Speed Secrets: Preparing Your Body for a Race Weekend

By Ross Bentley

March 29, 2014

My last article dealt with aspects of driver (physical) training. This time, my focus will be on suggestions for how to prepare your body for the rigors of the race weekend, whilst at the track. Flexibility is defined as "range of movement and mobility around a joint." From the racer's perspective, preparation of the body before entering the car can have many implications to performance. These considerations for flexibility and physiological preparation will be in my mind when I prepare David Cheng and his fellow Oak Racing Team drivers during this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Firstly, most Formula One physical therapists have done the same thing year-in and year-out: massage to death. This is great, but an overly-relaxed driver is not a good thing, physiologically. I recommend performing flexibility and mobility movements. This both promotes movement within a joint complex and also provides a small raise in heart rate, above resting levels.
For instance, Ryan Hunter-Reay performs mobility exercises for hips and glutes in the pit lane prior to getting into the car on a race weekend. It can become part of a driver's ritual for preparation, as much as making sure everything is discussed and checked off the list with one's engineer. At last year's Long Beach Grand Prix, those staying at the hotel inside the track will have seen me in the gym with my clients, going through structured flexibility routines prior to in-car sessions in the Indy Lights series.
In 24-hour events for sports car drivers and the Indy 500 for open wheel drivers, being locked into a cramped position for long periods can negatively impact flexibility.  This impacts a sports car driver's ability to fire muscle fibers needed to move out of the driving position in a driver change. For an Indy Car driver in the 500, having to constantly maintain this seat position for 500 miles requires much preparation beforehand. In this case, flexibility and mobility to prevent a loss of concentration due to muscles tightening and cramping are very important.
These concerns can cross over to club racing and track day drivers, so I will detail a flexibility routine, somewhat like the individual routines we construct for our pro drivers.
Areas needing consideration are:
  • hips
  • glutes
  • hamstrings
  • calves
  • low back
  • shoulder and arm mobility
Let's detail some actual exercises and movements you can put into practice in your own track preparation:
Scorpion exercise, lying down.
Lie face down with arms fully spread out to sides (see a video of this, here). Keeping non-target leg and hip planted on ground, bend target leg to meet hand of opposing side of body.
Do not force an overstretch as the idea is to feel the stretch in glutes, low back, and hips. Hold finish position for around a five-count.
Standing glutes:
(Can be done in pit lane, prior to entering seat position).
Place target leg across other knee as shown (see photo below). You can hold onto a wall or other stable structure. Sit back as if going to sit in a chair; you'll feel a stretch in the glute of the bent leg. Repeat other side.
Lie on your back with towel or resistance band wrapped around instep of foot (see photo below). Apply pressure by pressing target foot into towel or band. Release pressure and draw target limb towards chest. Repeat this process another two to three times this side, then move to opposite side of body.
(Can be done standing in pit lane against the wall)
Hold onto a wall, place target foot against wall in front of other foot (see photo below). You'll feel tension in back of lower leg (calf). Repeat other side. For greater tension, move upper body closer to wall/or structure you're using to stretch calf.


Low back (or 90/90 Stretch):
There is a huge variety of set-up positions for this stretch, from sitting to lying down. The most effective way to promote lower back mobility is to lie down with target knee bent to 90 degree angle (see photo below). Non target knee remains straight, then open up the chest, while placing non-target hand on target knee, holding it down. Do not force anything and stretch to own comfort level.


Shoulder and arm mobility:
Perform arm rotations with straight arms, forwards and back. This allows all rotator cuff muscles to be mobilized prior to getting into the car. Indy Car fans may have seen our client Oriol Servia perform this exercise (without clubs) in the pit lane, just prior to getting into his car. It forms part of his physical pre-race warm up; it's as important to warm up the athlete who pilots the car as it is to warm up the race car! (the photo below shows the exercise performed with 3 lb. Indian Clubs).
For professional race drivers, the importance of flexibility improvement is to allow technical development of skills required in the car (skill acquisition). More importantly, for gentlemen drivers, it will help prevent injury. Many exercise programs our clients have followed, prior to coming to us at Performance Physixx, involved a lack of stretching and mobility. It is often only included as an afterthought by many physical therapists and strength coaches.
- Simon Hayes
(Many thanks to Performance Physixx coach Erin McFarland for her help with this article. Thanks also to professional photographer Jill Squires and Erin McFarland for photo credit.)
Facebook: Facebook.com/pages/PERFORMANCE-PHYSIXX/97897356757
Twitter: @sipphysixx
Website: performancephysixx.com
Exerpted from Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets WeeklyFor more tips and additional articles on the art and science of racing, click here to subscribe.