TOP TRAINER
Friday, May 14, 2010 1:13 pm

BORN TO RACE

Helio Castroneves shows everyone he’s just as good at Marta’s workouts as he is behind the wheel.

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It’s no surprise that Brazilian speedster Helio Castroneves knows his way around the track, but he wants to show everyone he’s just as good when faced with one of my workouts.

What does a race car driver have in common with a basketball player? Most people will go for the seemingly obvious “they’re both into sports” answer. Oddly enough, few will respond with something like, “they’re both athletes.” Why is it so hard for many of us to acknowledge auto racing as an athletically demanding activity on par with other popular sports?

The only explanation I can find is that these competitors practice a sport that doesn't involve the vigorous jumps, throws, swings and sprints of those disciplines we usually consider “athletic.” However, you would be surprised by the many physical demands these athletes share.

Whenever Helio Castroneves, who has taken 14 checkered flags in the IndyCar series, blazes through a speedway at more than 200 MPH, his heart rate may be close to 90-95% of his max heart rate (HR max), and his oxygen consumption may be the equivalent to approximately nine to 13 times the resting values. These responses are similar to those of someone running at a minimum 10-minute-per-mile pace—and possibly as fast as an eight-minute-per-mile pace. These findings were published in a study conducted by the University of Miami’s School of Medicine. The results showed that “professional open-wheel race drivers possess cardiorespiratory capacities similar to athletes participating in sports, such as basketball, football and baseball.”

If this isn’t a sufficient indicator of the high degree of stress race car drivers place on their bodies, consider a study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, which showed that these athletes exhibited inflammatory markers indicative of significant oxidative stress. So as I developed an exercise program for Helio, it became obvious I had to consider not just the cardiovascular demands of the sport but also the strength, muscular endurance and neuromuscular coordination required to compete at the elite level.

You probably won’t drive a car at 200 MPH (at least we don’t advise it!), but whenever you do get behind a wheel, you use the same muscles and place the same stress on your hamstrings, lower back and upper torso as Helio. Maybe even more. Most of us are shocked to learn that even though we are sitting, when we drive, the intravertebral pressure on our discs is equivalent to 85% of our body weight. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to find a high prevalence of back pain among those who spend a lot of time driving.

THE MM EXERCISE PROGRAM

This is a comprehensive routine. It targets all the major muscle groups and requires you to engage the core in all the movements. It is also designed to challenge the nervous system by incorporating “stability exercises” that require movements in multiple planes.

• Perform this routine in a circuit—one exercise after the other with minimal or no rest in between exercises.

• Lose weight/improve endurance: Do 2–3 circuits of 15–20 reps per exercise, and limit your rest at the end of each circuit to 60 seconds.

• Add muscle: Do 2–3 circuits of 8–12 reps, resting 60–90 seconds at the end.

• Make every rep count, with the last two reps being difficult to perform. If they are not, you should increase the weight.

• Perform the routine two to three times per week on nonconsecutive days.

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