Some days the wind is perfect, some days there isn’t enough to sail, and some days there’s too much wind for America’s Cup teams to sail in Bermuda safely, so what does a team do when they can’t take their boats out on the water?
To find out, we spoke to Craig “Oscar” McFarlane, ORACLE TEAM USA’s Physical Performance Manager, who, as part of his remit, leads the team through the sort of punishing exercises that replace on-water training when the winds aren’t right. As well as his overview of what the team does under his direction, Craig also offers advice for mere mortals who want to stay as fit and healthy as possible, but he started out by explaining how ORACLE TEAM USA approach non-sailing days.
“I always have a weekly plan for non-sailing activity. When we sail it’s normally the afternoons which are a conditioning session for the sailors anyway, but the usual schedule for when we can’t sail is double training days on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with strength training in the mornings and conditioning in the afternoons, so it replicates our sailing program. On Wednesdays and Fridays we’d have a single session on conditioning in the mornings and look to integrate beach runs, swimming and maybe some paddling as well. That’s a pretty full on week, but we’d also look to do Saturdays as well, so when you think about that as a full week without sailing, it’s quite a lot of work for the guys, and that’s just one week. I plan the programs on a five week cycle and look to build up their workrate in everything they’re doing over the five weeks.
“This is all if there’s no sailing, and obviously there is a lot of sailing here in Bermuda as the conditions are so good. Chuck the sailing schedule back in and that replaces the conditioning sessions in the afternoons. The sailors all have heart rate monitors and we’re looking at a lot of performance data so we know how hard they’re working. After a sailing session we can add in more conditioning work if needs be, to top them back up to the level required, and that's why it’s so useful having all the data from their physical performance.
“The guys who don’t sail aren’t let off the work, instead they’re with me doing more pretty hard sessions with me, and that’s where they make their gains. It’s a small group and they’re all very focused and work very hard on those days.
“The really big thing is you have to grind. You can’t escape that so I have two key grinding sessions each week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, purely focused on grinding. What we’re trying to do with that is push their thresholds, their maximum performance levels as high as possible, from 85% to 90% and higher, pushing the curve right, getting their tolerance to lactic acid as high as we can.
“Mondays are a bit of a hybrid day with a bit of grinding and a bit of rowing and running and then we’ll unload them from grinding on Wednesdays and Fridays when we’ll try to do more water based work.
“Really though it’s fun!”
Scott Tindal, ORACLE TEAM USA’s Head Physiotherapist and Team Nutritionist also plays a key role in managing the physical and mental wellbeing and performance of the whole team and he explained how the team prepared for the recent Christmas break, seeing their athletes heading off for vacation and away from the watchful eyes of Craig and Scott.
“We are working with professional athletes so we have no concerns about seeing them head off for a three week break over Christmas. They were all given personal development programs and they all know what sort of food and nutrition they should be taking on board. Obviously they’re going on holiday and they need a break so we tell them to enjoy themselves but to make sure they don’t undo the last year and a half of training. But they’ve all come back in really good shape so we’re happy."
Craig and Scott obviously work with professional athletes, and the sort of regimen they have outlined for the ORACLE TEAM USA crew is designed specifically to maximize their performance on the America’s Cup boats they race, but Craig also has advice for the person on the street who wants to up their fitness levels.
“I’d say the best thing to do to achieve better fitness is look at nutrition and consistency in whatever fitness training you are doing. People think that doing a long run will help them lose weight, and that might be the case, but thinking carefully about what you’re eating is one of the key parts of losing body fat, and adding in strength training as well as the conditioning. People think that they’ll put on weight if they’re focused on strength but that’s not right - if you do the right strength exercises you’ll burn more calories than if you just go running.
“So for me, it’s about having a regimen, sticking to it and making sure you are mixing up the right nutrition, strength and conditioning exercises. Do more short intervals with short recovery sessions, don’t be afraid to get your heartrate up and be consistent!”
So that’s pretty simple but highly effective advice from professionals. You might not race an America’s Cup boat, but if you follow Craig’s advice you can certainly help achieve your own health and fitness goals.