The Routine - Lisa McDonald, round-the-world yacht racer

We worked hard at our backs, arms and chests. On a boat the lower body is just a base
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The Independent Online

What kind of fitness do you need on a boat?

A lot more than you'd think. Obviously you can't run on a boat, so the majority of the strain is on the upper body – you have to be physically strong to haul up sails, turn the winches at a good speed and haul other people up the mast to do repairs. We are racing as well, so we are on the go 24 hours a day, albeit in a shift system. In rough seas or strong winds it is a lot harder to manoeuvre sails or even steer the boat. Sails are big and heavy and need to be carried, pushed and hauled by brute strength.

What shift system do you operate?

Generally we do six hours on, six hours off during the day, and reduce that to four on and four off during the night. The rotation system means that we get plenty of sleep unless there is a major drama, or repairs need doing during our off-watch. When you are not on watch you just eat and sleep.

How do you train for raising sails and winches?

Our crew had a personal trainer to work us in the gym to build up the strength levels. We did about one-and-a-half hours a day and tried to make the exercises similar to the actual motions we would be doing on the boat during the race. Other than that, it was all standard exercises like bench presses. On the boat you have to remember that the lower body is there to create a solid base; the effort and power all come from the arms, shoulders, back and chest, so the training worked those areas hard.

On the boat you have to work when the boat is pitching and yawing. How do you prepare for that?

That is a test of balance and familiarity. We did a lot of jumping up and down on one leg, lunges, squats and balancing exercises to try and develop strength, and therefore stability, in the legs.

How do the conditions affect your strength?

Naturally, you feel a lot better in a shirt with the sun on your back. The cold and wet are the worst, particularly as those conditions are normally accompanied by strong winds and heavy seas and you have cumbersome oilskins on, which restrict your movement. When it is cold we don't sit still in one position because we would freeze and stiffen up; we tend to keep moving. You get thrown around in rough seas, and end up with bruises and bashed heads. We have a medic on board, but for most aches and bruises it is a case of grin and bear it.

With no luxuries on board, what is your staple diet?

We have pre-prepared freeze-dried packets of food specifically designed to replenish the calories burned. On a racing yacht a sailor can burn anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day, so the food is loaded with carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. Our sachets on this race have been specifically designed for us – they are a bit spicier and nicer than the usual, and we will supplement them with carbo and protein drinks.

Will you have a big party when you reach Cape Town?

Not really. We are scheduled to be in port for two weeks, and in that time we will have to work on repairs that are necessary and generally prepare for the second leg.

Interview by Iain Fletcher See the Sportsweek back page for up-to-date images from the Volvo Ocean Race

Next week: Mark Steinle, marathon runner