Wait, racing drivers need to stay in tiptop shape? Absolutely, if you want to be a consistent podium finisher, according to Formula E racing car driver Sam Bird. The fitness fanatic, who will be in Hong Kong to defend his 2017 HKT Hong Kong E-Prix championship title, explains. How functional fitness trains body for daily tasks and five exercises to get you started Many people think professional racing drivers train only on racing simulators and that being seated during a race means this sport does not demand much physical fitness. In reality, the sport does demand much physical and mental discipline for drivers to maintain peak racing form, according to Bird. “I get it, people don’t see us cycling for hours or running marathons, but we do [train hard] behind closed doors,” he says. Bird will be back in Hong Kong to defend his championship title at the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix race on March 10. This is race five of the 2018/19 ABB FIA Championship season. He told the Post why fitness matters in motor sport. Imagine driving a 900kg vehicle without power steering at speeds of around 150km/h. Adrenaline is coursing through your body as rival racers are trying to get past you. There is no air-con. Dehydration is a real risk for drivers. Wearing fireproof gear, race suit and helmet, the sweat flows profusely. How functional fitness trains body for daily tasks and five exercises to get you started “You lose up to around a kilo of weight through sweat so it’s pretty intense,” he says. “If you’re not fit, you lose focus, which means you’ll make a mistake and hit a wall.” Bird’s philosophy is that being fit physically means you are mentally sharp, too. Meanwhile you’re bouncing around inside the vehicle as it hurtles around the track. “Your body goes through quite intense g-forces – 2G or 3G under braking and in high-speed cornering … it’s not as heavy as [conditions in] F1, but it’s getting higher and higher,” he says. To withstand such extreme conditions, it’s paramount these athletes stay fit. Bird says the demand is similar to that of a good level cyclist or runner, but requires additional workouts to strengthen the neck, arms, shoulders and core stability. “I need to keep my weight at around 70 kilos with the race kit on, so we can place the weight bias in the car in the correct places,” he says. “If anybody has been to a local go-kart track, after 15 to 20 minutes, you feel like your arms are on fire if you’re not used it. But I’m conditioned to do this with all the vibrations going through my arms, core and legs.” Besides the “homework”of driving simulator practice, Bird goes through a series of routines to prime him for peak performance. Heat training, to acclimatise to conditions inside the car, can be at a hot outdoor training camp or in a gym, wearing multiple layers of clothing. “Instead of just a T-shirt I would wear a hoodie while running in the gym so my core temperature is higher than normal,” he says. Diet and fitness regimes of a Transformers stuntman: boxing, tae kwon do, weights, and hold the sugar During race season, Bird is a gym rat, working out from one to 2½ hours daily. His switches his sessions, which include cardio workouts such as cycling or running, core stability and strength training. A session may entail running, stretching, followed by core routines and weight repetitions. “If I’m doing power work, I could be working with 80kg weights on the chest press and do six repetitions and do this three or four times,” Bird says. If the session is more about building endurance, he will attack 50kg weights, three to five rounds of 15 repetitions each. Bird makes sure not to build excess muscle, which might slow his reaction times. Quick reflexes are essential to pro racers. The 32-year-old undergoes reaction time training: hitting buttons to match a random sequence of lights over 30 seconds or a minute. “It trains your eyes and your body coordination to make you lightning fast,” he explains. Asked about the countless YouTube videos of racing drivers training with medicine balls, Bird says it helps build core stability. Drivers endure twisting and stress on the core, back, spine and sides. “Sometimes after a race you feel like your back is on fire and you can barely stand up … more training makes this easier and the balls helps with core stability work which is good for racers,” he says. Corio routine combines dance, cardio and fun The Formula E race lasts for 45 minutes plus a lap, so training for this event is nothing compared to say, endurance competitions like the 24 hours of Le Mans. “You can’t make a mistake in these races, it’s a sprint race and in Hong Kong it will be hot and humid, so you will sweat a lot and it’s easy to make mistakes.” One strategy is to start his hydration process three or four days ahead of the event. “You don’t do it on race day otherwise you’ll be drinking a lot but going to the toilet, especially with all that adrenaline coursing through your body,” says Bird. The Briton, who’s been a professional racing driver since 2011, says it’s harder than it looks. “It’s very common for all drivers nowadays to focus on fitness in their down time,” he says. Bird enjoys keeping fit as he has always been a sporty person. “I believe if the body is fit, the mind is fit as well … I need both to be as sharp as possible.” The 2019 HKT Hong Kong E-Prix will take place on 10 March at the Central Harbourfront. Bird will be racing for the Envision Virgin Racing team. For more information, visit hkformulae.com.