Controlling a vehicle while driving down a dirt track at 140 km/h, cutting the bends, and making long jumps, is more than just sitting in a car. Drivers need to build strength, endurance, and a high level of responsiveness and focus. It can be hard to maintain all of these attributes if there’s no race coming up. That’s why the off-season is time to hit the gym and work on improving overall fitness. Let’s take a look at some useful exercises.
The off-season is when you lay the ground work
When you’re racing there’s not much time for long sessions in the gym, bicycle rides, or other sports. You have to keep your prep short. The off-season is where you have time to branch out and build a level of fitness that will support you for the coming season and help you prevent injuries. Here are the best exercises and sports for each category of fitness you should focus on to get the most benefit for the time invested.
It’s essential to train your endurance appropriately to your actual race time. For example, if you’re driving for 3 hours straight multiple days in a row at each rally you need to mimic that in training. Cycling is a popular way to build endurance because you can easily get multiple hours in the saddle. Running works well too and rally drivers sometimes add swimming and turn to triathlons to build a great endurance base. Aim for 2 – 3 endurance sessions a week.
Deadlift and squat are probably the two best exercises for building overall strength. Adding a pressing and pulling exercise for the upper body makes that a very comprehensive baseline program. To build strength you need to lift heavy weights and do a low rep count, that means 1 – 5 reps in about 5 sets. If you also want to improve strength endurance then make it 10 sets or more and shorten rest time to 20 – 60 seconds between sets, while keeping the weight heavy and reps at 5 or less.
Deadlift is one of those basic exercises that everyone should do in the off-season. It’s essential to learn proper technique, develop a good hip hinge, keep a straight back, and knees aligned with toes. It will strengthen legs and glutes, helping drivers be more efficient when braking and to maintain a controlled posture while sitting down.
Squats will work the glutes, hips, quads, hamstrings, and core. If you don’t have a coach or aren’t well acquainted with a bar bell it’s best to start with a goblet squat where you hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands as you squat. There’s a lot of info on squats out there if you’re unsure about how to do them properly, check out this video.
Press and pull
The two most common exercises for this area, push-up and pull-up, also happen to be pretty much all you need. You can alternate between them after each set, they complement each other well. Always focus on your shoulder blades being tucked and your body straight. You will build strong shoulders which is important for good posture and upper-body endurance in the car.
Core stability is the key for most physical activities and motorsports are no exception. Doing the previous three exercise will help but adding planks and dead-bugs will target the core specifically and improve your stability.
The plank is a great exercise because you can do virtually anywhere at any time and it engages your abs, lower back, and shoulders. First work your way up to a 1 minute continuous plank with proper technique and then start adding variations. Try lifting legs one at a time or doing side planks to increase difficulty and work different aspects of your core. Check out this video to fine tune your plank.
If you get comfortable doing the basic dead-bug try adding a light dumbbell in each hand. It’s a fantastic exercise that builds strength and stability through the shoulders, engages your core, and keeps your glutes active. It’s a great exercise after long periods spent in the driver’s seat.
Speed and responsiveness
It’s best to leave specific exercises for your vision, speed, and responsiveness for the season where you need to really sharpen these skills. For the off-season it’s a good idea to pick up squash or badminton. These sports will contribute to your overall fitness, build your hand-eye coordination, and test fast reactions. And they bring a bit of competitiveness to your life which is always welcome.