Physiology

SSA Blog: Neck on the line

It’s been another disappointing weekend for Ferrari in the Formula 1 Driver and Constructor Championships. After such a promising showing in pre-season testing in Barcelona, they returned to the Spanish track and failed to gain a podium place. Sebastian Vettel is now under considerable pressure. His failure to challenge Mercedes and the early promise shown by new teammate Charles Leclerc has meant an increased focus on the former world champion.     

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In such a technologically advanced sport it’s easy focus on the tech often overlooking the athleticism, physicality and training needed to produce race winning performances. Drivers are now required to train to levels associated with sports such as football, rugby or even boxing.

An area now commanding particular focus is neck strength. The forces the drivers experience in the car can top 6 G. This means a driver’s head would ‘feel’ as though it weighs round 40kg at these points.  As an open cockpit sport, neck strength, in order to maintain head position, has become a major performance factor. Last season Vettel struggled with neck injury during the congested European season and almost missed the British Grand Prix (a race he went on to win). Vettel wasn’t the only one to suffer, a number of drivers were not physically prepared for the increase in force production and towards the end of races had to rest their heads on the side of cars in order to maintain something approaching race pace.

Recognising the need for greater strength, driver’s training regimes have totally changed over the past two seasons. Previously, 100% of a drivers’ training was focused on endurance. Now around 40% of their training is devoted to strength in order to cope with the extreme forces experienced throughout a race weekend. This must be among the most dramatic training shifts of any sport. Most sports have evolved so athletes are now fitter and stronger, but very few have necessitated a signifiant shift in basic training principles between seasons.   

The research regarding physical preparation in elite motor racing is sparse compared with other major professionalised sports. However, with the changing physical and mental demands, drivers are now focusing on these aspects more than ever to maximise their performance in the car. A recent paper written by McKnight et al (2019) showed that F1 drivers registered higher scores across a number of physical benchmarks, including neck strength when compared to their counterparts in other racing championships.  

Now that benchmarks are beginning to be set as to the strength needed to compete at the very top of motor sport, drivers know the physical side of the sport is going to be increasingly evaluated. In a sport often separated by hundredths if not thousandths of a second, every rep in the gym is going to count.

As Vettel contemplates a way back into the Driver Championship and Ferrari consider how to make up ground in the Constructor award, spare a thought for the four-time world champion as his neck is truly on the line…        

SSA Blog: Marathon Music Session

In October 2019, Eluid Kipchoge will attempt to break one of the great barriers in men’s athletics, the two-hour marathon. Supported by INEOS, Kipchoge plans to better his time of 2:00:25 set during the Nike Breaking 2.0 project in May 2017.

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Recently, Sport Science Agency has been working with a high-quality speaker brand to assess the affect that music quality has on performance. The impact of music on performance has been a research topic for well over 40 years. It has been shown to have a beneficial effect in numerous exercise situations, including running. Interestingly, in going back to watch the Breaking 2.0 documentary the team considered the shoes the athletes wore as you would expect from Nike, air-resistance and drafting, nutrition, hydration and of course optimising the athletes’ training, but music didn’t feature as part of the race strategy.

Music is a very individualised tonic, it’s rhythm, beats per minute, cultural impact and its potential to trigger positive emotional responses could all play a role in supporting performance both mentally and physically.

The Nike Breaking 2.0 project led to a fantastic attempt just falling outside of the magic two hours by 25 seconds, or less than one second per mile. As this new project begins to take shape and the marginal gains are again explored, a quality playlist and sound system could be the missing piece capable helping Kipchoge find those vital final few seconds.

SSA Blog: Warm Weather Training

This weekend sees the Premier League make way for the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup. Only 7 Premier League teams have reached this stage leaving a number of clubs with the opportunity for a winter training camp.

England hosts the only major European league without a winter break, for those teams no longer in the competition FA cup weekends are increasingly used for that role.

Liverpool, Southampton, Newcastle and West Ham have taken advantage of the extended break before their next fixture, while Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United are considering a trip to sunnier climbs in the next few days.

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For Liverpool this will be the second warm weather trip since the turn of the year. Jurgen Klopp justified the getaway when saying “There’s nothing good about going out of competitions, but if you are out you can suffer or you can use the time”. So why do clubs value these mini camps so highly and what are the supposed benefits?

There is very little direct research on the topic in Premier League Football. However, the proposed benefits can broadly be broken down into 3 categories, Mental, Physical and Tactical.

Mental

In 2016 a study by Smith et al, showed mental fatigue having a negative impact on running, shooting and passing performance in football. A training camp, even for a few days, allows players to remove themselves from the pressures of performance and possibly wider lifestyle concerns which can support mental recovery and therefore performance.

As we all know a change of environment can be enough to help impact our mood. When that change includes a perceived benefit, such as sunny warm weather, the response is often positive.

A training camp also offers a controlled environment with less distractions. Players and coaches can benefit from extra focus and use it to reinforce positivity among the group, remove negativity and deal with stress in order to prepare for the final few months of the season.

Physical

In 2012 a study of Premier League players found that 65% of the sample were deficient in Vitamin D in the winter months (Morton et al 2012). A warm weather training camp with greater exposure to sunlight will help alleviate this problem and the related decrease in performance almost immediately.

The increased sunlight and warmth also helps maximise training times. With less time needed for warm up, more time can be devoted to training with the goal of improving or maintaining players fitness levels. Linking back to the mental benefits, it is often easier to run double sessions, players being motivated by warmer conditions. With longer daylight hours, less warm up time, the quantity of work can be improved.

When away on these trips the club has greater access to the players, for example, they are not driving home after training. This gives the club enhanced oversight of players’ recovery, ensuring they are maximising the value of training.  

Tactical

Southampton Manger Ralph Hasenhuttl, pointed to better weather conditions making it easier to train tactically because “you can work in a good atmosphere”. If players are not distracted by trying to keep warm and dry, they have greater mental capacity to take in tactical messages. The warmer weather also makes it easier to spend time on relatively static or slow-moving blocks of tactical drills.

Developing team cohesion also plays a large part in training camps. Research has consistently shown a link between cohesion and performance (Filho et al 2014). For new players coming into a side via the January transfer window or players stepping up to first team level, these camps provide an opportunity to create bonds at a personal level and adjust to the tactical demands of a new team in a less pressurised setting.

Warm weather training camps are much more than a chance to get away and top up a tan. For clubs, they provide a chance to prepare players for the remaining months of the season. For players it’s a welcome relief from the pressures of Premier League life and for staff they create a conducive working environment aimed at maximising performance needs - whatever they maybe.

With the Premier League introducing a winter break from next season, expect to see all clubs jet away for an extended break in the sunshine. With the need removed to find an artificial gap in fixtures, hopefully it will be a catalyst of more than 7 Premier League teams to make it through to the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup…     

 

Sport Science Agency uses its insight and expertise to tell performance stories and unlocks their value for brands, broadcasters and rights holders. If you want to know more about what we can do for you, drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy vitamin packed drink.