Formula 1 training programs have to cover a wide base for drivers to be competitive. Controlling the cars and pushing them to the limit is no easy task.
If you’re interested in improving your racing performance (or are just curious what F1 training really looks like), this guide is for you.
When most people think of sports that require peak physical performance, Formula 1 racing usually isn't the first to come to mind. Drivers are just sitting in a car, right?
Contrary to popular belief, the body goes through a lot during a single 90-minute race. It takes some impressive strength and body conditioning to control a vehicle that's reaching speeds of over 200 MPH. Applying the brake pedal alone can require over 300 pounds of force!
On top of all that, drivers experience some intense gravitational forces. Constant cornering and braking generate five to six Gs of force in the cockpit. That's enough force to put upwards of 90 additional pounds on the body.
To put that in perspective, the only time the average person ever experiences more than one G-force is when they're on a plane or roller coaster. Most people will pass out when exposed to five G forces. Now imagine feeling that pressure on your body for a 90-minute race!
Then, you have to factor in the gear that drivers are wearing. Protective gear is essential in a dangerous sport like Formula 1 racing. Drivers have layers of protective clothing. Helmets weigh about 15 pounds alone. Add those G-forces into the mix and drivers are looking at about 55 pounds on their neck.
To stay safe, drivers have to overcome that pressure to stay upright at all times. It looks easy when you're viewing cockpit feeds, but it's no easy task.
Finally, there's the issue of heat and heart rate. With the extreme heat in F1 cockpits, it's not uncommon for drivers to sweat off around 6.6 pounds of water weight during a single race. In more humid environments, that figure can get even higher.
During a race, a driver's heart rate will rise quite a bit, too. The average resting heart rate is 60 to 100 BPM. Throughout the race, a driver's rate can get between 170 and 190 BPM. It may peak beyond 200 BPM. All of this happens over the course of two hours!
Needless to say, Formula 1 racing isn't as easy as it looks. The strain it places on a driver's body is enough to do some serious harm to non-athletes. Drivers must train year-round to keep their body in good condition. Otherwise, they run the risk of serious health issues or losing control of the car!
Endurance is a key focus of F1 training programs for drivers. High endurance levels help you undergo bodily stress for long periods. It prevents drivers from feeling fatigued during the race, ensuring that they have the strength and gusto to keep controlling the vehicle.
Many drivers implement standard forms of cardio into their workout routine. Activities like cycling, rowing, swimming, and running can raise and maintain your heart rate to build up stamina. A multi-disciplined approach is key here.
You want to work out your entire body and avoid a plateau, and cycling through different activities helps you do just that.
Rowing is particularly effective for building endurance for Formula 1 drivers. Not only does it raise your heart rate and improve cardiovascular fitness, but it also works out core muscles around the neck, shoulders, and arms.
You could also try high-intensity interval training. Perfect for short workout sessions, this training technique involves quickly raising your heart rate, resting, and repeating.
F1 racers don't perform quick bursts of physical activity like other athletes. Instead, they are using their strength to support their body over a long period of time. It also helps them perform critical movements in the heat of a race.
Strength training is crucial for a F1 driver. Trainers often develop targeted routines to strengthen key areas of the body while improving overall body strength. These workouts are typically performed during the off-season to prepare for races. They also keep the body in peak physical condition.
Here are some of the key areas of focus for strength training.
The neck muscles are, by far, the most important area to strengthen. It’s a staple of all smart F1 training programs.
As we mentioned earlier, the neck experiences tremendous force during a race. Failing to strengthen the muscles could result in potentially life-threatening injuries or the inability to control the car later in the race.
Here are some ways F1 drivers can train the neck muscles:
Cardiovascular exercises like rowing work well. You can also use free weights. One popular exercise is to hold a free weight in each hand. Using nothing but your shoulders, you can lift the weights and hold a "shrugged" position to target muscles in the neck area.
Another common exercise is to simply lay on your back and turn your neck from one side to the other. This is a safer alternative to weight-based routines if you’re just getting started. But, it's still effective nonetheless.
Range of motion stretches and chin tucks are easy to implement into your routine as well.
F1 teams often utilize specialized equipment that's designed to replicate the pressure and weight in a cockpit. While those machines are fine-tuned to target the neck muscles, you can easily strengthen your neck without them by using resistance bands.
Training the core is all about improving a racer's ability to stabilize the body during a race. The core indirectly affects a myriad of muscle groups, so keeping a tight and strong core can offer a slew of benefits to Formula 1 drivers.
Any ab-based exercise is going to be beneficial. Traditional crunches, sit-ups, and planks can work wonders to improve core strength. However, it's not just your forward-facing muscles that you need to improve.
To counteract those G-forces, you must challenge your core to hold proper hip and back alignment. The goal here is to give your core the strength it needs to resist rotation.
Several sets of side planks and leg raises can do the trick. Use a half-ball balancer to angle your body. Your core will support your position while you perform the leg raises.
The Kneeling Pallof Press is a great commonly-used F1 training exercise to try out, too. This is a unique exercise that applies constant rotational pressure. It uses a cable lift machine.
Get on your knees and position yourself perpendicular to the cable feed. Pull the cable and put your hands close to your body. Now, simply extend and curl your arms. During this exercise, you must use your core and arms to prevent the lateral pressure from turning your body.
When it comes to Formula 1 training for the upper body, there's a fine balance between strength and bulk. Bulking up and increasing muscle mass too much would be counterintuitive to the racing experience (where weight is key). The trick is to target key muscles and perform workouts that replicate the movement you would make in the cockpit.
The "sit and steer" training exercise is quite popular among F1 drivers. Not only does it target several muscles in the arms, but it also works out the core and helps build endurance.
With this exercise, you sit on a large exercise body while balancing your feet on a smaller medicine ball. This mimics the cramped quarters of the car's cockpit.
While you hold this position and work your core, hold a large weight plate like a steering wheel. You can work with your trainer to randomize the exercise a bit. Have them direct you to turn the plate as if you were driving!
In addition to specialized exercises, standard weight training is a must. Using free weights or a cable system, target muscles in the chest, upper back, shoulders, and arms. Push-ups and supine pull-ups are good, too.
Remember: drivers have to apply hundreds of pounds of force to slow down or bring the car to a halt. To do that, they need to develop impressive leg strength.
Like training the upper body, you must build strength without developing too much bulk.
Deadlifts and squats can strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and the lower back. Meanwhile, leg extensions seated leg presses can target the quads. To strengthen the calves, you can perform things like box jumps and calf raises.
There are many ways to strengthen the lower body, which is great. With so many exercises available, you can easily mix up your routine to avoid a plateau. Once you master simple exercises, you can graduate to more complex routines that include single-leg Romanian lifts and more.
While the physical aspects of racing are important, the mental side of things can make or break a race. When you're racing at more than 200 MPH, every single second counts. Even a minor delay in your reaction time could spell disaster.
Formula 1 drivers implement exercises that combine mental training with physical training. These exercises can speed up the synaptic response that occurs in your brain. The mind and body connection improves, allowing you to react to sudden events on the race track.
One easy way to improve reaction times is through a simple tennis ball drill. Position yourself close to a wall and face it. Then, have a coach or training partner throw balls at the wall from behind you.
Your job is to quickly react and catch the ball as it bounces off the wall. The random nature of this exercise constantly challenges your mind. Meanwhile, the close position forces you to use your peripheral vision to succeed.
More advanced training tools are available as well. Using Reflexion you can get comprehensive cognitive performance training in your own home. These kinds of devices are the future of F1 training, and are being adopted all over the sports performance industry.
Anything that gives you an edge when it comes to reaction time is well-worth it!
Proper F1 training requires not only discipline, but a varied and intelligent approach. The best drivers are always on the cutting edge when it comes to new exercises, and it shows on the track.
If you’re interested in taking your training to the next level and giving your reaction time a huge boost, get in touch with us here!