Winter Weather Keeping You Grounded?
Try these training tips to get in shape for the next season!
By Blair Mohn, President, IAC Chapter 58
Requesting winter training tips from the Unlimited and top-placing Advanced pilots at the 2012 U.S. National Aerobatic Championships via e-mail quickly yielded a mailbox filled with insight. You can speculate who made which comment, but reporters must protect their sources!
Competitor 1: As far as personal fitness, I believe this is mostly up to the individual and their body makeup. I know some very talented pilots whom never lift a weight or run a mile, but know many whom weight lift and run religiously with amazing results. I believe physical strength is a must with this sport. The loads to which our bodies are subjected are tremendous. I can honestly say that I am more tired after flying three hard training flights (12 to 15 minutes max) than after I leave the gym from a long two-hour workout. I am in the gym three to five days a week depending on the time of year. I lift weights and do cardio, sometimes trying to mix it up in the summer with outside running and sometimes biking. Winter can allow me to hit the slopes also; variety is a good thing. So, with this being said, physical activity and spending time in the gym make for great results. I put lots of focus on upper body (shoulders, chest, arms) and lower body squats and leg presses.
Jumping rope helps keep my head together with g's. If you are already tired pushing your plane out of the hangar, then how could anyone handle 100-degree weather and 10 positive and 8 negative g's...get my point...Exercise!
Ground preparation is a must also. I spend countless hours in my basement with a marked box walking sequences, thinking about box presence, winds, different scenarios, etc. You cannot walk the flights enough. This goes for the nights and days before your big flights in the box at the contest. You must walk the flights with the same cadence that you will fly the figures...counting in your head...pull...Set line up...one, two, three...
Competitor 2: I usually practice Pilates, because I feel that it develops muscular control and a sense of balance as well.
Competitor 3: A year ago I lost 35 pounds and worked out during the winter. When spring rolled around and I started practicing, I was able to build up and maintain a g-tolerance like never before in my life. Flew three flights per day easily at practice camps.
During the year prior I was riddled with back pain after aerobatic flights, and also didn't fly more than two flights per day at practice camps. I am inclined to believe being lean and muscular improves "aerobatic stamina."
Competitor 4: I find regular conditioning helps; I like to pick a routine and stick with it.
When it comes to g-tolerance, weights seem to work well; too much cardio seems to hurt. (I don't know why.)
Really, there is not much else you can do in the winter other than prepare for the season: judges exam, free paperwork and design, new rule book, rule changes, etc.
Competitor 5: Fred DeLacerda wrote some good articles for Sport Aviation several years ago; the articles may be archived at IAC headquarters. Basically Fred said that any strength training was good, but that aerobic training could decrease g-tolerance due to lowered pulse rates and lower blood pressure. While those are good for humans overall, Fred noted they reduced overall g-tolerance, which does make sense, strictly from a g-tolerance standpoint. Strength training did not detract from g-tolerance.
Competitor 6: For us lean types needing improved g-tolerance: moderate weight training a few times per week. Lots of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. Overall fitness: running.
Competitor 7: I'm fortunate that I teach aerobatics full time, so it's rare for me to go more than a week without pulling any g's. I do lift weights at the gym and run in addition to flying. I also do a fair amount of yoga and indoor rock climbing as well. In general I find the more active I can be, the better my g-tolerance tends to be. Nothing can really take the place of flying aerobatics, though.
And finally, some observations from the perspective of the author: We pilots not flying in Advanced or Unlimited are typically unaccustomed to being inverted for any reason. So try adding headstands or handstands to your exercise routine. And those fast snap rolls could be dizzying, so I perform a series of forward rolls on a yoga mat to build "d"-tolerance.
In addition to the personal fitness tips, most all of the competitors added comments emphasizing gradually building g-tolerance when returning to flight. One avoids negative g's the first few days. Another drops back a category to easier maneuvers to begin the season. A third performs only low g-positive maneuvers in early spring. Quoting one competitor, "The best advice is to be cautious when flying acro after a long absence."
Many thanks to Dagmar Kress, Francis Barros, Mike Galloway, Steve Johnson, Goody Thomas, Steve Grohsmeyer, and Ben Freelove.