A few months ago, both Formula One and Formula One driver Max Verstappen took to their respective Instagram pages to share one of the many workouts the driver takes part once racing season kicks off. The image, which is of Max and two trainers, sees the 23-year-old using a rather scary-looking contraption that was designed to simulate the g-forces he’s likely to pull on the track.
With his head in a sling and a pained expression on his face, the world #3 looked like he was being tortured by the machine – prompting puzzled and bemused reactions from fans.
The interesting thing about a device like this, is that it’s almost exclusively used by F1 drivers. Why? It aims to strengthen the neck muscles for the incredible G-Force they have to deal with when hitting speeds of over 200km/h on the track. (For comparison, the average rollercoaster might expose you to 3g of force, and most untrained humans will pass out between 4 and 6g).
Fellow driver Carlos Sainz explained the sentiment well in an interview, revealing the acute hardships and dilemma of the neck and limbs they face in regular races. “It affects you a lot, especially the neck,” he said, “No matter how hard you train at home, it’s impossible to generate the g-forces you are going to get in an F1 car.”
He continued, “The circuit they choose for the first race is going to have a big influence on how much drivers will struggle after all those months without driving or train the neck. It will be a very tough challenge.
“People can’t imagine the stress the body suffers during a grand prix. The only way to be fit to drive an F1 car is by driving an F1 car,” he said.
While the Belgian-Dutch racing driver agrees with Sainz, he explained to Men’s Health that while it is the hardest, it’s only a small part of his overall training routine.
“For me, the hardest part of racing physically is the strain on my neck, lower back, and the forces you feel when breaking the car. Neck strength is very important. As drivers, we need to be strong, however, we can’t be too muscular or we would be too heavy for the car,” says Max. “I use a combination of wattbike, ski erg, free weights, and balancing exercises. I try to mix it up so it’s not always the same session, and I have an amazing team guiding me.”
“In season, training depends if we are racing or not. Let’s say if we have a week off racing, I have Monday as a rest day. Then Tuesday to Thursday, I will do 1-2 training sessions per day, depending on how busy we’ve been in the weeks before, and I would take Saturday and Sunday off for recovery. We have a lot of travel and spend a lot of time in the simulator so I like to get in at least three training sessions per week during the season.”
And that preparation goes all the way up until he steps foot in the race car. “Before I jump in the car, I warm up my neck, back, and leg muscles. I do a few jumps, squats, and calf raises- and use my Theragun in between.”
His Theragun, which Verstappen was introduced to off-the-back of a partnership with Red Bull, is part of a recovery routine that weighs heavily on treating the neck area after sitting in the same position for hours.
“We put our bodies through a lot of strain in F1. We race at 200mph, we experience high levels of G force, and we are sat in the same position for hours. This makes recovery incredibly important,” he tells us. “I use Theragun to accelerate my recovery and reduce any soreness after getting out of the car. After leaving the track, I sometimes do a cycle or two in my RecoveryAir boots, which I enjoy using because I can just relax while recovering.”
Alongside a pretty regimented training routine during the racing season, Verstappen also makes sure to curated a nutrient-rich diet. “My diet is also carefully managed as body weight is very important in racing, so I am always making sure I’m eating plenty– because it is such a physically demanding sport– but being careful about what I am eating,” he explains. “My diet also changes depending on where I am racing and the weather conditions. For example, in humid weather I burn so many calories when I’m on the track.”
That, alongside a focus on his mental health is something that – we can all agree – has propelled Verstappen to be in such an incredible position this season.
“I’ve been racing my whole life. At the end of the day, it’s the same thing: lights go on, lights go off, you take off, you try to win the race. It has been like that since I was seven years old. I think the more you do it, the easier you are on yourself. I don’t think about pressure too much. I know that once I am in the car, I have to deliver and I have to do the best I can; but, I also tell myself I cannot do more than my best. So, I think that takes a lot of pressure away.”
“There’s a lot of races left in the season, so we aren’t looking too far ahead. My focus in each race is to do the very best I can.”