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Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Fighting fit for your GT trip

Flat on his back - JC was well prepared but well worked over

So you have bought all your lures, expensive rods are packed, Stella or Dogfight is freshly spooled and you are off on the trip of a lifetime to arm wrestle with one of the most powerful fish in the ocean - the mighty giant trevally.  Everything is set, the weather looks great every contingency is taken care of, but have you planned for everything?  What about a crucial link in this man v's fish contest?? - you! If you have cast all day for GT's and wrestled on a tight drag with even modest fish you will understand what we are talking about - too often the unconditioned end up sitting it out in the tropical heat, taking extended breaks because the body is not up to the extreme rigours - what a shame, on a dream trip you should be fishing not watching others fish. There are quite a few factors that make GT fishing physically taxing.  Without getting too technical, here are a few of the issues working against you performing optimally:
  • High end top water gear designed for GT popping despite the technology is still relatively heavy.  A maximum / sub maximum cast with a 140 to 200 gram lure repeated 200 / 350 times a day will leave you pretty well sapped of energy even if you are reasonably fit.  As well as the fatigue, there are overuse injury considerations depending on your individual casting style  
  • Each cast will require sustained physical effort to retrieve and 'work' the lure (this effort will vary on lure type and your own approach), again fatigue and repetitive rotational movements come into play
  •  When hooked up to a rampaging GT, the long rod + or - 8 foot (vital to cast) then acts as a large fulcrum against the angler.  Combined with the heavy drag pressures necessary to keep your prize off the reef, this effectively pulls the rod down and away from you (bad leverage and uncomfortable), placing massive strain on your spinal erectors (lower back), hamstrings (back of your upper legs), glutes (butt), latisimus dorsi (the large muscular 'wings' on your upper back) and the parts that hang on, hands, arms, shoulders.  On a decent fish with good technique the legs can be the prime mover and make the whole event more comfortable and strain can be reduced.  With poor technique and inadequate conditioning you are going to be pulled forward out of your 'seat' and hurt - not in a good way, almost to the point you can be pulled forward on to your nose on the deck - not the desired result
  • Unless you are fortunate to live close to good GT action, it will usually mean you have flown in and may be jet lagged, dehydrated, not acclimatised to the tropics and humidity and dare I say it, potentially hung over
  • and finally - heavy 'popping' is a movement that utilities that WHOLE BODY.  Using just your arms alone is a sure fire way to cut you day short, just as ONLY popping to you dominant side is likely to end in overuse injury.  Fatigue can be managed  to an extent by casting both sides and popping both ways, (left and right).  Continually casting and or popping to one side is asking for extreme tightness and potentially spasms.
It is no secret, that the more long powerful casts you can make and stay alert to making your popper or stick bait come alive, the better chance you have of hooking that trophy fish.
Our friends at No Boundaries Oman know about as much as anyone around about catching these giants and preparing your body for it - Ed Nicholas (No Boundaries skipper), Ben Thomson (Sports and Conditioning Coach and PT) from Brisbane along with John from Ebb Tide Adventures - (a physical training instructor and GT junky with 20 years in the fitness industry) have combined their thoughts along with input from others.  We collectively believe that the three biggest challenges you will face - repetitive casting heavy popping gear, really working the lure especially chuggers, and fish fighting can all be prepared for and your GT popping experience can be more enjoyable and productive.

The whole purpose of this blog is not to show anyone how good we are (or not) but to help you prepare for your trip, enjoy it and get the most from it.  In accepting this philosophy that you should condition and train for a GT top water trip of a life time, correct fighting techniques must be mentioned so that the conditioning exercises make some degree of sense to you if you are not from a training background.  Take a look at Ed Nicholas locked in battle with an Oman monster GT ~

 
Perfect to prepare for GT battle
Notice how Ed used his upper back and legs to fight the fish, keeps his arms relatively straight for large parts of the fight to reduce fatigue on what are small muscle groups and he really gets down low, bending his legs and almost sitting down when the fish plays up?  It gives him some comfort (and helped him not fall over forwards) - this is a great demonstration, and an idea of the conditioning exercises you might concentrate on to achieve this degree of control.  Technique is paramount, use your whole body to fight the fish not just your arms, so train the whole body!   



Add a few hundred long casts in the tropical sun
The training ~ to prescribe a one size fits all fitness regimes for GT fishing is actually not possible.  The intricacies of our our age, demographic, genetics, previous conditioning, athleticism, previous or susceptibility to injury and medical conditioning make this impossible to do.  Our training needs are likely to be as individual as we are.  For example a less physically strong or lighter angler will require plenty of strength training, and conversely many overweight and larger anglers require cardio because they are 'naturally strong' anyway.  Of course the ideal is to combine a good dose of both, it’s impossible however to prescribe specifically over a blog.  What we can do however is offer you some broader concepts that we will dissect and explain why you might consider them necessary to add to your own program.  Armed with this information, you may choose to 'take away' and refine your own program or better still work with a trainer to achieve your goals. If you are coming off a low base to begin with, regardless of age we all need some general conditioning before training specifically, and if you are sedentary and have been so for some time you really have some work to do but it will be worth it.  This general conditioning should be part of your regular training program leading right up to your trip as well as the specific conditioning we discuss as well.

Swell adds to the casting challenge
General Conditioning (GC) - Overall as a philosophy we favour compound exercises - those that recruit / engage multiple joints and muscle groups with an emphasis on mobility and 'functional fitness'.  Many GT fisherman firmly believe that some specific isolation exercises are warranted as well, we don’t necessarily prescribe too strongly to that theory, but specific injuries may dictate that this is necessary for you individually.  Cardio training should always be part of any conditioning program.  It warms up the muscles and builds an aerobic base - this will assist with your endurance both in training and whilst fishing.  Try any combination of jogging, cycling, rowing, stair climbing or skipping, a block of at least 20 minutes or a combined total of at least 20 minutes is a great start.  Our personal tip is running and rowing.  

Olympic lifts - worth considering
Specific Conditioning (SC) – If you have been GT fishing for a while and have been engaged in a general conditioning program you may be after a more challenging program, here are a few thoughts.  The overall training program will change to an extent however the approach to training should change significantly.  Employing the philosophies and general methodologies behind Cross Fit or circuit training of perpetually changing the workout between aerobic exercise, gymnastics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weight lifting will get you very well-conditioned and strong.  These workouts are a challenge when you work against the clock.  Add or substitute exercises involving kettle bells, a balance board or a TRX suspension trainer and you will soon tame any monster. 


Onto the exercises - Leg strengthening ~ the legs and gluteus are prime movers when it comes to GT fighting and need to be strong and able to endure a static squat to relieve pressure on the lower back when a fish lunges under the boat.  Legs also help power off cast after cast as the weight transfers across to the front foot.  Front squats, lunges, and dead lifts are the best leg general conditioning exercises by far.  Romanian Dead lifts and any form of single leg work is an excellent idea for advanced practitioners.  Rarely do we get a chance to stand on a boat that is still, and singling out each leg with exercises that also require stabilising muscles to provide balance can help unleash new found power.  Single leg squats and lunges with or without the use of a wobble board will exponentially increase your ability to transfer and apply power on a rocky boat deck.  Overall reduce any temptation to use isolation exercises such as leg extensions that do not significantly aid the functional conditioning you should be seeking. 

Time for a strong back
Back strengthening ~ in fish fighting the aim is largely to maintain pressure on the fish whilst reducing pressure on the lower back.  Despite this goal, in the GT world this is not completely avoidable especially with vertical fights so the back must be strong to protect it especially if we end up in a bad position with a fish right under the boat.  Chin ups, seated and bent over rows and hyper extensions are very good as well as dead lifts (which recruit the lower and middle back muscles as well as the legs are a must include exercise).  The deep stabilising muscles can again be recruited by adding in exercises that allow pulling movements across the natural pulling plane similar to those that occur in a GT fight – one arm cable rows or one arm TRX rows are good examples of specific advanced exercises.

TRX suspension trainers - perfect for the time poor
Core conditioning ~ an enormous aspect of protecting the spine and preparing for the rotational forces in casting and working a lure for sustained periods are the deep abdominal exercises: traditional sit ups, medicine ball twists, twisting crunches and planks are excellent for general conditioning but when moving into functional training that mimics the rotational forces of GT popping and power transmission required, standing exercises are superior.  The oblique’s and transverse abdominal have a massive role to play and standing rotational work like roll-outs, landmines and wood-chops are incorporated not only for their ability to target the right muscle groups with an increase in muscular co-ordination directly related to popping technique.

The frontal upper body ~ this area has a reduced role in this sport fishing application however it is not a complete passenger.  As part of injury prevention it must as a minimum be conditioned to balance out the other development occurring: push-ups or bench press, upright rows and military press are applicable exercises.

Dead lifts are one of the most fundamental lifts
Whole body exercises ~ these exercises are really the focus of our GT training philosophy.  We are big fans of the Olympic lifts, in fact we love them.  Dead lifts have already been mentioned, however the clean and press and snatch are amazing exercises that recruit almost every muscle in the body and bare strong resemblance to the casting and fighting movements.  Master these and you will be plenty strong enough.  These lifts should all be learnt under the guidance of a fitness professional and performed strictly to avoid the chance of injury.  There is no need to let the ego make you lift heavy, lift right and the weight increases will come in good time.  If you can’t see yourself doing Olympic lifts, at least add burpees into your program with a medicine ball or sand bag. As part of a general conditioning program any additional work that includes yoga or Pilates and specific rotator cuff strengthening using physio bands is highly recommended.  A training program that combines the above exercises with the cardio is a great beginning.  As always, we recommend 'lift light to lift right' to avoid bad practise and injuries, make certain you are lifting with good technique (consider employing a trainer), it will pay off and your posture will improve in the process.  Aside from actual physical conditioning, take your gear to a waterway and get used to casting it, even if it’s in a freshwater lake.  

Even if you don’t train (and if you do) remember these points:
  • get to your destination ahead of time to acclimatize
  • rest up, get some sleep – a minimum of 8 hours per night otherwise the accumulated fatigue is banked (decreases physical repair) up which results in watching the fishing.
  •  hydrate, remember electrolytes and take a drink every thirty minutes while fishing
  • a magnesium supplement is recommended not only for its muscular relaxing / building / sleep improving / performance enhancing qualities but because magnesium plays a vital role your daily physical / fishing activity and it's in a scaled ratio.  The more you train / fish- the more you need! Its benefits are almost too good for the fisherman to ignore
  • consume high calorie meals and don't deprive yourself sugar when on the boat - its instant energy
  • take steps to avoid sunburn, use zinc, high protection factor sunscreens, hats and long sleeved 50 plus clothing
  • remember some anti-inflammatory / pain killing nonprescription drugs.  If you are susceptible to sea sickness remember your medication and adhere to the directions to avoid disappointment
  • trigger point tools like a tennis ball / spikey-ball / or spine roller (small one) are vital for fisherman athlete maintenance. I have never been on a trip where everyone wasn't tight from muscular overuse. Triggering main areas can have you fishing more, fishing with more movement and less aches and pains. I highly recommend this item for thoracic mobility and believe it’s a must for any serious fisherman
The final word ~ It is no secret, that the more long powerful casts you can make, and stay alert to making your popper or stick bait come alive, the better chance you have of catching that trophy fish.  Dare we be so bold and suggest, that all things being equal, a fit angler will out fish an unfit one – period

Thanks to:

Ed Nicholas - skipper No Boundaries Oman
Ben Thomson, Sports and Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer - located in  Brisbane, (benjaminjamest@gmail.com)

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