While working onboard a superyacht sounds like a fantastic opportunity to travel the seas and explore the world, beyond the surface there’s a lot of hard work. Crew can easily be on their feet for up to 16 hours a day, with owners and guests who expect nothing less than the highest standards.
Unlike those in a classic 9 to 5 office job, the average day for yacht crew involves a significant amount of physical work: standing, running around, lifting heavy loads, or long hours of repairing and cleaning.
Learning how to prevent injuries and keep your body as safe as possible is important for all crew members wanting a long term career in yachting.
What are the most commonly-injured body parts by crew members?
When it comes to working on a superyacht, there are three parts of the body which experience the most wear and tear:
• Lower back: due to lifting heavy loads with improper technique, or bad posture, for instance, while housekeeping, painting or cooking.
• Upper back, neck, shoulder pain: either in combination with the lower back problems or performing due to one-sided overworked muscles, and muscle fatigue.
• Foot and toe injuries: mainly caused by working barefoot, typically cuts and broken toes.
"I just pulled my back..."
They say that you are as old as your spine, and it's your everyday habits keep your spine fit and flexible, or harm it. Nowadays, eight people out of 10 experience back pain at some point in their life, so it's no wonder that it's the leading cause of movement-related workplace disability in the western world.
The human spine is exceptionally durable - unless a person experiences a major trauma, the problems are due to inappropriate everyday movements. The spinal disk is built up by an inner gel-like centre called nucleus pulposus, and an outer ring known as anulus fibrosus. The latter is very durable and consists of collagen fibers in concentric circles, so when in a neutral position, the spinal disk gets equal pressure from all directions and functions correctly. Movements performed in poor posture, though, are possible because the spinal disk itself does not have nerves. It takes up to thousands of incorrect moves before one actually feels pain. This can lead to chronic back problems like disk protrusion or herniation at any part of the spine. The pain occurs when the 'slipped disk' irritates the nerve root.
As such, back problems in most cases don't come from one single movement, but decades-long misalignment.
Barefoot on deck?
Depending on the vessel you are working on, you may or may not work in deck shoes. Despite the potential for toe and foot injuries, working barefoot has several benefits for you.
The sole of your foot is one of the most nerve-rich parts of the body, and so walking barefoot affects your brain by sending sensory feedback that we could not get when wearing well-cushioned shoes. It develops a better brain-to-foot connection, and simultaneously you improve motoric functions, proprioception, posture and body balance.
TIP: Walk barefoot on uneven ground to benefit more from the above mentioned.
How to keep your body safe during work
Improper technique in everyday routines pays a heavy toll on your body. Let's have a look at the most typical working activities and options to change the movement pattern.
Lifting and carrying
• Before lifting: make sure the load is evenly balanced. Stand close to the object, legs hip-wide apart, to help your balancing. Engage your core muscles and only twist your spine when in a neutral position, and there is no bending involved, for example, when picking something up from the ground.
• During lifting: bend your knees while keeping your spine in a neutral position. Lift it with the help of your thigh and gluteus muscles. Keep the weight as close to your body as possible.
• Putting down: the same way as when lifting, bend your knees, not your back.
• Lighten the heavy load and ask for help when needed. You may be able to lift heavy once, but back injuries can take a long time to recover.
One-sided movements, such as painting, cleaning and food-chopping
• Change position after a prolonged time spent in one position, especially when using one side of your body. Give your muscles a little break to prevent muscular imbalances and overworking.
Vacuuming, mopping and dusting
• Set the extension handle of the vacuum cleaner/use long-handled mops to keep up an upright position. Let them work for you.
• Bend the front knee and keep your spine elongated to avoid bending it.
How to improve fitness to prevent injuries onboard
1) Proper technique in everyday movement
Having to lift heavy objects is one of the most common things that can happen to you. With the right technique, you are saving short-term pain and having a chronic problem or hernia later on.
2) Mobility work and yoga
Muscular imbalances are not only caused by the lack of strength and one-sided movement, but also by the joints' limited range of motion. Connect your movement with conscious breathing to release tension more effectively and increase oxygenation.
3) Self- myofascial release (SMR) with a foam roller
Using a foam roller is an effective way to relieve muscle tightness and reduce tension. Trigger points are painful spots on the body, which can reflect broader areas in more distant places of the body as well.
Tips & tricks:
• Make sure you acquire the right technique. Talk to a professional and learn the basics.
• It is going to hurt: Go easy on foam rolling with light pressure, and listen to your body.
• Start slow with 10 seconds rolling each larger area. Then increase it to 30-60 seconds.
• To reach smaller parts around your shoulder blades, use a tennis or golf ball. To massage your soul, place your foot on top of the ball and start rolling it.
4) Lie with your legs up the wall
While it might sound strange, this relieves tension in the lower limbs and the hip region within a few minutes after prolonged standing, walking. It facilitates venous drainage, increases circulation, and helps against muscle cramps and swollen feet.
To do this, simply bring your hip as close to the wall as possible and elevate your legs. If needed, place a pillow under your hip. Place your arms to the side of your body and relax for a few minutes. Continue with pointing toes/ bending feet and drawing circles with your toes. If there is no wall around, lie on the ground and lift your legs with straightened knees, keeping your legs and hips at 90 degrees.
5) Functional training
This is an holistic approach that aims to train multiple muscle groups and multiple joints at once. Start with making yourself familiar with the right technique of the basic movements like push-ups, crawling, lunges, pull-ups, plank variations. Use your body in multi-directions and add twists, turns, jumps, and uneven surfaces into your training program.
The key is the strengthening of the neuromuscular system, improving coordination and the core muscles lead you to decrease asymmetric movement patterns and finally minimizing the risk of injuries due to losing balance.
TIP: Motivate your crewmates and challenge each other. A workout together improves teamwork as an additional benefit.
6) Massage therapy
This is an excellent way to release tension in your body, improve circulation and help with injury recovery, such as soft tissue strains.
Finally, think about your body as an investment.
"Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." Jim Rohn
For more information, please contact Reni from Balance & Core at:
About Reni - Balance & Core
Reni is a freelance Yoga teacher, Personal trainer, Dipl. Health Improvement Manager with 11 years of teaching background. She is internationally trained, and over the past decade, she has been conducting various fitness and wellbeing programs in living in six countries on three continents.
Reni lives on the French Riviera and gives private yoga and fitness lessons at the place of choice, corporate health improvement programs, and organizes workshops, outdoor classes in the area. She teaches on yacht charters in the Med region and overseas, to make the holidays onboard to a wholesome experience. As a health professional, she emphasizes the holistic wellbeing of her clients. Besides the physical aspects of a lesson, mindfulness-based techniques help to calm the mind.
Images: Balance & Core, Pixabay, Unsplash