As you know from the digital pages of the Motorsport Prospects blog, I have stressed the importance of physical conditioning for race drivers from the very beginning. Being in peak physical condition is a necessity to compete at your highest possible level, it enables you to react better to what is going on while on the track and speeds up the recovery process after an injury.
This week I speak with physical conditioning coach Stewart Wild. We talk about the importance of developing your neck muscles, training cycles and the importance of a proper mind set.
Motorsport Prospects: Hi Stewart. What is your background? How did you get involved in driver conditioning coaching?
Stewart Wild: My background was initially as a leisure manager until the late 1980’s when I decided to train to be a fitness instructor. From there I did a master’s degree in Sports Science and got my breakthrough in motorsport by training Jenson Button from F3 into F1 in 1999/2000.
MP: What is the difference between training a driver for motorsport vs training any other high-performance athlete for say soccer?
SW: They are completely different. It’s all about specifics. Training a racing driver requires knowledge and experience. This takes time and unfortunately too many drivers end up training the wrong way. One of common of the common misconceptions is that training like a triathlete is an appropriate approach, but this of course has nothing in common with driving a car at 180 mph. Training has to be sports specific.
MP: Can a driver train on their own or should they use a trainer?
SW: Yes of course a driver can train on their own if they have a proper program that they are working to but generally the rule of thumb is by training with me I push them 20% harder. As humans we don’t like being out of our comfort zone, with me you don’t get a choice. I also set up programs where I video the driver and this is then used as a comprehensive workout program.
MP: How critical is the training of the neck muscles?
SW: Imperative, especially if you are an open wheel driver. The neck fatigues very quickly and if you can’t hold your neck up you can’t see the apex. Then it’s time to go home. I work extensively on neck for both endurance and strength.
MP: While muscle training is obviously important, what about things like hand/eye coordination and flexibility?
SW: Coordination is a key element as well. I tend to work reactions at the end of a session when the drivers are tired so that working on concentration and coordination is tougher. This then aids them in racing situations undoubtedly. I also use specialist software to help as well.
MP: Where does diet and hydration come in?
SW: For all drivers both are key along with sleep. This is even more so with endurance drivers at say Daytona or Le Mans 24-hour race, which I have been attending since 2000. Without good diet and hydration, you cannot be 100%.
Top tip for drives is with fluid you can only either hydrate or feed (Carbohydrate) not both at the same time.
MP: How should a driver train in the off-season in order to prepare for the racing season?
SW: I normally allow my drivers a little time off after the end of the season in October/November. Then I want them back on a scaled down program until January and then I would normally start to pick it back up with some warm weather training camps. It’s critical to be 100% for that first race as this is your opportunity to be up on your competitors.
MP: How much or how little training should they do once the season has started.
SW: I always believe you can never be too fit, and I always train my drivers at a level above what they drive. Yes, mid-season onward you can scale back a little but not too much. It’s a mind-set and attitude that drivers need.
MP: Explain a little bit about your approach to training and what kinds of drivers have you worked with in the past?
SW: My approach to training is simple. I want my drivers to smash the other drivers around them on the circuit. As I said before it’s a mind-set, we aren’t there to make up the numbers, it’s about winning.
Fitness unfortunately isn’t seen by many teams as being that important. The reality is it’s the most important thing as it’s the driver that drives the car. Without him or her the team have nothing.
Into F1 I have trained Jenson Button, Sergio Perez, Gimmi Bruni (GTE former WEC World champion). In Formula E and WEC both Sam Bird, James Calado (who is also the current WEC GTE World champion) and Mike Conway.
I am also proud to be part of Will Powers career as well a good friend and great driver.
MP: How do people contact you?
SW: Simple. They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can get all my contact details on my Motorsport Prospects listing here.
MP: Anything additional information to add?
SW: I am available to train drivers wherever they live. I set up a training camp and video all we do. This is then sent as a comprehensive workout program.
I also attend race weekends all over the world where I look after the driver getting the most out of them both physically and psychologically.
The Motorsport Prospects listing for Stewart Wild can be found here.