Sports Therapy in Motor Sport – Driving The Team Forward!

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Sports therapist, Matt Wagstaff, gives us the low down on how sports therapy can be involved in motor sport

When somebody thinks of a therapist working in sport, certain sports spring to mind; running on for an injured rugby or football player or icing an injury between tennis sets for example, but motor sport rarely crops up in peoples mind. Motor sport is all about the engineering, the aerodynamics and the tire pressure surely?

However someone must tame and drive the perfectly designed and engineered masterpiece! And that’s where my role within formula 3 comes in (unfortunately I don’t get to drive the beast). I work as a driver coach and sport therapist within the team, and it is my job to see that the drivers are also firing from all cylinders, from a physical and holistic sense. In order to perform optimally and efficiently to push their car to the engineered limits of speed and control a driver must be prepared not just physically to deal with the speed and accompanied G forces, but they must be prepared psychologically, fuelled proficiently and hydrated for the performance.

Physically, the drivers must be able to drive the car going up to 200mph and between 3-5G on their bodies. Though they are effectively sat down in their single seater car, their bodies are being put to the test! Heart rate goes upwards of 70% of their maximal, which maybe 170 beat per minute or above, therefore they must be cardiovascularly fit. We work on this through structured programming within a gym setting and outside with cardiovascular-based workouts. Cycling is a favoured activity of many racing drivers due to its aerobic benefit which increases cardiovascular fitness and helps keep body weight in check. Drivers at this level need to be as light as possible, while remaining fit. Strength is also a key factor in driver training and preparation; high pressure is put on the neck and core muscle especially through fast corners. A lot of focus is put on recruiting and strengthening all the muscles around the neck including the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles at the front and outside of the neck, and the splenis capitis and trapezius muscles supporting the posterior neck. They must also be dynamically strong through their core, not solely for performance purposes, but also to support their posture, spending a long time in a seated position can increase the chances of picking up an injury due to poor movement patterns and tension in muscles. Alongside a strength program I use regular manual therapy such as sports massage, joint mobilisations and acupuncture on the drivers around testing and races, to prepare their bodies and promote recovery following strenuous sessions in the car.

Driver psychology is also a key part of a driver coach role, to drive a car pushing 200mph heading into corners one must be supremely focused and confident in their abilities. This often comes through a focused and relaxed warm up approach, along with key lessons with engineers learning about the car set up and track ahead. Each driver has a different way of finding their focus; music, meditation and a gradual physical warm up approach are often utilized pre race. However outside of the race setting drivers are put through their paces both physically and psychologically, unique concentration, focus and hand eye co-ordination drills are applied often in a pre-fatigued state to harness skills needed to drive the car under both physical and mental acute stress.

The human performance role within single seater racing is constantly changing. Drivers must be able to adapt to newer cars and changes in car set up, and with that the human performance team must be able to prepare them physically and mentally for this. This also goes for the team as a whole, mechanics and engineers often put themselves in positions of high stress mechanically and mentally to address key structural changes to a car or to change a tire or replace wing at high speed in a pit stop setting. Therefore we format movement and strengthening programs to address their unique jobs, making sure they are robust and efficient to fulfill their roles, which will in turn make the car go faster!

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