In some sports it is is easy to see how hard an athlete is working to put in that perfect performance, chest heaving as they pull in lung fulls of air in pursuit of their target. In others, the actual physical effort may be less obvious but nonetheless equally intense, as a recent study comparing the physical loadings of rowing and motorsport highlighted.
The research by the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at Finland’s Jyvaskyla University put competitors from each sport through structured tests that loaded their neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems in a structured and measurable fashion. All the participants competed in karting to international level, and undertook a rowing test that saw them start off on a machine at a power output of 90 watts, which was then increased every three minutes until exhaustion, and then five of them carried out a 30-minute kart race simulation including a pit-stop, with isometric tests before and after each stage of both tests.
The results showed that while the rowing placed a greater load on the cardiovascular system, at the higher power outputs the rower’s heart rate peaked at around 190bpm compared to an average of 139bpm across the 30-minutes of kart driving, the time in the kart placed a greater loading on the neuromuscular system – the combined nervous system and the muscles it controls. This was evident in the isometric strength tests the drivers deteriorated more after that test than they had after the rowing session.
Researchers suggested that the loading of the neuromuscular system was coming from sources such as the physical loads on the driver during cornering and steering as well as vibration etc. A comparison was made with the rower’s oxygen uptake on a middle loading (120-150 watts) of 77% of their personal maximum and a 2002 study on physiological responses to high speed race driving that suggested drivers competing on a race circuit could operate at 79% of their maximum.
In summary – motorsport may be something you can do sat down, but the loads on the driver and his body’s ability to react and cope can greatly impact on his performance, particularly in the latter stages of an event where the effects on his neuromuscular system cumulatively increase. Top drivers spend more time in the gym or on fitness work than they do in their racecar to ensure they can maximise their performance, having your body in the best shape– so the physical has minimal impact on the race – can make a difference in those final laps, and even a quick boost of pure oxygen before the red lights go out at the start could be a decisive element in race success!
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