Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fangio's Fitness Regimen

Juan Manuel Fangio (




    "The human body is like a car.
    With time, the wear and tear on
    a car does not depend on the age
    of the vehicle, but the treatment
    it has received." - Fangio

To prepare for the 1955 Formula 1 season, in which he would face an ever-growing number of ever more youthful opponents, 44-year-old Juan Manuel Fangio subjected himself to a more strenuous training program than usual. In an era when most of his peers believed the physical effort of driving racing cars was enough to keep their bodies in fighting trim Juan's deliberate regimen made him a pioneer on the fitness front. 
With the season scheduled to start in Buenos Aires, he spent the two weeks prior to his home race preparing himself for the sweltering heat that was expected. In Mar del Plata, where he was staying as usual in a hotel suite with his companion Andreina 'Beba' Berruet Espinosa, Juan joined her son 'Cacho' and his teenage friends in particularly vigorous games of beach football. They played every day for three or four hours under the glare of the afternoon sun.

With Beba presiding of the domestic arrangements, Juan's daily routine varied only slightly from the way he lived in Europe. Blessed with a naturally slow metabolism, as evidenced by his resting heart rate of 44 beats per minute (as opposed to the norm of 72bpm), Juan had the endurance capacity of a man half his age, and he worked hard to preserve it. While he could spring into action instantaneously and then perform vigorously for hours on end, he came to understand that this capability owed much to his facility for being able to whenever possible do the exact opposite: switching off completely so as to recharge his batteries.

He insisted on 12 hours of undisturbed sleep every night. His ritual was to climb into bed with some light reading material -  newspaper sports pages, adventure magazines, sometimes even comic books. He had enjoyed reading as a pastime since he was a boy in Balcarce, when perusal of the printed page opened up all kinds of possibilities in his childish imagination. In maturity he came to regard reading as means of relaxation and a form of escapism to take his mind off the realities of a high profile life that was itself being written about around the world.

At bedtime, invariably within two minutes of starting to read, he fell fast asleep, lying on his back with his arms resting on the pillow above his head. This posture, he believed, was conducive to deeper, more healthful breathing because it expanded his lungs. He slept like a log, nothing could rouse him, and half a day later he would awake fully refreshed, senses alert and rested, reflexes ready to go. Through strictly applied self- discipline he developed the ability to manage his mind and adjust it to the circumstances - ranging from shutting it down at a moment's notice to concentrating very hard - on cue. The night before a race, when jitters might be expected to interfere with sleep, Juan dispensed with his reading ritual and rather than counting sheep, he visualized internally the race track's corners. Lying back on the pillow with his hands behind his neck and his eyes half closed, he would imagine his way around the circuit, taking it corner by corner, until he had established in his mind's eye the perfect lap. Having reached this happy conclusion he slept dreamless until dawn.

On race days, after having a light lunch about four hours before the start, he would lie down and quietly turn over in his mind a range of circumstances that might arise in the race and plan ways to deal with them most effectively.

His food intake was similarly regimented and measured, and his meals comparatively frugal. He was no gourmet, and ate plain food simply prepared, consuming it on the basis that it should provide energy like fuel for a car. Breakfast was a slice or two of bread spread with butter and jam and washed down by tea taken with milk, no sugar. For lunch he had a small piece of steak, grilled, some fresh fruit and mineral water to drink. His preferred evening meal started with a bowl of soup, followed by a portion of lean meat with a few vegetables, and ended with a bit of cheese and fruit. Following this he religiously took a short walk to improve his digestion of a meal in which anything strongly alcoholic did not feature prominently. He might have the occasional glass of red wine, but seldom touched stronger drink. Whenever his prize winnings took the form of alcoholic beverages, as was often the case at races in France, especially at Reims where he won more than his share of champagne, he gave away most of the bottled booty to his engineers and mechanics.
Juan usually eschewed dessert, preferring instead to indulge his sweet tooth by chewing gum during races. He maintained that the methodical chewing exercise helped keep him relaxed and concentrated, while the gum also acted like a shock absorber to cushion his jaw against the continual buffeting from the vibrating race car. Depending on the rigours of a race, he got more or less mileage from the gum. In a hectic race he might go through several sticks, effecting the changeover during pit stops. After an easy race it was not unusual for him to carefully re-wrap a partially chewed wad and place it in his kitbag for use in the next race.

- from FANGIO, The Life Behind The Legend - now an eBook 



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