The Strength Coach Behind Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 Fitness Reveals His Training Secrets
The rigors of driving a high performance F1 car for lap after lap demand strength, endurance and lightning reactions. As with all top athletes, Daniel Ricciardo can’t wait until he’s in the driving seat to build these attributes – he needs to train, and that’s where Michael Italiano comes in.
Like Ricciardo, Italiano is an Aussie who believes in the power of building healthy habits and looking at training as a lifestyle. “I cannot stress the importance of your daily habits enough, as they play a huge role in your overall wellness and mental state. If you don’t have your daily habits in check, the likelihood of you sticking to a plan is zero. A healthier lifestyle is a process, not an outcome,” he says.
By following a weekly strength and conditioning program, your physical resilience will increase and your ability to generate force on the golf course will increase. Like F1 drivers, golfers rely on the posterior chain of muscles (calves, hamstrings, glutes, QL) and core to generate most of their strength. RSNG.com asked Italiano, Ricciardo’s Performance Coach and the owner of personalized training platform MI Coaching, how he gets the driver race-ready and how we can all benefit from training in the gym…
RSNG Tell us how you train Daniel Ricciardo for strength and fitness – what kind of workouts and programs do you use?
MICHAEL ITALIANO, STRENGTH & CONDITIONING COACH FOR DANIEL RICCIARDO “We focus on three key areas: strength endurance, neck strength and cardiovascular fitness. Strength endurance usually entails mainly posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, QL) and core work because the posterior chain absorbs most of the force during high-speed braking. Additionally, core strength as the driver’s core is continually fighting with the control of the car.”
“Most of the gravitational force (G-force) in F1 is imposed on the necks of the drivers. Drivers can experience over 6Gs around some high-speed corners. Your head weighs approximately 5kg and the helmet weighs around 2kg, so a driver experiencing 6Gs would be experiencing 42kgs > 92 pounds of force through the neck – for two hours!
“We do cardiovascular work because these athletes need to be super-fit. They are enduring G-force, the physical demand of the car, their muscles being under tension for two hours and also external physiological challenges, like weather.
“High temperatures hinder the body's ability to cool itself, which is a major challenge for F1 drivers. They are wearing fire resistant suits in cockpit temperatures into the 50°C/120°F mark. Increases in core temperature and excessive sweating result in reduced reaction time and a decline in driver performance. The fitter drivers experience less cardiovascular and metabolic strain in response to physical stresses of racing and the thermoregulation of the body.”
RSNG Do you periodise Ricciardo’s training around the season?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “Yes, during pre-season (January to March) I will periodise training phases throughout the three months. In-season is a little more difficult because we only have four-10 days between races, so the main emphasis in-season is recovery, rest and sleep due to the travel demands of jet lag. Additionally, hitting our benchmarks to maintain his optimal conditioning all year round, that we set during pre-season.”
**RSNG What’s Ricciardo’s favorite exercise for general strength?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “Since Covid we have had to change up our training and the resources we have at our disposal (gym facilities), therefore over the last two years we have done a lot of in-home training with limited equipment. We resorted to basic bodyweight movements during lockdown times, and press-ups and planks have been his favorite exercises for general strength.
“If we are in a facility, we love farmer’s walks and plate halos. For stretching we love Cossack squats and a hang.”
RSNG Do you train Ricciardo to be more resilient in the event of a high-speed crash?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “We don’t focus on the dangers of the sport, nor do we over-analyze a crash if an unfortunate event does occur. We both understand the dangers of the sport and the risk involved every time he jumps into the car. We focus our energy on the positives, i.e. where can Daniel improve personally, and what strengths can we exploit?”
“I’ve experienced two high-speed crashes that Daniel has been involved in. First and foremost your primary focus is ensuring the health of the driver. Yes, naturally it’s going to be on their mind when taking the corner of the crash the day after. Moving forward after a crash is more about getting back into a rhythm and building up your driving confidence lap by lap. Backing your ability!”
RSNG What aspects of Riccardo’s training regime would be useful for our readers, as they work to build a foundation of strength for other sports and for life in general?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “I’d say general core strength is something that most people tend to forget about. A weak core can lead to a number of issues from lower back pain, to poor posture and muscle imbalances. Additionally, people think your core is just your abdominals which isn’t completely correct.
“We are talking transversus abdominis, pelvic floor and oblique muscles too. Strengthen your core to improve your stability, make daily movements easier and overall allow your body to function properly.”
RSNG How does Riccardo train on the road?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “On the road depends on what we have at our disposal. Usually we have the luxury of a quality hotel gym where we can hit our training targets at each race. Since Covid most hotel gyms have been closed so our training has involved bodyweight and resistance band movements in a hotel room.”
RSNG When scheduling is tight, what is your go-to short and effective workout for Riccardo?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “Short in my terms is around 20-30 minutes, so usually we will always tend to train the neck with every opportunity we get. It’s very important the neck stays strong and conditioned throughout the calendar year. When our focus isn’t the neck we got for a full body strength circuit. Push-ups, plank, single leg glute raises, banded face pulls, supermans.”
RSNG How do you train his reactions in a physical context in order to improve his response times – and can we all do this?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “We actively use Fitlight technology and equipment. It’s speed, agility and reaction light training. We predominantly use it to speed up his feet for the pedals and his hand speed for starts, clutch drops, cornering and gear changes.”
RSNG What’s the most surprising thing about training someone for F1 racing?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “The ability required to multitask and stay super-focused across a two-hour period. The dexterity and coordination for turning the knobs on the steering wheel; the ability to remain alert as races often last two hours; the ability to process and make quick decisions; and hand-eye coordination so they hit their driving lines consistently and precisely.
“They also need to maneuver gears and foot pedals while steering their vehicle, using highly developed coordination. The steering wheel has 25 buttons and switches the driver must know as well.”
RSNG What about nutrition? How do you ensure good recovery?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “Nutrition is extremely important for any athlete; a Formula 1 driver is no different. Race day nutrition is packed full of high-quality carbohydrates and healthy fats, efficient energy sources and also a hydration protocol to ensure he is well-hydrated before a race. Post-race involves a recovery shake straight after, followed by replenishing fluid loss for the next two to four hours. A meal 45 minutes after the race is usually a carbohydrate meal like pasta.”
RSNG How much rest and sleep do you ask Ricciardo to get?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “Plenty – ideally, we aim for eight hours of sleep per night and power naps whenever he gets the chance on the road. Because we are in a different country every week, time zone changes and jet lag become extremely challenging to combat and adjust to.
“The first 48 hours post-race is all about getting as much quality sleep as possible and recovery – physical massages, Hypervolt gun massages, slow active recovery like walking and dynamic/static stretching. Also, nutrition and hydration are a vital part of our recovery plan.”
RSNG Can you give us three tips on how to make our workouts effective?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “Number one – don’t skip the warm-up. Warming up before exercise prepares your muscles, heart and lungs for physical activity, lowers risk of injuries and helps gear up your mind for the workout ahead. This, in turn, improves circulation and muscle elasticity, which can increase the range of motion. All of these factors can enhance speed, strength and endurance.”
“Number two – tempo, tempo, tempo! Time under tension is always overlooked when performing weights training. Controlling the lift is so underrated – the eccentric (lowering), isometric (pausing) and concentric (lifting) movement of a lift.
“Number three – focus on gradually increasing your weight, reps or frequency of training by 5% each week. I’m a big fan of progressively overloading your training to ensure you are improving your training and overall results.”
RSNG What’s the most brutally effective training session in your arsenal?
MICHAEL ITALIANO “I love my compound movements, they are the most bang for your buck exercises you can do, especially for an athlete to build strength, power or muscle. Therefore, any training session that involves big compound lifts can be brutal, and also extremely beneficial and effective for the athlete.”
WHAT NEXT? Do this exclusive workout from Michael Italiano to get F1 fit…
Clam Shell Thrusters
Sets: 3 Reps: 8 each side Target muscle: Glutes Equipment: None
How To Do It “Lie on your side with your feet and hips stacked, your knees bent 90 degrees with your forearm resting on the ground.”
“Draw your knees in towards your body until your feet are in line with your glutes. Place your other hand on your left hip to ensure it doesn’t tilt backward. This is your starting position.”
“Keeping your abs engaged and your feet together, simultaneously raise your hips and top knee as far as you can without rotating your hip or lifting your right knee off the ground. Hold for one second, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement, before slowly lowering your hip and knee back to the starting position.”
Why Do This Move? “To bring more power and stability through your hips and build up your glute muscles. When performed correctly you’ll feel your glutes really working,” says Italiano.
Forward Lunge Into Romanian Deadlift
**Sets: 3 Reps: 8 each side Target muscles: quadriceps & hamstrings Equipment: None
How To Do It “Start with your feet hip distance apart. Begin to lunge forward with one leg, having both of your hands resting on your hips and lower the back knee to the ground.”
“Now, push through your front leg and lift it off the floor, so the leg that was behind in the lunge now becomes the supporting leg.”
“Hinge your hips back as you extend the elevated leg behind whilst leaning your torso forward, reaching your fingertips towards the floor to really accentuate the stretch of the supported hamstring.”
“Drive through the front foot until you’re upright and continue to perform a forward lunge once again.”
“Continue to execute the repetitions on one side before performing the exercises on the other leg.”
Why Do This Move? Italiano says: “This is a great exercise to develop strength through your posterior chain. This variation will work your legs and core at the same time while also improving your hip mobility and strength.”
Sets: 3 Reps: 10 Target muscles: Abdominals Equipment: None
How To Do It “Sit on the floor with your legs fully extended in front of you. Have both hands either side of you with your fingertips only lightly in contact with the floor.”
“Draw your belly button towards the back of your spine as you gently hinge back ever so slightly.”
“Now squeeze your inner thighs together as you lift both legs off the floor. Hold this position, trying your hardest not to round through your spine or letting your legs lower down.”
Why Do This Move? “A difficult exercise which works the abdominals and quads tremendously. Perform this exercise consistently and watch your core and leg strength develop greatly,” says Italiano.
Side Plank Rotations
Sets: 3 Reps: 8 each side Target muscles: Obliques Equipment: None
How To Do It “Start in a side plank position with the top foot resting on the bottom, or the top foot grounded in front of the bottom foot. Make sure your elbow is directly underneath your shoulder with your palm flat on the ground. It’s important to make sure you’re positioned correctly to avoid putting your shoulder under unnecessary strain.”
“Raise the top arm up to the ceiling to start, now begin to lower the arm down and then sweep it underneath your torso, making sure your head rotates in the same direction. Imagine you’re trying to reach that top arm behind you to really challenge your obliques, without lowering your hips.”
Why Do This Move? “My favorite bodyweight oblique exercise,” Italiano says. “This exercise requires a lot of core strength, oblique tension and balance. Oblique muscles support the back and overall posture which is very important.”
Split Squat 1.5 Bottom Rep Target muscles: Quadriceps Equipment: None
How To Do It Start in a staggered position with your legs, your back foot is on your toes throughout the whole exercise.
Begin to bend the front knee as you keep your heel grounded. The majority of your body weight should be in that front leg. Think about pushing your hips as far forward as possible, aiming to reach your knee as far over your toes as you can. This movement is challenging your ankle mobility massively.
Once you get to the bottom of the split squat, push your foot through the ground as you come up halfway, then drive back down to the bottom and then push up completely until you’re back in your start position. Please note not to fully lock your knee in the top position, and by keeping that soft bend it keeps constant tension on the front quadricep.
Why Do This Move? “To strengthen the main muscles around the upper legs while also stimulating mobility in the hip, knee and ankles joints. Incorporating a 1.5rep makes the exercise more challenging, creating more time under tension and stabilization,” says Italiano.
“Michael Italiano is Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 Performance Coach and the owner of MI Coaching, an elite level coaching platform designed for everyone. To find an individual training plan to suit your lifestyle, visit Michaelitaliano.com.”
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Photos & video: Michael Italiano/PR supplied