Optimizing Performance: How do we make sure the best athletes in the world achieve greatness on the biggest stage?

With the World Cup in Russia starting today, we thought it would be interesting to explore just how elite athletes peak at the right time. How can a professional footballer make sure they are in the form of their lives leading into the World Cup? How can an Usain Bolt make sure he is ready to break the World Record 100m time in the Olympic final? And how can Saracens make sure the performance of the season happens in the Premiership final? It comes down to 5 main categories:

1/ Data

2/ Training Cycles

3/ Mental preparation

4/ Nutrition

5/ Recovery

Over the next couple of weeks we will be releasing a series of blogs about how we optimize performance in athletes. Today, we will discuss how data collection and screening athletes is one of the main pillars of performance.

Data

It will come as no surprise that at the top level of sport, the ‘1%-ers’ matter. The difference between winning the 100m Olympic Gold in Rio 2016, and finishing out of the medals was just 0.11 of a second. Across 4 years of training, a tenth of a second was the difference.

Before any training cycle begins, athletes go through a pre-season screening process. This involves baseline measurements of weight, skin folds, heart rate, blood pressure etc. They will also undergo muscle testing, range of joint movement testing and skill specific testing. These are all recorded so that each athlete has a set of outcome measures to be assessed against throughout the season.

This has so many uses. If an athlete is under performing, there is data to compare against. This can help formulate a plan to rectify any deficits in their performance. For example, if a footballer is recording a shorter single leg hop distance, it could indicate that more needs to be done on explosive strength training in their individualised programme. It could also point towards a potential injury. If it was a slight injury that was causing the reduced score, then these can be picked up at this early stage to ensure they are effectively managed and it does not lead to a more serious issue. There has been a lot of interest around the area of concussion in recent years. Many professional sports teams (including Saracens) now use technology to record data to ensure these injuries are picked up at an early stage to prevent any long-term damage or time away from the game.

Another use for this objective data is to help manage players load effectively across a season or training cycle. Testing is routinely done, so that if players are fatigued, the medical team can spot the need for rest before they become injured or their performance suffers.

If you or your team are interested in applying these principles to your club, take a look at our injury screening process – take the guess work out of your performance!