Speed Secrets: Fitness Evaluation & Training Plan

By Ross Bentley

February 07, 2017

Last week, Simon Hayes and Richard Smedley of Performance Physixx wrote about nutrition for performance and race drivers. This week they're back to finish up our pre-season tune-up of the body with some fitness training advice.

Enjoy! Then go work out. - Ross

As the new race season approaches, drivers start to think about how they need to prepare for the coming season. A great number of factors need to be considered, but one of the most important involves physical preparation and more specifically, physical fitness level. The real question is, "Where do I start?"

We will look at how fitness relates and contributes significantly to enhanced performance in the race car.

In previous articles, we have looked at the actual exercises chosen. This article will focus more on the steps to evaluate your current fitness and exercise level in a simple format you can use at home. This will enable you to decide on a program focus.

A. Determine a base fitness level from a simple fitness evaluation:

Usually this can be done by a fully-qualified fitness professional in a gym or human performance center, however, the following is how we approach this at our UK-based training camp. You can incorporate this in a home setting:

1.The Bruce Test or simple treadmill testing. Designed to evaluate cardiovascular performance, the Bruce Test is a clinical treadmill stress test. The purpose was to diagnose patients with suspected heart diseases, and the results would point to possible coronary problems. Today, this physical fitness test is also used to measure VO2 Max, or maximum oxygen intake, among athletes. You begin on the treadmill at a manageable pace and incline. At certain intervals, both incline and treadmill speed increases until your threshold is reached. This is a good test to use for drivers, as it is easy for an individual to implement at home or the gym.

2. Harvard Step Test. Also a test for cardiovascular function, this test can easily be administered at home. All you need is a 12-inch high bench or box to stand on, and a stopwatch. For three minutes, simply step up and down the platform at a steady pace. Then time how long it takes for your heart rate to normalize. The shorter the interval, the better your cardiovascular condition is. This physical fitness test is also known as the Cardiac Stress Test or Cardiovascular Endurance Test.

3. Beep Test. This test is commonly known as the Bleep Test or Shuttle Run. Some also refer to it as the Pacer Test or 20-meter Shuttle Run Test. To start this test, cones are placed 20 meters apart from each other. You then run to and from each cone, according to recorded beeps or bleeps. A specialized Bleep Test CD may be required for this. The intervals between bleeps get shorter, thus requiring you to run faster. This physical fitness test is generally used to measure VO2 Max. It's also an indication of your endurance and aerobic energy.

4. Vertical Jump. This is another test that you can do at home with very minimal requirements. This is used to determine leg muscle strength. It is sometimes called the Vertical Leap or the Sargent Jump - named after American physical education pioneer, Dudley Sargent. To perform the test, you attempt to reach the highest point on a wall by jumping. Only use this test if your lower body is not injured in any way.

5. Muscle Endurance. Muscle endurance is defined as a muscle’s ability to perform repeated multiple contractions over time until the point of fatigue is reached. Muscle endurance for a race driver requires an analysis of the particular type of driving the driver will be engaged in. The greater the steering loads and g-loading, the greater level of upper body muscle endurance required to be addressed by any program (e.g. IndyCar drivers currently face the highest g-loads and steering loads placed on the human body), and endurance of the neck muscles required. The following is a sample of the type of tests relevant to motor racing drivers and are generally for the whole body:

  1. Push-up test over one minute using perfect exercise form or 15 rep maximum dumbbell press with a set resistance (can be done on a variable resistance machine).
  2. Abdominal sit-ups or crunch test using perfect form over one minute where a protocol for starting each rep and completion of a full rep can be made.
  3. Timed bridge/plank movement using perfect form until form is lost, at which point test is concluded.
  4. Pull-up test or pull-downs or alternative TRX bodyweight rows using perfect form over one minute

6. Flexibility. This involves an evaluation of the range of motion for a particular joint complex, i.e. some of the most important areas for drivers to evaluate are the hip joint, hamstring flexibility, and low back. A good exercise for this is to lie face up, flexing the target leg while the other leg remains on the floor. Flex hip until you feel stretch in the hamstring of target leg. A subjective evaluation by someone else observing the stretch is the simplest gauge of the individual’s flexibility; a rope or other marker can be used to measure the level of flexibility at the hip joint on both sides. See the image above.

B. Design of the fitness program and how to develop progression:

The design of the program will be affected by the results of any evaluation and the timing of driving events, plus the ability to reach a required goal by a particular time. It is a good rule of thumb to determine priorities for the program, i.e. improve cardio fitness or increase muscle endurance in upper body as two separate examples. The parameter the driver struggles with the most should be given the priority within the periodized training plan.

With a measured baseline established, the key is to see improvement over time in all areas, and especially the weakest ones.

(Periodization is the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition/s of the year, Arnd Krüger (1973). Periodization or Peaking at the right time, in: Track Technique 54 (1973), pp.1720- 1724).

- Richard Smedley & Simon Hayes

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