With the 102nd running of the Indy 500 today, many who tune in may not appreciate the fitness and conditioning of these athletes, particularly of their necks. Since the ’90s when Formula 1 racers began coming to race CART in the US, motorsport drivers have become far more focused on their strength and conditioning as a way to improve their performance.
A driver’s neck is subjected to forces as high as 5Gs. Sustaining high levels of force on the neck over the course of 2-3 hours requires an incredible amount of neck strength and conditioning. With eight drivers in this year’s Indy 500, PitFit Training in Indianapolis is at the leading edge of today’s motorsport fitness and conditioning.
The Drive’s Jerry Perez recently spent the day with PitFit Training founder and president, Jim Leo. What began in 1993, integrating advanced human performance practices with Penske Racing driver’s strength and conditioning programs, has grown into the industry leader in the development and implementation of motorsports-specific human performance training, developing programs for IndyCar drivers like Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud, Robert Wickens, Spencer Pigot, and Josef Newgarden.
Neck Training for Motorsports
Leo has always been looking for new ideas and and innovative approaches to training. Discovering the Iron Neck at the 2013 National Strength and Conditioning Association Conference, Leo was one of the early adopters of the Iron Neck. Originally sold to NFL and Collegiate football teams to help reduce concussion risk in football players, the invention was not exactly designed for drivers.
“The original Iron Neck was big and a bit rough, but it allowed us to train the neck in a new way,” says Leo. Here Zach Veach trains with the original Iron Neck, which was made of aluminum and weighed 13 lbs.
“Every single race represents a grueling war between man and machine,” says Leo. “whether it’s challenging road courses where drivers are battered by constant braking and accelerating forces, or high-speed ovals where normal humans would black out due to the sheer speed. Being a racing driver, believe it or not, isn’t an easy task.”
Iron Neck has since been a key part of Leo’s program and over the past 5 years he has developed a lot of innovative uses and modalities designed specifically for the motorsport athlete. The newly redesigned Iron Neck is under 3 lbs and a much more comfortable fit for today’s drivers.
When the 1994 CART season began, Jim Leo had put in place a conditioning program that focused on improving team pit stops and overall wellness. That year, Penske Racing dominated the competition by winning 12 of 16 races, the CART championship, and the Indy 500. 24 years later, perhaps another Indy 500 victory is in order for Leo and PitFit Training.