Types of exercise & important top tips

A balance of the three following types of focused exercise can help you stay well at sea:




Endurance training

Endurance training is also called aerobic exercise.  It includes activities that increase your breathing and heart rate such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, rowing, etc.

Building your endurance is important and can reduce the risk of many conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  It also makes your everyday physical activities easier to do, whether it is watches in the engine room, climbing up and down the pump room stairs or working on deck.

Health organizations recommend we get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week (i.e. 30 minutes, 5 times a week).

If you move around a lot at work getting plenty of steps, you are already doing some aerobic exercise.  However, it is still important to supplement your fitness levels for example playing basketball, table tennis or doing another activity that gets your heart pumping and releases those ‘feel good’ chemicals!

Endurance top tips:

Gradually build up endurance exercise, especially if you haven’t been active for a long time. Start out with 10-15 minutes at a time.

Warm up before any activity e.g. 5 minutes brisk walking or another low intensity aerobic activity like jogging on the spot.

Cool down after any activity e.g. 5 minutes stretching, brisk walking or another low intensity aerobic activity like jogging on the spot.

Focus on your breathing - do not hold your breath;  breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Stay hydrated during exercise

Listen to your body - hold off on exercise when you’re sick or feeling very fatigued.

Strength training

The stronger and healthier your body is, the longer and more safely you will be able to complete tasks which are physically demanding.

Strength training is also very important and can help you keep your muscles healthy at any age.

Building muscle and bone strength can improve your quality of life, help prevent painful conditions such as sore back, knees or shoulders and help manage the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions such as diabetes and depression.

You do many physical jobs onboard - moving equipment on deck, shifting spares in the engine room, maintenance with mechanical tools and spanner, rigging pilot ladders, storing operations or cleaning the accommodation – and strength training can improve your ability to do these jobs safely.

Strengthening your core muscles helps with movements that involve bending, reaching, pulling, pushing and twisting.  Exercising to help keep your upper and lower body muscles strong also helps with other physical tasks (e.g. loading stores and equipment) and helps prevent injuries.  Manual labour jobs often involve putting pressure on the muscles, bones, and joints over and over again, so this is very important.

Health organizations recommend we do moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity e.g. body weight or resistance / weight training at least twice a week, in addition to the recommended endurance activity.

Strength top tips:

Check with a medical professional before starting strength training if you have a chronic condition e.g. diabetes, heart disease etc, or if you’re older than 40 and you haven’t exercised recently.

Warm up before and cool down after any activity e.g. 5 minutes brisk walking or another low intensity aerobic activity like jogging on the spot.  Stretching is a good way to cool down.

Focus on form, not weight - when learning a strength training routine, many experts suggest to start with no weight. Line your body up correctly for each exercise and move smoothly through each one.  When using weights, move slowly and control the way you lift them up and put them down (do not just drop them!).

Choose the right weight - this should be a weight or resistance level heavy enough to make your muscles feel tired after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Slowly increase the number of sets / repetitions (for bodyweight exercises), weight or resistance, when you notice you can very easily do a certain exercise.

Remember to breathe - do not hold your breath; breathe out as you lift, push, or pull, breathe in as you release.

Rest at least one full day between exercising each different muscle group, to give your muscles time to recover.

Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during exercise.

Listen to your body – do not exercise when you’re sick or feeling very tired.

Flexibility Training

Flexibility training stretches your muscles and helps you to bend and twist for exercise as well as for daily activities onboard.  Whether you need to sit at a desk for work or move around tight spaces, flexibility exercises increase the blood flow to your muscles and may help you reduce the risk of physical problems.

Better flexibility helps your muscles to work more effectively too, which may increase your performance in physical activities. It may also help you avoid feeling uncomfortable when in a space for a long time e.g. a long plane journey.

Flexibility training includes stretching exercises to lengthen the muscles and could include activities like yoga or Tai Chi.  Many people just do a few minutes flexibility training at the end of their endurance or strength training, for example by stretching to relax muscles and improve range of motion (how far you can comfortably extend your joints).  You can also take a few minutes in the morning when you get out of bed to stretch and / or before you perform any physically active duties on board to help get your body ready.

Flexibility top tips:

Check with your doctor / physical therapist / a medical professional about the best way for you to stretch if you have any health concerns.  If you have a health condition or an injury, you might need to change your stretching techniques e.g. if you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause more harm.

Warm up before stretching e.g. take a relaxed walk; even better, stretch after your endurance or strength training when your muscles are already warm.

Use correct stretching techniques and try to move smoothly – stretch in a slow and relaxed way.

Focus on major muscle groups e.g. calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders.  Make sure that you stretch both sides equally.

Hold each stretch for at least 30–60 seconds and keep any movement smooth, do not bounce or make sharp, rough movements.

Do not force a joint more than is comfortable – stretch to the point of tightness but avoid pain or a lot of discomfort.