spine.

This group of muscles keeps the spine in place, and allows rotate the back. This is an essential group of muscles among windsurfers.

Lower back pain can ruin a windsurfers day. Windsurfing in and of itself rarely causes back pain if the right technique is used. Some beginners may struggle with this when the sail pulls the trunk forward, or when trying to uphaul a sail. A strong erector spinae can prevent lower back pain and help with uphauling, regaining control of an ornery rig, or picking up and hauling your gear on the beach.

Good exercises for strengthening this muscle group are the hyperextension, the good morning, and the dead lift.

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The hamstring refers to the large muscle on the back of the leg consisting of the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris.

The hamstrings act upon two joints, the hip and the knee. The hamstring helps to extend the femur in-line with the hip, as well as pull the lower leg inward. This is a very important function when waterstarting and pulling the board to a position beneath the body. It also helps maneuver the back leg along with the quadriceps, which must be flexed to make corrections with the back leg the primary maneuvering mechanism at high speeds.

The glute-ham raise is a great compound exercise for this group, while the leg curl is an extremely targeted exercise. Squats are always a good exercise for all the upper leg muscles.

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Trapezius (trap)

The trapezius muscles or traps form a diamond shape in the upper back. They provide support for the upper shoulders, shoulder blades, and upper spine.

In windsurfing, the traps help keep the lower neck and upper back in good posture, and can prevent injuries to the shoulder blades, neck, and upper spine in the event of a nasty wipe-out.

Common exercises for the traps are shoulder shrugs and upright rows.

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The triceps is the three-headed muscle on the back of the upper arms. It is mostly responsible for the extension of the elbow joint.

Windsurfers frequently need to extend the arms to sheet out or move the rig forward to change the airflow over the sail. Free-stylers who sail back-winded before initiating a maneuver often push against the sail, which stresses the triceps far more than sailing conventionally. The same applies for some jumps, such as the push loop.

An example of targeted triceps exercises are the cable push-downs and lying triceps extensions. Compound exercises that hit the triceps are the pushup, bench press, and military press.

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Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

The latissimus dorsi, meaning 'broadest muscle of the back' is the larger, flat, dorso-lateral muscle on the trunk, posterior to the arm, and partly covered by the trapezius on its median dorsal region.

The lats form the ditinctive V-shape of the upper torso. The lats primarily control the retraction of the arms from above the head, towards the back of the body, as well as the inner rotation of the shoulder blades. Secondarily they assist the deltoids and rotator cuffs with extending the arms over the head.

In windsurfing the lats are one of the most important muscles. Windsurfers are constantly pulling the boom toward the body, not pushing. To establish a plane sailors will often hang from the boom to release weight from the board to allow the sail to power up. This downward pull is established by tensing the lats. Also, as the body changes position the shoulder blades are often rotated; another important function of the lats.

The best exercises for lats are pullups or chin-ups, along with bent over rows and pull-downs.

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There are several dozen muscles of the forearm. The muscles include all the flexors and tensors for the digits, the rotators for the hand, adductors, and tensors for the wrist and hand among several others.

In windsurfing the forearm muscles are among the most important. If there is any muscle group that can keep a sailor on the water for long periods of time it is the forearms. Gripping the boom is the main reason for this. If the harness lines are perfectly balanced, and the board is on a straight reach with little to no maneuvering, the sailor should be able to relax their grip on the boom. But over half of windsurfing (even in slalom) is maneuvering, water-starting, sheeting in and out, adjusting to chop or waves, dealing with gusts, jibing, tacking, or pulling off tricks, all of which require an iron grip on the boom.

Strengthening these muscles will vastly increase your endurance and time on the water, and sailors should take the opportunity to exercise the forearms every chance they get.

Some very effective targeted exercises for the forearms are wrist curls - often done with barbells or dumb bells. A good compound exercise that will include the forearms is chin-ups or pullups, and wrist curls can also be accomplished while hanging from a bar if no weights are available.

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Gluteus Medius

The gluteus medius, one of the three gluteal muscles, is a broad, thick, radiating muscle, situated on the outer surface of the pelvis.

When the leg is extended in-line with the body, it serves to move the leg away from center or laterally as well as rotate the leg. This muscle also helps keep balance when standing on one leg. This is important in windsurfing as most of the windsurfers weight is usually on the back leg, sometimes the front leg, but rarely do people sail with their weight equally distributed. It also is good in water-starting as one leg must often be extended laterally to reach the board.

One great exercise for this muscle is the lateral leg raise, an exercise often practice in martial art warm-ups.

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Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial of the three gluteal muscles. It makes up a large portion of the shape and appearance of the buttocks.

When the gluteus maximus takes its fixed point from the pelvis, it extends the femur and brings the bent thigh into a line with the body. After windsurfers establish a plane, they often stand up to a more erect position by using this muscle. This muscle is also useful in water-starting or beach-starting, and uphauling the sail.

Squats are a very effective exercise for this muscle.

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Gastonemius and Soleus (calves)

The gastrocnemius and Soleus are what make up the calve muscles. Theses muscles are primarily for moving the foot around the ankle joint, and secondarily assist the hamstrings and quadriceps at the knee joint.

This is a very important muscle group in windsurfing. The foot must constantly be pivoted from the ankle to affect the pitch and roll of the board, usually to keep the board flat on the water. Toe and foot pressure is exerted against the rails when maneuvering and turning. This subtle flexing is what allows control over the board.

Standing calf raises are a tried and true method for strengthening this very important muscle group.

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On 2011-07-01, wavetrust25 wrote:

Windsurfing is a great sport for those who want to relax and have fun but it is also demanding for those in search for performance. Very interesting article. Now I see that windsurfing is quite an workout too. here you can find more windsurfing resources, like articles, gear reviews, destinations and so on.

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