If you look around for a training guide you’ll find examples of what pros like Formula 1 drivers do to stay fit and a bit of history about how until the 90’s specific fitness training wasn’t really a thing. Training to gain an edge has spread from pro sports like football to just about every other sport. Cyclists used to do a bit of cross-country skiing or hiking for example. A lot of those racers did what they did because they needed the income – fitness was just a side benefit.
Many drivers still do activities like these in their off-season for recreation with a purpose. They help a driver get mentally refreshed and they get to work on things including balance and traction sensing which the best ones are great at.
Years after his retirement, 1950’s F1 driver Froilan Gonzalez, said, “In the old days drivers were fat and tires were skinny.” He retired in 1960 and died in 2013 after a long life, at the age of 90. His races were more like three hours and the braking and cornering g-forces he experienced were less intense than what F1 drivers experience today so he needed to have endurance.
As can be seen in this picture of Gonzalez he’s going to have to work fairly hard to brace himself without the benefit of harnesses or a deeply molded seat. Following on this, as the forces acting on the driver have changed the race car cockpit has evolved along with the need for higher levels of fitness. Our six-point harnesses, fitted seats and HANS devices not only keep us safer than ever, but they help keep us in place so we don’t have to expend as much energy to stay in our seats.
At NASA NE we’re recreational drivers and club racers who spend 20-35 minutes in our cars for our driving sessions and sprint races. Even though we’re not racing for three hours or enduring the multiple g’s F1 cars produce, focusing super intensely for a half hour takes a lot out of a driver, especially since we’re weekend warriors dealing high temperatures while wearing a fire-retardant suit on that doesn’t exactly breathe well. (Even with a Cool-Suit it’s hot!) Given these conditions, fatigue is the enemy just like it was for Froilan. Fatigue causes a degradation in our ability to react and make decisions. Training to beat fatigue means building endurance. Building endurance means improving aerobic capacity, flexibility, balance, mental and muscular capacity for the draining environment we play in.
In this post we’ll concentrate on balance and muscular capacity. The workout that we’ve been doing over the winter is courtesy of our friend Simon Hayes at Flow Racer. The workout that they put together (found here) covers a range of topics including neck exercises and heat acclimation as well as the circuit weight training exercise circuit that Ryan Hunter-Reahy used before the 2014 season when he won the Indy 500. The movements target the upper body and shoulders, core, and deep core muscles for strength and balance. When you look at a pro driver, for the most part, they look a bit like swimmers with developed shoulders and slimmed torsos. If you do this workout, you’ll learn how they get to look that way.
My favorite exercise is the Leg and Ankle Stability and Driving Drill one where you stand on an upside-down Bosu while holding a medicine ball like it’s your steering wheel. When balancing on the Bosu you rotate the ball as if it’s your steering wheel while you visualize driving a lap of a track. Watkins Glen takes us over two minutes to complete. The goal is to drive a lap in your head in the same amount of time as it takes to complete a lap on a real on track. In addition to working your arms, shoulders, core, legs and ankles the visualization is great practice. Kind of like a simulator experience, but better or more frustrating depending on your point of view.
Image courtesy of Flow Racers
My least favorite exercises are the TRX crunches. Looking at the picture here should give you an idea of why it isn’t any fun.
Image courtesy of Flow Racers
The point of doing this and other workouts is manifold. In addition to being better equipped to deal with the rigors of racing and track driving, even if you hate working out driving and being able to enjoy it are reasons to put some work in. Amazingly, you don’t have to spend three or four hours at the gym. This routine takes about 30 or forty minutes. If you don’t want to pay for a gym most of this routine can be done at home with a couple of barbells, a balance tool like a Bosu and a medicine ball, none of which will set you back a bunch of dollars compared to a new set of tires or brake pads, and will last a whole lot longer.