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Riding With IndyCar Champs

Men’s Fitness spends the weekend behind the scenes at the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach with three-time IndyCar series champion Scott Dixon, 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, and the rest of the TARGET Chip Ganassi Racing team.
Travis McCoy/TARGET and Getty Images

After spending three days with two IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, their pit crew, and trainers, it’s official, these guys are athletic, and as well-oiled and fine-tuned as their cars beneath them.

Ryan Harber of St. Vincent Sports Performance, and trainer to Tony Kanaan says that a driver’s heart rate is typically “sustained through a 2-plus hour race between 160-180bpm”, which is, if you think about it, fairly equivalent to a high-intensity workout. In fact, he says the most important element to a driver’s training is their muscular and cardiovascular endurance.

“Imagine doing a 150-pound single-leg press, hold for 1.5 seconds, down and up for 2-plus hours.” And that’s just the lower body, the upper body also experiences high-levels of fatigue. “If you’ve ever driven a car without power steering, or have lost power while driving, that’s what these guys are dealing with throughout the race,” he tells us.

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Another factor or condition working against a driver is their breathing. “A driver’s harness limits their intake because it’s so tight.” So what do these guys to combat limited oxygen? Well, they become more efficient and adapt. “To tackle this we use circuit training and throw different stresses at them,” Harber says.

Finally, drivers have extreme speeds to contend with. “There's nothing we can do to mimic the G-forces in the car, but we can prepare the body as best we can.” Harber says a lot of drivers train like triathletes, or are triathletes when not in the car. "He (Kanaan) swims, he bikes, he runs. And did a full Ironman in 2010."

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DIXON and KANAAN on FITNESS


[Sporting his C9 by Champion for Target apparel, Scott Dixon performs a pushup modification alongside Adam Rosante, personal trailer and C9 brand ambassador after the first day of race practice.]

Dixon told us back in October during his championship tour in NYC back in October, "I probably work out 5-6 days of the week. Two hours in the morning, and then 2-3 days a week I'll also do another two hours in the afternoon. In the winter, I do more with weights and building strength, but in the summer when it's racing season, it's all cardiovascular. I've also picked up training for triathlons." And after seeing the man workout with us in-person, he’s certainly got the conditioning.

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[Kanaan showing his coordination skills, powerful upper body, and impressive cardiovascular conditioning during the post-practice workout.]

"The biggest things are cardio, stamina, and strength. And I know mentally, if we've got a hot day, a difficult day, I know I’m one of the best guys out there - that makes me more confident." Kanaan explains, “If you’re not fit, your leg starts hurting, or you can’t hold the steering wheel, you’re going to make a mistake, or you’re not going to be consistent in the race." And Kanaan’s training is also relatively similar to Dixon’s. He does CrossFit three times per week with 40-minutes of cardio (swimming or running), then two times per week are what he calls, "Tony Kanaan" days which consists of traditional weight lifting. As far as race weeks, he only trains three times per week and only will go hard on Monday then taper to ensure proper recovery.

Contrary to anyone who would think otherwise, these drivers have not only mastered their art of racing but have build their bodies for the track with endurance, efficiency, and longevity in mind.

Driver Trend:
Hydration is another element that trainers and teams monitor closely during race day. SOS Rehydrate is one brand attempting to fill the need. The product is an electrolyte-replenishment supplement that provides athletes with approximately 6 times the amount of electrolytes as popular sports drinks including citrates, potassium, sodium, chloride, and magnesium at only 25 calories.

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