A look at driver training and fitness
- 18th March 2008, 8:28pm
The sport of rallying, especially at the competitive sharp end of the World Championship, is incredibly tough and demanding of both cars and drivers. The more that drivers train and improve their fitness, the better they are able to perform in the car.
Teams of engineers channel huge focus and resource into the development of the vehicle side of the equation, but what of the human element?
It’s well known in motorsport that, while engineers are working to find tenths of a second, a driver who tires halfway through a stage suffers reduced focus and slower reactions, leading to the potential loss of seconds, not just tenths.
The job of ensuring the drivers are their absolute peak falls to John Mills, the Subaru World Rally Team’s performance trainer. This doesn’t simply mean that John sets them a training routine and stands back, as he explains:
What are your main responsibilities within the team?
“They’re twofold really. I look after the drivers and everything connected to their physical performance, but I also have a responsibility for the members of the team. I work very closely with the drivers on training routines before, during and after each event, but I also accompany them in their training. By running alongside the driver, for example, you can push them to make the activity more effective. I also work closely with them on nutrition and diet issues. Food is fuel for the body, and it’s essential for their performance and also reducing the changes of injury and illness.”
How do you train rally drivers?
“Both types of fitness are important here: cardiovascular and physical strength. They can drive 400 kilometres a day for five days over the course of a rally which is very demanding on their arms and upper body. It’s not like driving a road car – everything here happens faster and the often rough and rocky roads make it far more demanding. Secondly, temperatures inside the car can be above 40 degrees Celsius on some events, so the risk of fluid loss and heat fatigue is huge.
“The exact training and routines I use depend on the preference of the drivers, but there are core activities that we will do. Running makes up a lot of the work, as it’s great for legs, cardiovascular fitness and even upper body conditioning. Then we’ll use free weights to build strength and endurance. Free weights are great as they work the supporting muscles as well rather than just one isolated muscle group, making them more applicable to the general demands of driving. We’ll also do exercises like sparring for cardio work and to help coordination and balance.
“There are elements and limitations we have to remember though. The drivers don’t want to get too heavy and carry excess weight in the car, so that can limit the amount of weight training they do. We also tend to stick to cardio work only just before and when on rallies, as the last thing they want is to pick up an exercise-related injury that slows them down in the car or means they can’t compete.”
How did you start in the profession of fitness training?
“I started working with amateur sportsmen after university, and by working hard and having a real passion for what I was doing, worked my way up the ranks to the elite. I moved into the corporate world looking at staff fitness and health and safety, and then a position for staff trainer arose at Prodrive. I have more of a focus on the performance of the drivers now. With so much diversity in the championship, with lots of air travel and some really demanding environments such as extreme cold or high altitude, it requires all of my time to get right!"
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