Anyone who has ever set foot in a racecar understands how physically demanding the cars can be during competition. We have all heard stories of Cup drivers losing up to 5 to 10 pounds a race because of the extreme conditions. One would have to be very nave to think that being in better physical condition would not benefit the local short track racer.

Even if you are only running 20-lap A-mains, it's not like you are showing up at the track and jumping right into the main and then going home. Races are typically all-day events. You have practice, qualifying, maybe heat races and consolations, then finally the A-main. You can sometimes spend 10 to 12 hours at the track in the heat of the day. So when your A-main comes along, the amount of energy you have left in the tank is crucial.

It is hard to get into a routine of working out and being more physically active. This is especially so for those of us who really don't like to exercise. To compound things, most racers I know have full-time jobs outside of racing, so even finding time to work out can be a challenge. However, the potential payoff is big. Even small changes can lead to big results. You'll notice after a month or two you have more energy, which can be crucial when you are at the track. Under extreme conditions, being physically fit will help you maintain focus and increase your mental and physical durability.

The off-season is a great time to start a workout regimen and establish a routine. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days per week, or vigorous-intensity activity at least three days per week, and strength training at least twice per week for healthy adults. Relax. This doesn't mean you have to spend money and a lot of time in a local gym. It just means you need to be active every day.

Here are 10 tips to help you get started.

1. Choose activities you enjoy.
Moderate physical activity can be anything that gets your heart rate up and makes you break a sweat. For me, simply running can be extremely boring. But a game of tackle football will hold my attention and make me sweat. So if you fall into this category, then choose an activity that piques your interest, such as basketball, biking, hiking, etc.

2. Invest in a set of free weights.
If you do not want to join a fitness center, then I suggest purchasing a set of free weights with a wide range of weights. This will provide you with many different exercises you can perform from inside your own house. A lot of free weight sets come with diagrams that show the proper techniques of using the weights. The trick is that you have to actually use them. Don't buy them to collect dust. But if you do not want to purchase a weight set, then simply doing pushups and sit-ups would be a good start.

3. Strength train twice a week.
Once you have the free weights, you can do some strength training, which we said earlier needs to be done twice a week. This will act as a shock to your muscles and help you increase muscle mass, strength, and durability. This will require 8 to 10 different exercises that will be done with 8-12 repetitions. On the last rep, your muscles should be struggling to lift the weights. There are a number of Internet sites where you can learn specific strength training exercises. One such Web site is maintained by Georgia State University at www.gsu.edu.

4. Stay Hydrated.
Nothing is as important as staying hydrated, not only while you are working out, but also while you are at the racetrack. Your body will sweat to try to cool itself off. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water or a sports drink. The day before a big race, I make an extra effort to drink lots of water throughout the day. Then, the day of the race, I try to drink water or a sports drink throughout the day. During the actual race, I will drink watered down Gatorade because Gatorade has the electrolytes that your body has lost when it sweats, but it also has too much sugar for my taste, so I counteract this by adding more water. I've even gone so far as to modify my in-car container to a larger version that will hold more liquid. During an extremely hot, long race, I drink the entire contents of the smaller container in the first 20 laps, leaving virtually nothing for the last 230 laps. So bigger is better.

5. Change up your workout routine.
Once you get up and running with a workout routine, don't do the same exercises over and over each day when lifting weights. One day you might work on biceps and triceps, while the next day you can work on the shoulders and chest. And don't forget your lower body. As racers, we know we need good upper body strength, but we also need to give our legs a regular workout as well.

6. Eat healthier.
This is hard to do as a racer, because racetrack food has never been known for being healthy. That doesn't mean, though, that what you eat outside of the track has to be unhealthy. Avoid greasy and high-fat foods. One of the best things you can eat the night before a big race is some type of pasta. While pasta gets a bad rap for being high in carbs, these very carbs will give you loads of energy for the next day.

7. Set a schedule.
Once you start to get into a routine you will actually find that you miss it on days that you don't get to work out. This is why it is extremely important to set a schedule when you are going to work out. This might be before work, during a lunch break at work, or even after dinner. The important thing is that you make it a priority in your life. It's very easy to skip the workout when time gets tight. But be firm. Set a schedule and stick to it.

8. Running is the best exercise, but walking can be just as beneficial.
Running really is the best overall exercise for your body, but taking a simple 30 minute walk can do just as much good. This might also be a good time to spend some time with a family member. Adding a friend or family member can help break up the boredom and can also give you moral support to continue the workout.

9. Working out doesn't require a drastic change in lifestyle.
In reality we're only talking about 30 minutes five times a week. The nice thing is you can break it up. It can be a 10 minute run during your lunch break, a 10 minute walk after dinner, and then a 10 minute session of one-on-one basketball later that evening. Notice how even though it is only 10 minutes each time, you are still staying active throughout the day.

10. Start today.
You will find every reason in the book not to start. Trust me, I have found them all. But if you are really serious about wanting to run better, then this is one area you will need to look at seriously in order to have every advantage against the competition. You will not only improve your performance at the track but also start living a healthier lifestyle.

SOURCE
The American College of Sports Medicine Georgia State University
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