Training driver reflexes

Columns: Fitness
As we have previously dealt with the physical or athletic preparation of drivers (LINK) it seems right to also talk about mental training, in particular of the most important aspect for a driver: reflexes.

We interviewed Matteo Cantella, psychophysical trainer of drivers of Undertraining Sagl, a Swiss personal training company in Morbio Inferiore (Chiasso). Matteo follows GT, GT3, and Lamborghini Super Trophy drivers.

Matteo, what kind of work can one do with drivers from the point of view of reflexes?
There are four main areas: reaction speed, improvement of peripheral vision, reduction of focus time, and ocular-manual coordination. Different exercises can be developed in these areas that are related to each other and that allow for real improvement in driver performance.

Explain how to train your reaction speed!
Reaction speed is the time it takes for the human brain to perceive a given stimulus (sensory, visual, tactile, etc.) and to process a reaction. If you can develop this aspect in the athlete less time passes from the input to the moment of physical reaction to the impulse itself. Reaction speed is developed in milliseconds and is the shortest time an athlete can respond to a given stimulus. To improve it, reflex lights are used more, the lights with programmed ignition that allow you to work first on various areas: not only hand-eye but also leg-eye or coordination between arms and hands. These lights provide statistics at the end of the session with a graph of average reaction times. In this way, you can evaluate the improvement of the driver during the lessons. From the first week to the fifth/sixth week an improvement of usually 20 milliseconds can be seen, an indicator that you are heading in the right direction. The exercise is simply to turn off the light in the least time possible. Clearly, there are some people who are better at this type of exercise and others less so. The important thing is to understand the initial level to understand how to improve.

How do I improve the peripheral view instead?
The peripheral view is useful in all sports where the athlete moves quickly within a circuit, as in the world of motorsport, or in a space where objects move extremely quickly (hockey, soccer, etc.). In motorsport, it is useful to improve this feature first of all for one’s own safety and that of others, because by improving the peripheral view the athlete can remain concentrated on the visual focus in the direction in which he/she is heading. For example, in karting on a straight stretch where you go at 120 km/h, about 33 meters per second, at the level of peripheral vision (if trained) we can have an idea of what is happening around us without losing focus on the direction of our driving. If we have an opponent on the inside before the next braking point, we can monitor without losing sight of the braking point or the opponent in front of us (with risk of rear-end collision). A peripheral view ensures safety and performance. As an exercise you can use the lights, placing the athlete in a fixed position and placing a couple of lights close together and a couple far apart, both laterally and in depth. By having them on in a combined "near-far" sequence you can get a full workout.

Talk to us about reduced focus time!
This goes hand in hand with talking about peripheral vision because they can be trained together. Focus speed is how fast the eye adjusts to looking at one thing near and one thing far in the shortest amount of time possible. A trained person can have a focus of 15-20 thousandths of a second with an object at 2 meters of view and a curb at 40-50 meters. This is a big advantage because it makes for more precise driving and allows for a better view. The sharpness of what you see increases, with advantages in case of overtaking to enter a gap that the opponent has created without ending up on the grass. For this function, there are dynamic and static exercises. Dynamic are the tennis balls and asymmetrical rubber balls with cusps that bounce on the ground in an irregular way, excellent adaptation training! Then there are static exercises with lights where you try to turn off the light in the least time possible (simulating the start). There are also "blind exercises" in which the athlete is facing the wall, with the coach behind him who throws a ball against the wall: the ball enters the field of vision of the driver, bounces off the wall and he or she must try to catch the ball before it falls to the ground! Great for stimulating the vestibular system and the central nervous system. Exercises also done by volleyball players and goalkeepers. In motorsport, it is usual to train athletes in the same position they will assume in the race, which is a rather uncomfortable position. These limits recreate the situation on the track.

Tell us about ocular-manual coordination!
With this aspect, we mean to relate and make the connection between the brain and muscles as efficient as possible. Let's hypothesize a typical situation of a race: 20-25 karts on the track, with opponents starting left and right at the first braking point. The brain must continue to correct and react to external stimuli. The situation can change in thousandths of a second and therefore to manage it in the best way, we need a coordination between the control unit of our body (the brain) and the engine (the muscles) in the fastest way possible. To develop it, it is necessary to do some work with a low reaction time combined with an associated movement with legs, arms, or both. Basically, you simulate a stressful situation, such as starting and overtaking. You have to anticipate what others are doing, which is the hardest thing. The exercise for eye-hand coordination is to work on a visual impulse and have the body work separately with arms and legs. For example, you can have some colors activated for the legs and others for the arms. This continuous exchange of upper and lower body activation allows the brain to develop a capacity for the independence of body areas. A bit like the eyes of a chameleon! One can obviously do these exercises either at the beginning of the training session or at the end of training when tired, to simulate the fatigue of the race. Reflexes are not only useful in qualifying but especially when you are at the end of the race and exhausted!

Have a great workout...this time, your reflexes!

Created by: scorradengo - 02/04/22

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