Train like an F1 driver – an eye-opening experience to insane levels of fitness

If you’ve looked at an F1 driver, there’s one aspect of their physique that seems more unusual than most.

To the outside world, F1 and indeed any motor sport may be dismissed as not one of the most physically demanding sports in the world after all, but for those who have paid a little more attention, F1 may be one of the most physically and mentally demanding competitions around the world.

From extreme heat to high levels of concentration and of course the G-force which brings us back to that remarkable physical feature of the neck.

Drivers will regularly deal with up to 6G when cornering and it’s easy to forget that this figure means their bodies suddenly feel six times heavier.

Take Max Verstappen for example. It weighs about 72kg, so under 6G, his body weight rises to 432kg, which is about the same as a grand piano.

The neck, with drivers having to keep their eyes on the road, does a lot of metaphorical and literal heavy lifting and everyone will have seen pictures of F1 stars with their heads in what appears to be a rudimentary catapult system.

That image was exactly what popped into my mind when an email arrived in my inbox one afternoon asking if I wanted to train like an F1 driver.

The invitation came from a company called Precision Fuel & Hydration who work with athletes to find the perfect way to keep them hydrated during high stress sports and invited me to the Porsche Human Performance Centre, which is located within the Porsche base directly next to Silverstone Circuit.

The email promised to test me and see how I fared best in motorsports and it’s about time I should provide some context on my fitness. The highlight of my athletic career has been competing in the Manchester Marathon, but at 28 my metabolism is catching up with me in the rear view mirror and it won’t be long before the blue flags are shown.

With a healthy dose of optimism or silliness, I arrived downtown at 9 o’clock where I met Jack Wilson and Tristen Reed, both sports scientists at the Porsche Human Performance Center.

The tests they devised for me were the same ones they used with their athletes to determine how fit they were but also to train specific areas needed while riding.

First was a routine measurement of my height and weight (the labeling of the slightly overweight cut deep) before arriving at a machine designed to test my reflexes known as the BATAK.

It’s one that many will be familiar with, and it flashes lights in random spots around you to see how good your peripheral vision is and how quickly you can react. Hoping to do better than the last time I used one of these machines which was at the launch of F1 Arcade and after a number of free cocktails, I was happy with my score until I learned it was just over half what a F1 driver could do . It would be a similar theme throughout the day.

Afterwards it was a test of the strength of my hand, a vital skill for riders considering the toll it takes over the course of a race weekend. To test this, the instructors handed me what can best be described as an alien ray gun-looking device and asked me to reach out horizontally from my body, then squeeze as hard as I could until my hand was back by my side.

I measured 45.5 kilograms of force (kgf) in my dominant right hand and 38.1kgf in my left hand, which was again, well below the 60kgf expected from an F1 driver.

Next was the test I was looking forward to and the one most synonymous with F1 training, neck strength.

To test this, I sat down on a bench and placed my hands on a barbell in one position. My head was then strapped to a device that allowed instructors to pull at a certain G and see how my neck would fare against the pressure.

It started out good at 1.5G meaning my head was 1.5x heavier than usual and even at 2G my neck was still. But when it reached 2.5 Gs, I suddenly felt unable to keep my head straight and the instructors decided it was best to stop there, showing how strong F1 drivers are considering having to withstand nearly three times the forces.

After the muscle-building activities were completed, the next focus was cardio, but first it was time for a mental test. I was sitting in front of a laptop and was presented with the simple task of pressing the correct button on the keyboard in response to the color I was seeing on screen. The difficulty though came from the fact that the words often said different colors than what the actual color was, requiring your brain to ignore some information and pass the test.

I chalked it up to my years of playing Xbox that this was actually the area where I performed best, but the purpose of this test wasn’t to make me think those years of playing Halo were well spent, but instead to test how my brain functioned in two different states.

The first time I took the test it was when I was relaxed and thinking clearly, but the next time my head was a little more foggy.

To get my brain into a jittery state, I started running on a treadmill, but as I did so, my mouth got hooked to a breathing mask that Darth Vader may have once used. The speed of the treadmill increased every minute until I could no longer run, at which point they also had a measurement of my maximum heart rate and the amount of oxygen I could inhale with each breath.

I jumped off the treadmill but there was no time to rest as I was immediately prompted to retake the mental test and while I made no mistakes, my reaction time was much slower as I found my brain took a few more seconds to register what I was looking at. The purpose of this test is to enable athletes to continue to think clearly even under severe stress.

Imagine during the first lap of a Grand Prix where your adrenaline is flowing and there are 19 obstacles around you. You need your brain to work hard and not take a second to register things, that’s why this workout is so beneficial.

With a healthy dose of sweat now pouring out of my body, there was only one last task left in the physical portion of my day and that was acclimatization training. As we all know Formula 1 races in some very hot countries and that can be brutally punishing for a driver.

With the hot, humid air temperature, their condition only gets worse as they are inches away from a burning engine and all the heat it produces.

The only way you can train for this, then, is to do it in hot climates and instead of flying to Dubai or Qatar, you can instead hop inside a small room that has been heated to a high temperature.

I may have only done five minutes on the treadmill in this room, but I could already feel the differences in my performance with each step feeling much heavier than the cold British temperatures I’m used to.

After the physical exam was over, it was time to learn something I had hardly thought about before the day’s sweat. I naively thought all sweat was the same, but I soon learned that each of us has a genetic makeup that determines how much sodium we lose in sweat.

The more sodium you lose, the more dehydrated you are, so it’s extremely important for an athlete to know this and plan accordingly. To test this they had a machine that could encourage sweat to come out of a small circle on my arm, so they attached a device that would suck that sweat into a small tube.

That sweat was then transferred to another machine, at which point it gave a measurement of 1167mg sodium per liter of sweat which would put me on the high end.

So if I were an F1 driver I would look to supplement my training with sodium to stay hydrated, which is where Precision Fuel & Hydration comes into play. They make effervescent gels or tablets that provide the exact amount of sodium I would need before, during and after any type of physical event.

The day ended there as I returned to my F1 non-driver lifestyle, but it was an eye-opening experience to what it takes from a physical standpoint to even be able to survive driving a lap, let alone be fast enough to actually compete.

My thanks go to the Precision Fuel & Hydration team, as well as Jack Wilson and Tristen Reed of the Porsche Human Performance Centre. I just hope the scores I recorded weren’t the lowest they’ve ever seen

Precision Fuel & Hydration (PF&H) is one of the world’s leading refueling and hydration consultancies.

Founded in 2011 by former elite endurance athlete and leading sports scientist Andy Blow, he has developed customized hydration and nutrition strategies for tens of thousands of athletes around the world, including some of the biggest names in global sport.

The Dorset-based company offers sweat testing in over 50 centers in over 20 countries around the world, including the UK, US, Australia and Canada.

It uses medical-grade, patented technology to develop tailored nutrition and hydration plans for elite athletes in a variety of sports, including track and field, soccer, rugby, F1, American football, basketball and baseball.

Andy and the PF&H team work with athletes to help them understand their hydration needs and provide a range of products to manage their performance needs.You can learn more here

Porsche Human Performance (PHP) is one of the world’s leading applied sports science laboratories.

Based on the famous Silverstone circuit in the UK, it features cutting-edge technology to help athletes realize their potential.

Founded in 2008 by sports scientists Andy Blow and Eliot Challifour, PHP was originally launched to enable motorsport athletes to understand and improve their fitness levels.

Since then, it has been used by a variety of professional athletes in sports including soccer, boxing and track and field.

The lab offers a full range of physiological tests, including a thermal chamber for specialist acclimatization training, the VO2 max test, which determines the maximum amount of oxygen you can consume during exercise, and an Advanced Sweat Test, which helps athletes understand their own individual sweat composition.

You can learn more here

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