With new rules mak­ing for­mula one cars faster and heav­ier, teams have been up­grad­ing their most cru­cial com­po­nents: the driv­ers. At McLaren’s HQ, these changes are in­spir­ing train­ing in­no­va­tions that prom­ise to fast-track strength and en­durance gains for

Men's Fitness - - Features | Ricky Whittle - Words Mark Bai­ley

The glass and steel build­ings, fu­tur­is­tic lab­o­ra­to­ries and high-tech work­shops of the McLaren Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre in Wok­ing, Surrey, home of the McLaren-Honda for­mula one rac­ing team, evoke the ex­cit­ing al­lure of tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion. But some of the most cut­ting-edge de­vel­op­ments are tak­ing place not in the cars but in McLaren’s state-of-the-art fit­ness cen­tre. A ma­jor shake-up of for­mula one reg­u­la­tions this sea­son has put the fo­cus back on the strength, en­durance and agility of the driv­ers. With new reg­u­la­tions mean­ing that body­work and tyres are now wider and heav­ier (to boost the cars’ down­force and grip on the track), F1 cars are three to five sec­onds faster per lap and around 20kg heav­ier than last sea­son, mean­ing driv­ers have to be stronger and sharper than ever.

“F1 driv­ers have to be highly con­di­tioned to tol­er­ate the rigours of rac­ing at speeds of over 300km/h,” ex­plains Si­mon Reynolds, driver per­for­mance man­ager at McLaren Ap­plied Tech­nolo­gies, who over­sees the phys­i­cal train­ing of Spain’s for­mer dou­ble world cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso, ex­cit­ing Bel­gian star Stof­fel Van­doorne and, in his new ad­vi­sory role at McLaren this sea­son, Bri­tain’s 2009 world cham­pion Jen­son But­ton. “The faster and heav­ier the ma­chine, the more stress and load the driver will ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Al­though the McLaren team has had a slow start to the 2017 sea­son, there’s no doubt its driv­ers are some of the fittest on the cir­cuit. Steer­ing a 722kg car at speeds of over 300km/h is hard

work: dur­ing races driv­ers burn 1,400 calo­ries, lose up to 3kg of their body­weight and work at 80% of their max­i­mum heart rate for two hours. On cor­ners they en­dure forces of 5G – the equiv­a­lent of hav­ing 40kg of weight tear­ing at their neck and shoul­ders – and ev­ery brak­ing ma­noeu­vre feels like ex­e­cut­ing a heavy gym lift. “Imag­ine do­ing leg presses with 100kg on one leg – that would give you some idea of what driv­ers have to do ev­ery time they brake,” says Reynolds.

To pre­pare the driv­ers, McLaren has de­vel­oped new phys­i­cal train­ing regimes which mir­ror the foren­sic de­tail and pre­ci­sion of its aero­dy­namic re­search and car teleme­try sys­tems. Ev­ery de­tail of train­ing is care­fully planned – from the or­der, tim­ing and phas­ing of gym work­outs to the im­por­tance of psy­cho­log­i­cal re­cov­ery and the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ben­e­fits of re­ac­tion-train­ing drills. The same at­ten­tion is seen in the driv­ers’ di­ets, from the blood­flow-boost­ing polyphe­nols in their morn­ing blue­ber­ries to the antiinflammatory prop­er­ties of the gar­lic in their post-work­out stir-fries.

“It’s in the last 15-20 laps of a race when the fit guys get the ad­van­tage,” says Alonso, who as part of a pre-sea­son pro­gramme once com­pleted 936km of cy­cling, 91km of run­ning, eight hours of swim­ming and seven hours of gym work in one three­week train­ing block. “That’s why, for me, train­ing is the base. Ev­ery­thing else that makes you suc­cess­ful is built on top.”

Here Reynolds ex­plains what the rest of us can learn from for­mula one’s new fit­ness arms race.

What kind of unique phys­i­cal chal­lenges do for­mula one driv­ers face?

The driv­ers have to en­dure stress on the head, neck and shoul­ders, but it’s the shoul­ders that re­ally pro­vide the plat­form of sup­port. I clas­sify F1 as a strength en­durance sport be­cause the driv­ers have to tol­er­ate mod­er­ate loads for many rep­e­ti­tions over a race. When driv­ers are rac­ing there are a lot of el­e­ments they can’t pre­dict so they have to hone their re­ac­tions too – and the tem­per­a­ture in the cock­pit can ex­ceed 40°C.

How do you struc­ture driv­ers’ gym work­outs for op­ti­mal re­sults?

Squats, dead­lifts, rows and bench presses are the core foun­da­tional ex­er­cises which help to build the ro­bust­ness of the ath­lete. But the trick is to work on a very

sci­en­tific ap­proach, us­ing pe­ri­odi­s­a­tion mod­els to plan their train­ing. First we lay a foun­da­tion of en­durance and good biome­chan­ics, then we do a small phase of hy­per­tro­phy – try­ing not to gain too much mus­cle mass, be­cause we want the driv­ers to be lean and light – and then we will move on to a pure strength phase.

How do you work on im­prov­ing their agility and re­ac­tion speeds?

We use ply­o­met­ric, agility and speed ex­er­cises to help im­prove their neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ca­pa­bil­i­ties so they re­spond bet­ter dur­ing a race. The ex­er­cises aren’t spe­cific to F1 – they just train the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar sys­tem to be­come faster and more re­ac­tive. We get the driv­ers to do cone sprint drills to work on their re­ac­tions but we also chal­lenge them men­tally by us­ing dif­fer­ent-coloured cones or dif­fer­ent au­dio cues, with in­struc­tions to run to cer­tain cones. It helps them to work their body and mind at speed.

Why is it so im­por­tant to work mind and body at the same time?

It helps driv­ers to re­spond quickly when they hear cues from en­gi­neers or when they have to re­act to stim­u­lus on the track. They also do lad­der sprint drills – not just for speed but for chal­leng­ing their mind so they have to think about foot place­ments while run­ning quickly. With young driv­ers we do drills like learn­ing to jug­gle and throw­ing balls against walls and catch­ing them to im­prove hand/eye co-or­di­na­tion.

How in­di­vid­u­ally tai­lored is each driver’s work­out?

If you look at hu­man biome­chan­ics, the driv­ers are not in the most favourable po­si­tion – they are al­most ly­ing down or re­clin­ing in the car – so we have to cor­rect any im­bal­ances. We try to en­sure driv­ers don’t get over­strength­ened in the front of the body so they re­main bal­anced, oth­er­wise pos­tural is­sues may arise. That means each in­di­vid­ual ath­lete has to work closely with a physio on the me­chan­ics of their body and do lots of ex­er­cises that help en­sure a bal­anced body.

How do you get the best re­sults from core train­ing drills?

Be­cause driv­ers are in an iso­met­ric or static po­si­tion in the car, they have to pre­pare by per­form­ing pos­tural sta­bil­ity and core sta­bil­ity

ex­er­cises which chal­lenge the body in an iso­met­ric po­si­tion. One of the most ba­sic ex­er­cises would be hold­ing a plank po­si­tion but trans­fer­ring it onto a gym ball or medicine ball. The driv­ers are able to do pretty in­cred­i­ble things with gym­nas­tic movements and sta­bil­ity ex­er­cises be­cause they have worked on them for so long. They also use a ca­ble ma­chine and free weights to do ex­er­cises that mimic the driv­ing po­si­tion.

What would a typ­i­cal train­ing day look like?

It might start with a morn­ing bike ride, which gives a full cross-train­ing ef­fect. A bike ride might in­volve two hours at dif­fer­ent heart rates

or some in­ter­val train­ing which sim­u­lates the high heart rate driv­ers ex­pe­ri­ence in rac­ing. In a race they can hit 80% of their max­i­mum heart rate for up to two hours. Then around 4-5pm, they do strength ex­er­cises – we sep­a­rate car­dio and strength train­ing be­cause they don’t go well to­gether in the same ses­sion and it’s harder to get the max­i­mum ben­e­fits. This could be a strength en­durance ses­sion, which would in­volve high-rep­e­ti­tion ex­er­cises with body­weight drills, free weights or ca­ble ma­chines; or it could be a higher-load pure strength ses­sion, with low reps.

How have McLaren’s gym train­ing ses­sions changed re­cently?

Lots of new re­search shows strength train­ing has a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on im­prov­ing en­durance char­ac­ter­is­tics as well. Strength train­ing with heav­ier loads can ben­e­fit en­durance ath­letes by im­prov­ing strength, power and neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ca­pa­bil­ity. A lot of coaches didn’t do that in the past but now we know it helps to build ro­bust­ness to help ath­letes tol­er­ate the stress of train­ing.

How im­por­tant is the psy­chol­ogy of train­ing?

It is very im­por­tant that driv­ers get out­side. Out­doors is my favourite gym and it’s in­cred­i­bly good for the driv­ers’ men­tal re­cov­ery. Even when you’re push­ing hard, it pro­vides a men­tal re­cov­ery. F1 is a tough sport with a lot of trav­el­ling and mar­ket­ing and me­dia work, so it’s cru­cial for men­tal re­lax­ation.

Where do you look for new ideas?

I view my­self as a fil­ter for the best in­for­ma­tion from places like Ox­ford Univer­sity Med­i­cal School and Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, along with chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer Adam Hill and head of hu­man per­for­mance Michael Col­lier, who’s worked with Jen­son But­ton for al­most a decade – but I don’t con­sider my­self an ex­pert in all ar­eas and we need sup­port. McLaren Ap­plied Tech­nolo­gies works with dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ists, work­ing on how to mon­i­tor im­bal­ances or use sim­u­la­tions, mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems and bio-teleme­try de­vices. Clay­ton Green, our hu­man per­for­mance man­ager, and David Har­vey, an ac­cred­ited sci­en­tist, pro­vide fit­ness test­ing on driv­ers through­out the sea­son. It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tive team.

Which work­outs do the driv­ers hate the most?

The driv­ers don’t re­ally en­joy in­ter­val ses­sions when they’re push­ing hard, and the pos­tural and core sta­bil­ity ses­sions can be pretty chal­leng­ing too. They do seem to en­joy strength train­ing and run­ning out­side. The driv­ers need time off, so we have breaks within the pe­ri­odi­s­a­tion mod­els with op­por­tu­ni­ties for them to choose what they want to do… but it’s not for very long!

Techn­o­gym is the of­fi­cial fit­ness equip­ment sup­plier to McLaren. For more in­for­ma­tion on how cham­pi­ons train with Techn­o­gym visit techn­o­

Van­doorne and the other drives do car­dio ses­sions in the morn­ings, keep­ing them sep­a­rate from strength train­ing for the best re­sults

“Strength train­ing with heav­ier loads can ben­e­fit en­durance ath­letes by im­prov­ing strength, power and neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ca­pa­bil­ity,” says coach Reynolds

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