The training for a racing driver
Special Aerodynamics: Lesson 10
Motorsports: aerodynamics, racing and physical endurance: the training for a racing driver.
It may seem superfluous to train physically for a sport that uses the car as its own vehicle. If much progress has been made both in the development of the aerodynamic technique and in the search for engine performance, as well as chassis performance, the same cannot be state for the physical preparation of the driver.
Only recently, specialized centers and real training models arose and reference texts have been developed on programming motorsports activities after and before the races. The driver is first and foremost an athlete. In fact, the physique is subjected to a great deal of effort inside the car.
So, having many muscles is not equal to have a great endurance skill. Also, a muscle hypertrophy would not go well with the narrow passenger compartment of the cars. For this reason, the search for enduring strength is the basis of a Formula 1 driver’s training. Aerobic endurance and the functions of the cardiovascular system are also related to this, which are influenced by various factors, such as the type of track, the weather conditions, the car available and the characteristics of the race.
In particular, a driver must not make only a mental effort, but he has also to resist physically to the strong lateral and horizontal accelerations. The driver is “fixed” to the seat by safety belts which allow him to remain anchored to the car and better withstand the stresses, but his head, arms and legs are not tied to the car and, therefore, it is necessary to keep them trained to counter these forces. The muscular effort of the neck, the lumbosacral area and the arms, due to sudden curves, horizontal accelerations caused by energetic restarts and powerful braking, also involves a high heart rate. If normally a trained subject has a frequency of 60 beats per minute, there are peaks before and during the race of 190 beats per minute, with an average of 160 beats. Cardiac activity is however affected by the rise of body temperature. During the race, depending on the circuit and weather conditions, in addition to the flame-retardant clothing and the heat of the passenger compartment, the drivers have an excessive sweating which causes the loss of even 4 kg of liquids.
This often forces them to use a thermal bottle containing water and mineral salts to hydrate during the race.
The drivers, from Formula 1 to Rally, therefore need specific work in the gym to face the races during the championship year. And the driver activity – as mentioned – is not only physical, but also of very high tension and concentration. To be physically prepared, the typical effort of a competition must be recreated in the gym, in order to “structure” the body and the muscular endurance of each part of the body. Particular work must be carried out for the neck muscles, extremely stressed to keep the head perpendicular and close to the headrest (because of the frequent shaking), for the shoulders and for the arms that control the direction of the vehicle and they also need to a specific resistance, in addition to a fundamental aerobic work to prepare the body for an exhausting effort where several liquids are lost.
It is during the winter that the driver must devote most of his time to the preparation phase, to achieve a high level of organic and muscular condition and consequently to be able to maintain it during the competitive season where, races, tests and commercial commitments do not allow to have an adequate period of time for the improvement of the physical characteristics.
In the gym, overloads are used to train the muscles of the upper and lower limbs, the abdominals and the entire back-lumbar part of the spine; elastic bands are used to strengthen and lengthen the neck and cervical spine muscles, trying to reproduce the same type of load present when driving a racing car.
On average, 5-6 weekly workouts are devoted to sessions in the gym with overloads, alternating work to increase strength, varying between the different types of muscle contraction, or setting up Circuit-Training sessions with weights or free body; so that we can develop all the physical characteristics without neglecting the preventive aspect.
- Head and neck training: during a car race, the driver’s cervical section is subjected to longitudinal stresses (such as when the driver’s center of gravity rises against the force of gravity due to the impact on a curb) and above all of the type transversal (due to curves and sudden braking). We must add that the mass of the helmet constitutes an additional weight for the neck muscles too, which must bear forces of about 3-4 G (*), which affect the body hundreds of times during each race.
(*) G stands for earth gravity and 4G means that the body undergoes accelerations equal to 4 times its normal weight
The best solution to limit the damage to the cervical tract is given by the specific training of the neck muscles, through an athletic preparation carried out with front, rear and lateral flexion exercises of the head and with retropulsion exercises of the same. To increase the load, it is necessary to perform the movement in a horizontal position (prone or supine), in order to work against the force of gravity. Afterwards the same exercises can be performed wearing the driving helmet or with the help of elastic bands.
- Training shoulders and arms: the upper limbs are those that have a more direct contact with the stresses that the ground transmits, through the wheels, to the steering wheel. The forearm of the driver is subjected to continuous vibratory stresses that induce him, during the entire race period, to maintain a strong basic contraction of the arms, which is significantly emphasized during steering, forcing the driver to repeated workloads of about 30-40 kg. In addition to all the classic strengthening exercises for the shoulders and arms, the training of the upper limbs includes, for example, the lateral and frontal raises, the curls with dumbbells and the French press with the barbell, also specific strength resistance exercises for the forearm muscles. For the latter, low or medium loads are used, inserted in a context of exercises such as: back and palm flexion of the hands, driving simulations with outstretched arms holding small dumbbells, circumvention of wrists with the “Power Ball“[check here if you want one] (balls that contain a gyroscopic system that tends to increase the load as the circling speed increases), etc…
- Abdomen-Back: when the human body is in an upright position, the lower limbs, especially if flexed, can act as shock absorbers for almost all those stresses that are transmitted in the “head-head” direction, ie in the longitudinal direction of the axis body. On the other side, when we are sitting or lying down, the legs cannot play the role of shock absorbers. It will therefore be all the other body structures, buttocks, abdomen and spine, to absorb the strong vertical stresses deriving from the vibrations of the machine and the sudden jolts that it performs during the race. This involves a heavy overload on the structures of the spinal column, which can be partially alleviated, if the musculature used to support the spine is tonic and functional. Therefore, the crunch exercises (simple or with rotation) for the abdominal tract followed at the end of training by unloading exercises for the spine cannot be missing.
- Aerobic training: during the “Formula” races, the drivers’ heart rate remains around 110-160 beats per minute, with maximum peaks of around 190 beats during the moments of most intense psychophysical stress. The increase in heart rate is due, in fact, more to emotional states rather than to a real physical workload. In fact, motor sport disciplines are accompanied by a strong emotional component, which determines particular involvement of the nervous and endocrine systems, as well as of the cardiovascular system. The training of the drivers must include aerobic work sessions, which allow the heart to be always ready for sudden loads, responding in the best way, whatever the origin of the triggering stimulus. For this purpose, a heart rate monitor will be used to monitor changes in heart rate during work, which must be kept at values of 120 – 160 bpm depending on the type of training chosen (continuous or interval). To avoid boredom situations, it is good to use various methods: outdoor running and on runner bike in indoor and outdoor versions. The training in the ergometer is very useful, which allows us to perform an endurance exercise for the muscles of the upper limbs.
- Motor-postural control systems (visual, vestibular and proprioceptive): they are not part of the muscle groups, but they are also particularly involved in motor racing, despite limited movements. In fact, the visual system is directly connected to the reference points and the motor response of the pilot during the race. The greater the training to the visual stimuli, the better the responses to the stresses they offer. The workouts based on response times are very interesting: when one or more lights come on, the athlete must push various buttons corresponding to the color of the lights, at increasing speeds. The involvement of the vestibular system is also not marginal in motor sports. This is in fact activated by large movements with sudden movements, typical of gymnasts, divers and drivers, in fact. The preparation for the race must include specific training also for this control system.
- Simulator: it is an innovative training system for all drivers, dedicated to learning circuits and increasing cognitive / receptive skills using the most modern simulation and control technologies, developed thanks to the precious collaborations and team consultancy, Car manufacturers and drivers. The simulator is mounted in front of a curved screen of 4 meters in diameter and 2 in height Full HD for a total immersion that virtually reproduces the track, wheels and suspension of the single-seater giving the driver the impression of being really on the track.
The single-seater is in fact equipped with setups for the regulation of numerous parameters of the set-up and has extremely plausible behaviors: tires and brakes must be warmed up as real and they follow the relative consumption, off-track excursions are penalized with the need to slow down for clean the tires and recover their grip as well as, in the event of a collision with the barriers or curbs taken too firmly, damage to parts of the car with relative stop or bending of the suspensions and detachment of wings. The system aims not only to improve lap times but also to improve perceptions by putting stress on the mind and body, making maximum concentration and maximum reaction speed necessary.