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Training with Scott Dixon: Racer reaps triathlon benefits in IndyCar

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon details how he simulates race day in the gym and uses triathlons, rowing, swimming, lifting and more to build his fitness for the race track. 

In the last few months of training and winning his fourth IndyCar Series, Dixon started focusing on an Ironman 70.3 in Miami. Workouts started to consist of more swimming and biking. All his training harkened back to a trainer that Dixon worked with as a teenager in Australia who stressed being strong on the bike and in the water. Having a Former Welsh and British 800m champion wife in Emma Davies also helped Dixon get out the door and diversify his workouts.

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A major event like a triathlon or Ironman tends to also impact the way Dixon gets his season started. The winter primarily has a strength-based focus while the spring and in-season training looks to build cardio and aerobic strength.

“Lately, I’ve always had something in the off-season that I’m training for with more a cardio focus and that could be something like running 50 kilometers or a half-Ironman but you can still focus three or four days on lifting weights to maintain weight. That’s a big thing in the off-season. The fear is not that you’ll get skinnier but instead just put on fat.”

Dixon says the biggest struggle with last season was to maintain weight toward the end of the season. He found himself between the 150s to 164.

“With training for that Ironman, you just couldn’t eat enough to keep up with regular training for that as well as my main focus and what I’m paid to do and that’s the IndyCar series," he says. "You have to balance it well and that’s the hardest thing that I fought with.”


​Crossfit, which has more of a focus on explosive power, has come along but the wave of IndyCar racers that also do triathlon work in their training remains strong with Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Jimmie Johnson, Landon Cassill and other stars that have pushed for it as supplemental training.

Dixon started this new season at 164 and hopes to maintain that throughout the season as it is important to simulate race-day conditions as much as possible. When Dixon first started racing, he would have 60 days to test those simulations and it has cutback a lot since. Weekends bring along just about two hours of practice. Qualifying for races takes up about 30 minutes so track time is also down.

Race day sharpness does not come easy.

“For us, we also need to work with reaction lights and that comes with the high intensity of a five-minute interval and then doing a light board for two minutes," he says. "While you’re doing all of that, you’re also doing math equations that pop up on the board. For us, multitasking is the most important thing. You’re changing how the engine is reacting, how your downshifting five gears and then more. You have to flood yourself with a lot of things going on while staying at 160 beats per minute [for a heart rate].”

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Tips to train like Dixon

Dixon looks to simulate race-day conditions through high-intensity circuits that anyone can try, which he explains below.


Swimming for breathing capability: Maintaining at a moderate tempo with your heart rate while also holding your breath will typically help with simulating the breathing during the race. Flip-turns in the pool force you to hold your breath and raise your heart rate.

Running and cycling for braking: Running and cycling have helped me deal with the pressures that tend to get pretty high especially with today’s cars and advancing with downforce. We get almost 1,500 pounds to the caliper. Imagine you're pushing 200 pounds on your lower body and you’re doing it something like 15 times per lap.

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Squats for explosiveness: Yes, you can do a ton of squats to strengthen your lower body and build up explosive power but it’s also about finesse and knowing how much pressure you want to apply. You have to have a good sense of light pressures on a corner as well.

Core for mastering the seated position: Most of our circuits focus on core since we have to pay attention to seating position of where your legs are, where you’re pushing, where you’re pulling from and where you’re breathing to get through the G-forces.

Lifting for shoulder and neck strength: You can use a lot of weights. The roads are typically quite rough with a lot of load on them. Do shrugs and anything that can really set off the neck muscles and shoulders.