Seven Training Lessons from Professional Sailor Jimmy Spithill

This summer in Bermuda, the Australian-born sailor will lead Oracle Team USA’s bid to retain the oldest trophy in international sports. The 37-year-old’s secret to staying on top? Stepping away from the boat.

Cross-training in other sports keeps Spithill fresh. (Steven Lippman)

Spithill has been a fixture in the America’s Cup since 1999, when at age 19 he was the youngest helmsmen ever to compete in the event. He went on to win it in 2010, becoming the youngest to do so, and won again in 2013. He’s an avid boxer and paddleboarder, and he occasionally flies planes with the Blue Angels and the Red Bull Flying Bulls. This summer in Bermuda, he'll lead Oracle Team USA in a face-off with the winner of the qualifying races, which begin May 26. 


On Staying Well-Rounded: “Cross-training with other sports helps me use muscles that might not get exercised as much on the boat, and there’s a mental benefit to pushing yourself in a different environment. It keeps me fresh and motivated.”

The Mental Game: “It’s important to get the brain engaged when you train. We’ll do CrossFit-style workouts that ­in­corporate a grinding machine, similar to the hand pedestals that power the yacht. Once we reach maximum heart rate, we’ll do puzzles on iPads or play simple children’s games.”

The Importance of Interaction: “You can learn a lot from interacting with athletes in other sports. We did some work with Nascar pit crews and saw them drilling over and over with those children’s games.”

Why He Boxes: “I do a lot of boxing. It forces you to be light on your feet, and it’s a fantastic form of cardio that isn’t as high impact as you’d think.”

The Importance of Rest: “I struggle with rest and recovery the most. Avoiding injury is about education—you’ve got to learn your limits.”

His Latest Splurge: “I just got a stand-up hydrofoil board. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something new about the boats we race while I’m out there paddling.”

Getting Away: “The guys I race with all have other interests. Most of my ideas about the America’s Cup come to me when I’m nowhere near the boats.”

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