If you know me, you know that I’m a big believer in wind tunnels for skydiving training and practice. But one thing we don’t talk about enough when we discuss wind tunnel flying: fitness. To get the most out of wind tunnel flying, you need to start out with a high level of fitness. You should work your way up to longer sessions, little by little.

Many people visit wind tunnels for fun, and that’s great because they are a really good time. When you’re in a wind tunnel for the first time, there is a lot going on and it can be hard to remember that it is more than a novelty, it is a serious competitive sport.

Physical Strain in a Wind Tunnel

During regular skydiving, your body is exposed to the powerful wind resistance of freefall for 40-60 seconds. Skydivers develop muscles to handle this ‘short-term’ loading. Inside the tunnel, even in short sessions of 1:40 (100 seconds) the load experienced on muscles is much higher, and your body is working much harder, which can result in a lot of soreness/muscle fatigue.

Factors Affecting Resistance in the Tunnel

People who visit tunnels for training camps are usually less experienced flyers looking to learn new skills and maneuvers. For these students, being stiff while flying is normal because new positions require a lot of focus and concentration. This stiff flying is extremely hard on the body and it is important to get enough rest time to recover.

Pro flyers trying to refine their moves in the tunnel are more accustomed to the positions and sensations, and they are able to stay relaxed while tunnel training. These folks can easily fly an hour a day and might make less experienced folks think it looks easy. A major problem with trying to put in too much time too fast is that once you’re fatigued, your tunnel time loses value because you aren’t improving, you’re just trying to maintain.

Strategies for Wind Tunnel Success

When I did three months of wind tunnel training at iFly Utah a few years ago, I did a slow progression, starting with only 20 minutes a day and resting on the weekends. I added 10 minutes each week until I was flying 50 minutes a day five days a week, and then I eventually added another day. Even progressing slowly, this was really hard work!

Many people travel to do a week to ten days camps where they fly 60 minutes each day. I do not recommend doing this unless you are able to really prepare yourself for it physically. One thing you can do to prepare is to run. Another thing is lifting weights and using machines in a gym that target parts of your body that you will be using in the tunnel. Building a strong core and creating shoulder stability will help you the most.

Even though a wind tunnel is relatively safe, there are still ways to injure yourself. Most injuries happen on exit if you pull yourself to the door rather than flying up to the door or when you hit the wall too hard. Things like this are more common if you are tired, which is another reason to take your time; don’t push too hard too fast.

What I Do Today

Today I’m fortunate to have a wind tunnel 3 minutes away from my house in Spain. Here in Empuriabrava, we have Windoor. I’m regularly training with Josh O’Donoghue, Mauro Jasmin, Max Heindfelder and a few other experienced skydivers that I fly once in a while.

I discovered that wind tunnel flying is a very hard sport and all athletes need physical preparation and should also stretch before and after each session. Injuries can happen easily if we are not used to that kind of muscle workout.

Before each session I always stretch. I do a few exercises that relax the muscles on my shoulders, neck, trapezius and teres major. I use a small mat, yoga ball, foam roller and a wooden wall bars as well. Some basic yoga sequences are a great way to prepare for action.

Besides that, I always try to warm up my body doing a few aerobic exercises that help me activate my muscles and joints. I’m join a stretching class in a pole dance school nearby. A friend told me that magnesium also helps with muscle pain. I started taking it and apparently I feel less pain.

After the tunnel session, or between sessions, I rest a little bit and get back to stretching. It’s very important to do that–especially if you are not that young anymore (like me).

I’m not a physician

Remember that I’m not a doctor and no one else here is a doctor, so if you need specialized help, please look for a physician. We are not responsible for your health or injuries that you might have.

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