Jimmie Johnson is embarrassed to admit that not only does he own a grip-strength device, he uses it nonstop. “I carry it with me and try to burn out my forearms daily,” he says. “I never thought I’d be that guy.”
Transitioning from 20 years of Nascar racing to IndyCar racing has forced the professional driver to rethink his strength-training program. “Grip strength is a big part of being able to drive an IndyCar,” he says.
The seven-time Nascar champion retired from Nascar racing last November and at 45 years old is now training for his first IndyCar season, which kicks off April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. He says the switch between motorsports disciplines is akin to taking up a whole new sport midlife.
A Nascar vehicle averages 3,000 pounds and can reach speeds of up to 200 miles an hour. IndyCars are open-wheeled, weighing around 1,350 pounds and reaching speeds upwards of 230 miles an hour.
For a driver, one of the biggest differences between the two sports is that an IndyCar doesn’t have power steering as a Nascar car has, Mr. Johnson says. “It takes much more upper-body strength to control the car on turns.” He has had to adjust his routine to focus not just on grip strength, but also neck and forearm strength, core strength and stability and hand-eye coordination. “Essentially my core and lower back act as my anchor and I use my arms to fight forces through the [steering] wheel,” he says.