2017 as a new chapter in physical preparation

Simon Hayes

By Simon Hayes | It’s always a pleasure to catch up with Simon Hayes, personal trainer and head of Performance Physixx, a company aiming to perfect the physical preparation of athletes for high-calibre racing. Today Simon writes about what influence the Formula 1 changes of the 2017 are having on the drivers’ physical preparation and compares it all to the training for IndyCar and Le Mans.

Firstly, we should all be clear on the physical dynamics of motorsport in general. A racing driver has to be as lean as possible whilst being able to muscle around cars of varying weight and do this repetitively for more than two hours at a time. Longer if you consider The Indy 500 and Le Mans 24. Many professional racers have successfully made the jump between the different series very successfully. The 2017 Formula 1 cars are designed in a way that requires drivers to be equipped to deal with significantly greater physical stress both in terms of muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Those terms are defined as the following: muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to repeatedly exert force against resistance; muscular strength refers to the amount of force a muscle can produce with a single maximal effort; cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the heart, blood cells and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues and the ability of the muscles to use oxygen to produce energy for movement.

The above parameters are factors coaches will have considered prior to implementation of their pre-season conditioning programs. Formula 1 cars are much harder to drive now compared to last year, with also significantly greater G-Force loading on neck muscles, nearer to that of IndyCar. This involves greater strategies both in the gym and outside of it to deal with training this area. It’s important to realise that professional IndyCar drivers have been following these types of heavier weight/resistance training regimes for many years whereas previously Formula 1 racers could focus just on cardio and neck training. Interestingly, Fernando Alonso had to adapt his training to deal with muscling around a heavier car with no power steering in preparation for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Some examples of the type of exercises/circuit training used to accomplish this can involve heavy tyre flipping between a set distance, barbell clean and press from the floor to overhead 20 reps, TRX Chest press and upper back rows 20 reps, barbell standing plate raise moving the resistance from in front of the body held with arms set at 90 degrees to behind you whilst engaging the core to stabilise the entire body, along with direct core and concentration drills for the driver added in. This sample circuit could be repeated three or four times to create a training effect.

With regards to what drivers have to do to go from Formula 1 and IndyCar to Le Mans, from a completely physical standpoint you go from an open to closed cockpit (usually) which requires heat acclimation, you also have to share the car with co-drivers which can involve a compromise between what each driver requires from the car, along with the differences in the physical dynamics of seat positioning for each driver. This will involve crucial biomechanical analysis of each driver before the season starts to determine any performance restrictions with driving the car alongside fellow team members. Also developing the muscle groups required to eject from the car quickly during a pit stop is key.

The 2017 Formula 1 cars are designed in a way that requires drivers to be equipped to deal with significantly greater physical stress both in terms of muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

Simon Hayes

Obviously, racing drivers have to do all this heavy training whilst minimising gains in muscle bulk. At Performance Physixx we have arrived at a system of training that addresses this and minimises overtraining in this area. Specifically, circuit-based resistance training regimes with the inclusion of cardio-based drills within the circuit. Looking at how the body and muscles work when the driver is working paying particular attention to rotator cuff (muscles supporting the shoulder) areas and the muscles that provide support to the spine. Balance ratios within particular muscle groups is also an area much overlooked by general trainers in that mistakes on track can be caused by a driver applying force with the wrong muscles, which can lead to crucial mistakes on track and muscle fatigue. Strength exercises used will include explosive weight training lifts to deal with the G-Force experience. Also core training is incorporated as well as significantly more work for the lower body to deal with high braking loads. Examples include medicine ball rotations and single leg press for explosive power braking drills. Direct cardiovascular exercise prescription which includes mountain biking, high-intensity hiking and cross country skiing, particularly with environmental acclimation, is crucial.

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