From substandard hotel gyms to sumptuous breakfast buffets, work travel can wreak havoc on exercise routines and healthy eating plans. We speak to Formula One trainer Mark Arnall about staying in racing shape while on the go
Kimi Räikkönen's personal trainer gives advice on staying in shape
Modern life has a habit of making us sedentary. We spend long hours at a desk, preceded and followed by extended journeys in our cars or on public transport. Or we sit in airport lounges and on long-haul flights, before crashing at a hotel on the other side of the world, thoroughly jet-lagged.
Frequent travellers needn’t get too despondent, even if the hotel gym is less than inspiring. That’s because Mark Arnall, who does much more international travel than most of us, has simple and effective advice to share. A 46-year-old Briton, Arnall is the living embodiment of fit. And to say he’s a frequent flyer would be the understatement of the year because, as personal trainer to Finnish F1 driver Kimi Räikkönen, most of his year is spent living out of a suitcase.
They don’t refer to F1 as a circus for nothing. It’s a non-stop globetrotting spectacle that lasts from March until late November every year and involves 21 grands prix in as many countries. Drivers and their entourages are constantly criss-crossing the globe, apart from a short break during August between the Hungarian and Belgian races. Make no mistake, the drivers who line up on the grid are world-class, highly conditioned athletes – they need to be when you factor in the physical stresses they experience at high speeds in the confines of their cars. Forget any comparison with what they do and your daily commute in a dented rental; this is an extreme sport.
Drivers constantly experience massive G-forces, with cornering exerting 4G, braking 5G and a crash putting them through 20G. Races held in hot weather (as they often are) can cause a driver to lose 3 kilograms in body weight through perspiration, while their necks, heads, legs, arms and internal organs are worked at ridiculous pressures. As if all that weren’t enough to contend with, they need to remain fully focused on their driving and the ways in which their cars are behaving; in track battles, the difference between first and second place might be a hundredth of a second, and any lapse could mean an accident.
Imagine having to contend with that while jet-lagged. It’s Arnall’s job to make sure Räikkönen is in peak physical and mental condition, so his Ferrari paymasters get to see him on the podium more often than not. And he’s been doing this for a long time, so whatever routines he’s devised must be working well.
Arnall was at the recent Arabian Hotel Industry Conference (AHIC) in Ras Al Khaimah to talk about business travel and the pressures faced by company executives. His discourse might initially have seemed out of place, but was, in fact, perfectly pitched to modern business people, no matter what industry they’re in. He says that sport had always been a big part of his life, but not motor racing, which he got into quite by chance when a client attended one of his climbing lessons. This man, it turned out, worked for McLaren and was in the process of setting up a “human performance laboratory”. He asked Arnall if he’d be interested in working as a therapist for the team’s drivers and the rest fell into place. He started out working with David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen, both of whom began to get impressive results on track. For the past 17 years, he’s been working exclusively with Ice Man Räikkönen, so called because of his frosty public persona.
“Business travellers,” he says, “face a rather particular set of hurdles when it comes to living healthily. Endless buffets, client dinners in the evenings and late-night arrivals. We’ve got no time to train and often don’t have the desired facilities at our hotels – and these are problems we face in Formula One, too.” He says he spends up to 250 days a year on the road. “Last year I racked up 65 flights, so I know about the problems with jet lag, et cetera.”
Driver training begins in earnest every year in January, when the team engineers prepare the season’s new cars and make demands on the drivers accordingly. “This year we had to focus on weight loss. The engineers love it for a driver to weigh as little as possible, as it means they can distribute the weight of the car more effectively for different performance results, so they always give me completely unrealistic targets for where they want the weight. This winter I managed to get Kimi down by 3.2kg and the guy only weighed 70kg to start with.” Ferrari, he says, in its pursuit of minimal weight, recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars reducing each gearbox part by less than a millimetre, to improve the car’s power to weight ratio.
Eleven of the season’s races involve long-haul flights and, when you factor in all the practice sessions, and media and sponsor demands on a driver’s time, there’s little hope of getting them into the gym to change any aspect of their physiques. “And this is the same kind of issue faced by people who travel a lot with their work,” Arnall says. “Even with the best intentions, exercise routines tend to go right out the window because of all sorts of issues.”
The answer? Do what the man himself does and train in your hotel room. “I work out what my busiest day of the week will be and make sure there’s time either side to do a couple of high-intensity sessions in my room, lasting about 20 minutes. After them I’m toast, I can’t physically do any more. I also do a couple of eight-minute core workouts and that’s it.”
As for equipment, well you don’t need any for planking, you just need a floor. Beyond that, a special rubber band used for training can be attached to a door handle and provides enough resistance to give your upper torso a proper workout and, crucially for travellers, takes up practically zero space in your luggage.
As for nutrition, another grey area for anyone who’s constantly travelling, Arnall says he’s never been on a diet in his life and that, if you eat well (and that means avoiding processed and junk food) 80 per cent of the time and train properly, you can “enjoy” the other 20 per cent of your life. “In F1 things can be pretty complex. At the start of each season, I get a 30-page analysis of everything going on in Kimi’s body, so I am able to see where there are any vitamin deficiencies and how the vital organs are performing, so his diet can be adjusted where necessary. But real food is always where we start and improvements can be really quick. For business travellers, though, the buffet breakfasts are killers – they almost always cause us to overeat.”
Hydration, he says, is vital, and something not many of us get right. Two litres of water a day can cure all manner of physical problems, especially headaches, which are often associated with jet lag. “I always try to book flights on newer aircraft,” he says, “which are designed with more agreeable cabin humidity levels. We dehydrate very quickly on a flight, with every breath we are losing water from our bodies. The in-flight magazine’s advice to drink plenty of water is there for a reason.
“Over the years, I’ve been obsessed with finding a way to overcome jet lag and through all my many experiments, the one thing that has consistently given the best results is fasting while flying. View breakfast at your destination as the first meal of your trip or holiday, and the likelihood is that you’ll feel infinitely better and your recovery time will be much shorter.” Almost everyone complains about airline food, so maybe this is advice we’ll be able to take on board. This man trains world champions – trust him, he knows what he’s talking about.