There was a time, in a lot of action sports, when training for it was not ‘cool’. That time was not that long ago either. Simply turning up on the start line after a particularly heavy night and with very little sleep was encouraged, it was normal. However like any sport, as they progress the level of competition gets greater each year. The events and competitions get bigger, as do the performances and tricks – everything gets faster and ultimately becomes professional. Which by default means the athletes themselves become professional, and prepare physically and mentally as professional athletes.
Inevitably this leaks down to the weekend warrior, just as with equipment the pro’s use – the training they do is something people want to emulate. So now the question isn’t whether you should or shouldn’t prepare for your sport – but what preparation you should do to maximise your performance.
Clearly the training a professional extreme sports athlete needs to do and the training someone who shreds with friends at the weekend differs – but not as much as you think. There’s also a lot of conflicting information out there about what to do, from straight up copying what an elite does to internet forum based received wisdom. The fact is no one really knows exactly what training an extreme sports athlete needs to do and no one (despite what they might say) is an expert – me included. We’re all making what is in effect extremely educated guesses based on a number of factors.
The obvious and most important thing is that you can actually do your chosen action sport, on a DH bike a technical inability to rail a berm confidently or clear a jump without casing it is not going to be solved purely in the gym. 2/3rds of our performance goal setting and planning process with an athlete is technical and competition based, with the remainder about physical and mental aspects.
As I see it, the main areas to concentrate on to help maximise your performance as an action sports athlete are;
To be able to act and react not just with big movements, but with fine motor (muscular) control. The more randomised this training is the better, which should always try and incorporate some sort of accuracy like catching a ball or landing on a specific spot. Reaction balls, and game based activities are the best – essentially all the things we did as children but have either had it coached out of us or stopped doing it as we grew up. This also helps with the mind body connection, your vision, perception, general overall body awareness and decision making ability. All vital to help you ‘perform’ in the dynamic reaction based environment you find yourself in.
You need to be able to throw you’re own bodyweight around and control it. Your using your body weight as a dynamic moving part, so you need to be able to control your own body weight! There are lots of different types of strength – max strength, strength endurance etc. Ultimately the more reps you can do with your own body weight through full range of movement at the joints, using complex movements i.e more than one joint moving – the better. This is also obviously ‘global’ meaning front to back and top to bottom on your body. However this is something you need help with, moving your body weight around is something you should do under supervision to technically complete it. Strength is the foundation all athleticism is built on, you wouldn’t bet on a ‘weak’ horse would you?
This is a posh word for fitness – it’s about your ‘engine’ and the better your engine, the better your able to tolerate the world around you whether that’s a world championship race schedule with all the traveling, or the stress of your day job. My preferred method for this is metabolic conditioning, it puts the central nervous system under a huge amount of stress and as importantly there is a large mental strength element to it. Ultimately the mind gives in before the body, and it’s the mind that tells the body what to do – so any opportunity to incorporate mental strength into preparation is seized upon.
It’s simply about applying common sense to what you’re doing away from your sport. If at any point you find yourself stood on a swiss ball waving a kettle-bell around, ask yourself if you are preparing for the circus or to get better at your sport – does it make sense? Obviously you need to recover properly in between sessions physically, mentally and nutritionally – however that is an entire series of books on their own and we’re not covering that here just yet. Constantly challenging yourself brings about an adaptation, doing the same thing over again and something you can already do, will not. Move to improve people!
Weekends, especially in the summer, are not a time for me or anyone else in the performance team to relax. Having spent every weekend for 6 years away with Red Bull, these days I tend to stay at home. However, whatever I do with the family to relax on a weekend, there’s always one thing in the back of my mind – the dreaded ‘phonecall’ or ‘text’. If any of the athletes or support staff call or text me over the weekend, it’s not to ask me how my day is going and what I had for dinner. Getting in from a day out where I haven’t had my phone with me, if there’s two missed calls and a text from a team manager waiting on my phone it means only one thing – it’s going to be a busy week (or weeks).
This 15 minute video is a good illustration of what happens – when I took Danny MacAskill to get to the bottom of what was wrong with his back for his two year project, Imaginate.
Action sports athletes and injuries go together, in fact it’s a process we call ‘the cost of doing business’. If you’re into action sports whether it’s professionally or as a weekend warrior, then the cost of doing business will be an injury, not if, but when – it’s inevitable. Gravity + speed + stopping suddenly (colliding with the ground/tree/other people) = injury. Wearing the proper protective equipment is a given in any sport where speed is involved, you also add the extra dynamic of gravity – and it’s a potent mix for injury. It’s no coincidence that the biggest crash I’ve seen in World Cup DH was in 2012, as the bikes get faster and the athletes on them fitter and stronger.
In any case, regardless of how well protected you are – an injury will happen. It’s a fact of action sports life, and as you can imagine it’s something myself and the performance team spend a huge amount of time dealing with. We don’t just have a sports doctor we work with, we have a specialist per body part. Foot & ankle specialist, knee specialist, spinal specialist, hand & wrist specialist, elbow specialist, shoulder specialist – one for every eventuality. It’s vital that when dealing with elite athletes that the people looking at the injury are a recognised world class specialist in that particular body part – as the athletes career could depend on the intervention and outcome. The more catastrophic and serious the injury, the more important this becomes. MRI’s and X Rays only reveal so much to a surgeon, and more often than not once they open up an athlete something unexpected is found, so when it comes to someone having to play surgical jazz in the operating theatre, you need an expert to pull that off. Equally for the athletes they need to know they’re in the best hands, so walking (or more likely on crutches) into a consultation room a world famous premiership footballer is walking out of helps put their mind at rest. It also allows the athletes to compete with the determination and aggression needed to win, knowing that should something go wrong we’ll be there to catch them. That doesn’t mean the athletes take unnecessary risks or are cavalier about anything – all action sports athletes start from a point of high risk, it just means the support is there to absorb the consequences of ‘The Cost of Doing Business’.
All that is fine for the elites, but what about everyone else? Not everyone has a world class high performance programme behind them like the Red Bull athletes do or other professional sports. The rest of the world also need to get back to work on Monday morning, ‘normal’ people (or civvies as I call them) don’t get to spend the week working with specialist physio’s and trainer recovering. Your boss might not be so understanding about calling them when you’re off work and saying, ‘Its the cost of doing business, the cone said so’. Injuries also don’t happen just from colliding with the ground or a tree at a rapid rate of knots, wear and tear, or muscles and joints in the body not working as they should will cause something to break down. So when the inevitable happens, what should you do?
As with anything prevention is better than cure, so apply some common sense to what you’re doing. Ensure that you are in good working order just as you would your bike, that the muscles and joints are working as they’re supposed to and you’re doing the fitness work to make sure that stays the case. It’s not a bad investment to get a ‘MOT’ from a sports specialist and pre-habilitation programme to keep everything going in the direction it’s supposed to. The more miles you put on your clock the more important this becomes. Make sure you’re prepared for ‘when’ things go wrong not ‘if’ things go wrong. We’re quite happy to spend a lot of money on the equipment and associated kit for the sport, but the kit doesn’t ride itself – so invest in yourself and your performance education. A days training course with Extreme Medics who know the sport and environment you ride in doesn’t cost that much, being the ‘office first aider’ doesn’t prepare you for a massive crash on the hills . When you or a riding partner hit the deck having that basic knowledge of sport related emergencies will pay off massively.
Every injury is unique, just because you’re mate once dislocated their shoulder (which was in fact not a dislocation but a partial sub lux) doesn’t mean that what treatment and outcome they had is going to happen to you. Trails, slopes and parks (like pubs) are awash with experts who will tell you exactly what to expect because it happened to them or a mate of a mate that knew the mechanic of someone that once rode with a mate of someone that races – who had the same injury. The same goes for internet forums and search engines, all you’re going to do is overwhelm yourself in conflicting advice which is entirely inappropriate to your injury. So whatever happens to you, it’s a unique occurrence and your reaction to it and any treatment will also be unique. Also remember it’s not the job of the NHS to get you back to full action sport awesomeness, their duty of care is that you can function as a person – you’re weekend sport is down to you. So don’t get frustrated with them when they fail to appreciate you want to be back riding, that’s not their job. In most hospitals and GP practices there tends to be someone that specialises in sport or has a keen interest in it, so don’t be shy about finding out who that is and asking to see them. A lot of the top specialists spend a few days a week working in the NHS, so ensure you ask if there’s someone around who is ‘sporty’ and you may ‘luck in’ and get one of the countries best specialists looking after you!
You need to ensure you are happy with the treatment path you are on, and once on that path you need to stick to it. Cobbling together your own treatment plan based on several pieces of advice from several different people is not a firm plan with an outcome. Just as with your training, a specific outcome requires a specific plan – so meandering through different things whilst not doing exactly one thing isn’t going to bring you back to full fitness. One of the biggest factors affecting an injury outcome besides the quality of advice is your compliance to it, and one of the largest influences of that compliance is the ‘mental’ side of injuries.
Jonny Walker has the surgical options explained to him, I attend all appointments with the athletes
Being unable to compete or take part in your sport is not a good place to be mentally – for professional athletes this is their lives, and whilst being stuck at home might sound ok to some, for a professional athlete it’s impossible. For a weekend warrior, it will only take a few missed trips or rides and the ‘novelty’ of the injury soon wears off as it begins to affect you in every day life and everything you do. This is made worse by the fact that re-habilitation training has to be the most boring imaginable. I hate to say it out loud, but the fact is re-hab completely sucks and there’s no way around that – but if you know it’s going to suck, and you accept that – in itself that is a step forward in getting better. So much about injury recovery is about positive mental attitude and a determination to get better. So whether you’re a pro or a weekend warrior ensure you have clear, specific plan in place and view your rehab like medicine. It might not be nice, might not be what you want, but it’s going to make you better. From my perspective I have a huge amount of empathy with the athletes, having broken all my limbs, had every soft tissue injury you can think of and with 4 large metal plates and 30 screws dotted around my body – I ‘get it’. Nobody wants to stand waving a theraband around ensuring the muscles around an injury don’t switch off, but if the cost of doing business is injuries, the ‘service charge’ is the rehab training.
It’s also essential you don’t let the injury take over or dominate your life, if an athlete has a broken leg they’re often shocked when I ask what the next gym session is – I point out to them they have perfectly usable arms and another leg. Just remember that whatever injury you have, it usually only affects that one part of your body so it’s not stopping you from using all the other parts! I had Dan Atherton in the gym 6 weeks after breaking his neck doing weights, with his cage on – you’ve got to move to improve. It simply requires planning, effort and determination – and that all important positive mental attitude.
Danny’s rehab and training with me continues in this video
Amazing work by extreme enduro rider Jonny Walker this morning. He now has a session named after him:
10 ‘over’ box jumps (jump onto box, step down other side, jump back on, step down to start position counts as 1 rep)
10 kettle bell swings @20kg
Pyramid the box jumps & KB swings 10-8-6-4-2-4-6-8-10
Also amazing photobomb by the legend that is Karl Steadman!
Darren presented ‘Extreme Sports Athletes – Creating The Performance Playground’ at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit which was held at The Oval cricket ground in London. The speakers were all from the very top level in sport globally and Darren was honoured to be asked to present alongside them. Darren was concerned that his non traditional approach to high performance would not be well received, but the organisers said that was EXACTLY why they wanted him there, to rattle cages and shake things up.
Read Darren’s abstract of the presentation;
If it can be measured, it can be improved. That’s certainly a mantra I’ve heard many times and even used myself. In terms of what can be measured and how – things have moved on at an exponential rate in the collection of data and the tools used to do so. Sports science has it’s map of the performance world, but what about the individual athlete’s map of their own performance world? Whether its sport or business, is perception greater than reality? Do we consider athletes as people or simply a series of data points and key performance indicators to be manipulated in an effort ‘improve performance’? In this presentation I shall explain some of the challenges we face with our athletes, how we support and encourage them – and how that might impact their performance.
It was a packed two days for both the speakers and the 200 attendees at the top level in sport from UK and Europe. There were also various awards during the summit, the catagories and winners were;
High Performance Team of The Year – Darren & Faye!
Sports Analytics Technology of the Year – Infostrada Sports
Sports Analytics Research Institute of The Year – Prof Steven Haake & CESR at Sheffield Hallam
The judging panel consisted of;
Scott Drawer, Head of Research & Innovation, UK Sport
Karl Cooke, Sports Science Manager, LTA
Ben Smith, Head of Development Performance Systems, Chelsea FC
Marco Cardinale, Head of Sports Science & Research, BOA
Darren & Faye were both surprised and overjoyed at winning the award, a fanstastic endorsement and recognition of the amazing work they both do with an incredibly challenging athlete group.
Looking through the list below, its clear how world class the summit was and Darren was humbled to be asked to present alongside them. The list is in order of the presentations over the two days;
The CARI Initiative: The story behind the US Olympic Committee’s quest for new sport knowledge
Peter Vint — Sr. Director, Research at US Olympic Committee
Player Welfare & Team Performance
Andy Shelton — Head of Sports Science at Leicester Tigers
Extreme Sports Athletes – Creating the Performance Playground
Darren Roberts — High Performance Manager at Red Bull
The Role of Analytics and Performance Systems in Player Development
Ben Smith — Head, R&D. & Prfm Systems at Chelsea FC
Analytics and the Olympics: The Development of Performance Analysis Systems for Elite Sport
Steve Haake — Director, Research at CSER
Lifetime Injury Prevention: The Sport Profile Model
Nick Webborn — Chief Medical Officer at Paralympics GB
The Current Issues and Applications of Analytics in Sport
Marco Cardinale — Head of Research at BOA
Evidence-Based Practices in Leadership
Simon Wilson — Manager, Strategic Performance at Manchester City FC
The Pursuit of Innovation in the Premier League
Tony Strudwick — Head of Sports Science at MUFC
Performance Sport and the Era of Big Data
Scott Drawer — Head of Research at UK Sport
Beyond Moneyball: Evidence-Based Coaching Not Just Statistics-Led Recruitment
Bill Gerrard — Technical Consultant at Saracens RUFC
Analysing & Influencing – The Application of Analytics in Super League
Giles Lindsay — Head of Analysis at Leeds Rugby
Management in High Performance Sport
Mike Whittingham — Director, High Performance at SIS
Preparing for Euro 2013
Phil Worrall — Senior Football Analyst at The FA
Perception, Knowledge and Big Data
Michael Bourne — Head of Sports Science at England Cricket Board
2012 & Beyond
Tim Jones — Director, Performance at British Gymnastics
Paint by Numbers: How Data is Enhancing the NFL Gameday Experience
Alicia Rankin — Director, Research at NFL
More information on the summit can be found here –