How an Eastport personal trainer gets sailors ready to conquer the water

Harry Legum, who teaches fitness to sailing buffs, has heard the query before. What do sailors need to know but how to swim?

The answer: Nothing, really, if you’ve got a plush, push-button yacht with an automated crew. But what’s the challenge in that? For purists, sailing pits muscle against Mother Nature. Popeye didn’t get bulging forearms just from eating spinach.

“The ‘buzz’ you get from being on the water has always been magical to me,” said Legum, of Annapolis. But that high can come at an arduous price. It’s Legum’s job to prepare clients, whether casual or competitive sportsmen, for the rigors of sailing.

His studio, Annapolis Sailing Fitness, at the Eastport Yacht Center overlooks Back Creek and the Severn River. It’s a stunning vista — not that Legum’s pupils can savor it. For each 50-minute session ($90-$125), they sweat like deck hands, lifting weights, tussling with a cable machine and struggling to keep their balance while standing on a Bosu ball — in effect, mimicking chores they’ll do on the high seas in anything from a one-man dinghy to a 68-foot sailboat.

“People come in here and suffer,” said Legum, 54. “I follow [football coach] Vince Lombardi’s thinking: The harder training is, when you’re out on the boat and the wind is blowing 20 knots and everyone else is exhausted, well, you’ll be that much more ready.”

The workouts are harsh but helpful, said Henry Filter, 57, a competitive sailor who has trained with Legum twice a week for more than a decade.

“I’ve left his place so tired that, going down the steps, I have to hold onto the handrail because my legs are so wobbly,” said Filter, a financial adviser who lives on Kent Island. Come race day, he may compete in four or five grueling one-hour sprints in his 23-foot J/70 sailboat.

“The training helps me maintain a high energy level throughout the day,” he said. Moreover, the tough conditioning sharpens Filter’s focus.

“Sailing is a very cerebral sport, like playing chess. You’re reacting to the wind, water and competition,” he said. To that end, Legum’s fitness drills hone one’s ability to multi-task.

“I do balance work on a Bosu ball [a dome-shaped half-ball] while lifting weights, so my brain is constantly moving,” Filter said. “In a race, your muscles can’t lag behind your mind.”

Legum’s recreational clients run the gamut, from 9-year-old wannabes to sail-savvy octogenarians intent on hanging onto their nautical pasts.

“Their knees may be giving out, but they want to be able to get off the dock and still enjoy their boats,” he said. “They exercise here so that [on the bay] a gust of wind won’t beat the hell out of them and they can still play with their grandchildren the next day.”

About seven of 10 clients are male. Legum has trained husbands and wives (“It strengthens a marriage when you suffer together,” he said) as well as men who want to impress their girlfriends.

“Those thoughts flutter out the window after the first workout,” he said.

World-class sailors seek Legum’s help to keep their edge. For nine years, Annapolis resident Marie Crump, onetime member of the Danish Olympic team, has sought him out between international regattas.

“Harry pushes you to the limit, but you walk away happy that you did it,” said Crump, 41, who owns a software company. “Sailors talk about ‘getting your head out of the boat,’ which means being able to focus on perfecting tasks and maneuvers without worrying about trying to catch your breath.”

The workouts, Crump said, make that physicality a given.

Balance and agility top Legum’s worksheet.

“You’ve got to be like Tevye, in ‘Fiddler On The Roof,’ ” he said. “If you’re a casual sailor out to cruise, you must be able to balance that glass of wine while going to the head. And if you’re racing on a blustery day and the boat is pitching like crazy, you better darn sight have the agility and a good cardiovascular system to hoist lanyards and grind winches.”

Fifteen years ago, Legum opened his studio — he calls it a “boatique” — on the cusp of the Chesapeake. It was, reportedly, the first in the world to cater to sailors; a handful of others have opened since, in Florida, California, Great Britain and France.

A native of Bay Ridge, he took sailing lessons early on, in a five-foot craft called a turtle.

“It was like a bathtub with a sail,” he said. “Once, in the water, I barely got out of the way of the Harbor Queen [a 65-foot tour boat]. It got my attention, for sure.”

After graduating from Annapolis High School, he served as a paramedic in the Army, then worked as a physical trainer in Atlanta before returning to Maryland to meld his two loves.

“I dig what I do,” said Legum, surveying the rowing machines, exercise bikes and a punishing leg press. He has worked with Olympians and prospective Navy SEALs, as well as college teams from Stanford and St. Mary’s (Md.).

“He’s one of us, so he understands what we need to do,” said Marty Roesch, 48, of Fulton. A racing enthusiast, Roesch began training with Legum last summer, three days a week, to prepare for an endurance event in Australia in December.

“Imagine trying to move around, at night, on a boat tipped 20 or 30 degrees and smashing through waves in nasty weather,” said Roesch, a cybersecurity strategist. “You come back all beat-up and bruised. It’s a full-body workout the whole time you’re out there.”

Legum cannot replicate such conditions in his 1,200-square-foot studio.

“I can’t put a wind tunnel in here and spray water on people,” he said. “But I know what they go through, and there’s a predictability as to what they need to work on.

“Truth is, the only way to learn sailing is to get on the boat.”

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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