The problem with motor sport is that, particularly in cars, the sport looks relatively… dare I say… easy? Compare the physical effort seen on a rugby pitch or a tennis court for example, you cannot watch those or similar sports without being impressed with the sheer physical effort being on display. I understand that… and that is why for 20 years now I’ve been batting away the comments from people not involved in motor sport who say, “You don’t have to be fit to race cars do you?”
Of course, any athlete in any sport needs a decent fitness level to stand a chance of success; the better the physical fitness, the more physically and mentally capable the athlete will be. The problem is race drivers don’t help themselves by the choices they make when wanting to be fit and during the last 20 years I have seen some horrible training programmes conducted in the name of ‘race driver training’.
Generally young drivers fall into two groups… all cardio training… or nothing! There seems to be a fear of strength training because of weight gain… but that is a misunderstanding most drivers, parents and team managers have of strength training. An athlete can easily train for strength without gaining weight… gaining ‘muscle’ weight is only done when any athlete lifts too much weight, for too many reps, for too many sessions a week. I call that the ‘CrossFit’ phenomenon but more of that in a minute.
There is nothing wrong with cardio training… if it’s done properly. Which immediately rules out a treadmill. The problem with any treadmill is that the surface on which you run and therefore land on, the belt, never ever changes. The result is that the forces through the foot, ankle, lower leg bones, knees and hips simply never changes. When force is repeatedly placed on precisely the same bony sites, there will be -in time- stress and change… but not for the better. Even if you were to pop some trainers on and go for a run outside (right now!), on pavement, on roads etc., because it’s very rare that pavements or roads are acutely level, therefore uneven or with a camber, the way the foot strikes the running surface will be slightly different with each step. This will spread the load more evenly across different parts of the foot, ankle, lower legs, knees and hips, making it a much better option for those who use running as a training tool… BUT only in decent running shoes.
After running, the most common cardio methods I see are cycling and swimming, either on their own or as part of a triathlon type of training programme. There are some simple rules to follow here too, yet most drivers don’t seem to want to follow them. Cycling, on or off-road, great though it is, requires a good riding position. Go and have a bike-fit done at a bike store that offers them. Bar position, seat height, saddle position are just some of the key areas that need to be addressed for an efficient riding style that doesn’t tighten up the neck, shoulders, lower back and hips. AND don’t forget a helmet. Likewise, when swimming, seek out a coach either at the local pool or online. The internet is teeming with coaches and swimming videos that teach the importance of a good stroke, steady rhythm and breathing patterns. Without this advice, drivers develop tight necks, shoulders, back and (if a keen breast stroke swimmer) sore knees. I’ve seen it countless times.
Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve seen young drivers do CrossFit. Please. Don’t. Young athletes must do strength work, starting certainly by 12 years of age… not weights, but strength. They mustn’t, however, do too much high intensity work, in bad form, with little rest, with movements that are too ‘large’ with big weights… this is known as CrossFit. All it does is keep me in the rehab business due to poor shoulder, spinal, hip and knee health. Interval training once a week, through a general circuit, is fine but it must be a measured approach and all too often I see drivers getting ‘smashed’ in the name of training. If it’s interval training you want, learn squash, or badminton, two great racquet sports that benefits reactions, encourage hand-eye coordination and provide terrific calorie burn as well as teaching key physical movements.
Next time we’ll discuss strength work because every athlete needs strength training. When it’s done right, it is the best way to develop a more injury resistance body and a far more durable athlete. When it’s done wrong… it’s pretty ‘ugly’…
Rehab Conditioning Coach
Porsche Human Performance
Author: Gerard Gray
Gerard Gray – Rehab Conditioning Coach for Porsche Human Performance. Fitness Editor for Junior Torque