High Heart Rates, but No Rise in Body Temperature—Despite Fire-Protection Gear

Newswise — Philadelphia, Pa. (August 1, 2011) –NASCAR pit crew members are highly trained athletes with unique physical adaptations that help them tolerate the high temperatures and stresses of working on the race track, according to a study in the August issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

During races, pit crew athletes show high heart rates but relatively low body temperatures—despite wearing extensive fire protection gear. The results suggest "distinct physiological adaptations among pit crew athletes that aid in performance and tolerance of the race environment," according to the new study, conducted at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte by David P. Ferguson, M.S., R.C.E.P., and colleagues. Ferguson is currently a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University.

New Insights into Physical and Psychological Stress in NASCAR Pit CrewsThe researchers evaluated heart rate and body temperature in seven pit crew members during six NASCAR Sprint Cup races. The measurements were obtained using special ingestible sensors, which transmitted wirelessly transmitted physiologic data. Heart rate and body temperature were measured before each race, every 15 minutes during the race, and after each pit stop—12 to 20 times per race.

Surprisingly, body temperatures were lower in pit crew athletes than in non-pit crew controls at the same race. The researchers had expected that pit crews would have higher body temperatures because of their required fire-resistant suits (including socks, gloves, and underwear) as well as helmets. Body temperatures differed by pit crew assignment—tire changers/jackmen had lower body temperatures than tire carriers.

Pit crew members had higher heart rates during races on asphalt tracks, compared to concrete tracks. There were also significant differences in heart rate by position: higher in tire changers/jackmen than in tire carriers.

"The study is the first to measure the physiological responses of elite pit crew athletes in the race environment, an environment that is characterized by high temperatures and requisite fire-protection clothing," Ferguson and co-authors write. The results suggest NASCAR pit crew members have special adaptations to the harsh and stressful conditions on pit row.

The higher heart rates in pit crew athletes may provide a clue to the lower body temperatures: a faster heart rate may more efficiently shunt blood to the skin, thus helping to dissipate heat. This likely results from extensive training—including frequent practice pit stops wearing full fire-protection gear—leading to high-level athletic conditioning and heat acclimatization.

The authors note that some of the races studied were associated with unique psychological stresses—for example, one team needed a strong performance to qualify for NASCAR's "Chase for the Cup." Especially after they've attained top physical condition, training under conditions of anxiety might help pit crew athletes to further improve their performance. In this situation, "The use of a sport psychologist in addition to continued training could prove useful," the researchers write.

Ferguson comments, "There is a general perception that pit crew members are not athletes, but the physiological adaptations documented in this study show this to be an inaccurate statement." He adds that the new research is the first and only study to be done with the full permission of NASCAR and the Sprint Cup team Earnhardt Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.


About The Journal of Strength and Conditioning ResearchThe editorial mission of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) is to advance the knowledge about strength and conditioning through research. A unique aspect of this journal is that it includes recommendations for the practical use of research findings. While the journal name identifies strength and conditioning as separate entities, strength is considered a part of conditioning. The journal wishes to promote the publication of peer-reviewed manuscripts which add to our understanding of conditioning and sport through applied exercise science. The JSCR is the official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

About the National Strength and Conditioning AssociationThe National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is an international nonprofit educational association founded in 1978. The NSCA develops and presents the most advanced information regarding strength training and conditioning practices and injury prevention. Central to its mission, the NSCA bridges the gap between the scientist in the laboratory and the practitioner in the field. By working to find practical applications for new research findings in the strength and conditioning field, the Association fosters the development of strength training and conditioning as a discipline and as a profession.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services.

LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company with 2010 annual revenues of €3.6 billion ($4.7 billion).