At St. Vincent Sports Performance, Jeff Richter is better preparing IndyCar drivers for the challenges on the track.
Anyone who thinks IndyCar drivers aren't top level athletes, doesn’t understand the extreme challenges the body is exposed to in a racecar. Traveling at 200+ mph, banking into turns at 4-5 Gs, in a cockpit that reaches upwards of 130°, racecar drivers require a unique approach to their strength training and endurance conditioning.
At St. Vincent Sports Performance in downtown Indianapolis, Jeff Richter trains some of the best racecar drivers in the world. As the head strength and conditioning coach, Richter’s training focuses on preparing the driver’s body for the forces it will endure over the 2-3 hours of a race as well as their memory so they can perform at a higher level on the track.
“G forces aren't just handled by the neck,” Richter explains during a training session with IndyCar drivers Conor Daly and Ed Carpenter. Decelerating and accelerating into and through a turn challenges the neck, chest, shoulders and core isometrically from many different directions. In order to effectively prepare the body for these forces, drivers must be challenged under these same stresses in their training.
“As a driver, you need to feel strong and comfortable bracing against these forces,” says Richter. “We do a lot of anti-rotation core drills combining Iron Neck with a pallof press. You can do a pallof press standing, seated or against the wall.”
Anti-rotation exercises increase core stability as well as resistance to spinal flexion, extension and rotation and are key to improving force output and reducing the risk of injury.
In the Seated Iron Neck Pallof Press, Conor Daly braces against simulated forces on the neck and core from the Iron Neck and arms and shoulders from the pallof press. This combination will improve anti-rotational control and stability, critical to combating the constantly shifting and variable G-Forces on the neck and core.
Richter performs these from both left and right sides with driver holding position for 10 seconds.
Variations include (1) maintaining constant force from Iron Neck and pallof press, (2) varying the level of force from the Iron Neck and pallof press by pulling harder on the resistance bands, (3) alternating sets of pallof press and extended isometric hold and (4) incorporating a head turn after each rep. Richter will typically stack 2-3 variations into each exercise.
In this variation, Conor Daly braces against the simulated forces from the Iron Neck and the weighted handle grip. Richter utilizes an angled handlebar secured at the end of an anchored barbell to simulate the downforces from the steering wheel in the racecar.
Richter performs these from both left and right sides for 10 seconds, stacking 2-3 of the variations mentioned above.
Variations include (1) maintaining constant force from Iron Neck (2) varying the level of force from the Iron Neck and (3) incorporating a head turn after each rep. Incorporating a head turn, and holding the turned position adds cervical anti-rotation stabilization in different positions..
While the body is challenged physically throughout the race, the mind must perform at an incredibly high level to navigate the track against opponents with tight margins, operate a complex million dollar racing machine and engage with your pit crew in your ear.
To prepare his IndyCar drivers for the mental challenges on the track, Richter incorporates a memory recall component to exercises. Richter writes four 3-5 digit alphanumeric combinations on an easel he positions at 45° left of center and 45° right of center (relative to forward facing driver). At the end of the exercise the driver has to answer with whichever line he asks for.
Seated, with an upright posture, Ed Carpenter’s arms are extended forward, holding hand-size medballs. Carpenter begins faced forward and turns his head to face the easel. He holds this position for approximately one second, memorizing the digits on the easel. When his head turns back to forward facing, he drops the medballs and catches them, incorporating a reaction speed component into the exercise.
Richter performs 10 reps from both left and right sides, maintaining a constant resistance on the neck and core with the Iron Neck. After 10 reps, Richter will ask for 2-3 of the lines to be recited.
In this variation, the reaction speed component from dropping and catching the medballs is replaced with shoulder and arm stabilization, holding a weight plate. As Carpenter turns his head, he will turn the weight plate as if it were a steering wheel and Richter will increase the resistance on the Iron Neck by pulling on the resistance band.
Richter performs 10 reps from both left and right sides, varying the resistance on the neck and core with the Iron Neck. After 10 reps, Richter will ask for 2-3 of the lines to be recited.
"One of the biggest things," Richter explains, "as with any new product, it requires a lot of feedback from [the driver]. So, we might have an idea we try and the cool thing about the Iron Neck is it gives you a lot of margin to make some small subtle changes to make it just a little more driver specific."
Daly sees his training success as a two way street. "We just work together," he says. "It's a matter of bouncing things off each other and figuring it out.”
Speaking about his coach, Daly explains, “he hasn’t been in a race car. He isn’t supposed to now know what our neck is going through. Not many people do."
The feedback loop is something Richter sees as critical to continually finding ways to get the most out of his athletes.
“Having that feedback with the client is what really allows you to take it to the next level creativity-wise."