In my blissful little world, I’m a super fit Adonis that can run ultramarathons on a whim and laughs at the burger munching loafs that inhabit most town centres. But then I arrived at St George’s Park for a training day at the Michael Johnson Performance (MJP) centre and Perform.
Home of the elite, everything here seems precise and toned…except me!
After an early drive from Durham to Burton Upon Trent, I arrived at St George’s Park where I was handed a MJP tech t-shirt and sent to get changed. First point of call was to watch some of the footballers signed up to the Michael Johnson Performance pre-season training camp.
Lance Walker – MJP Global Performance Director
Out on one of St. George’s Park’s pristine pitches, a group of footballers that includes Burnley’s new recruit, Marvin Sordell are being put through a routine that includes running and jumping and stretching. It looks like any other football training routine but overseeing this is session is Lance Walker, MJP Global Performance Director shouting orders whilst Michael Johnson himself patrols the field assessing the athletes.
Michael Johnson watches over the pros as they’re put through their paces.
The session looks tough; the players look not tired but suitably warmed up, the assembled media look nervous as we’re here to be put through our paces in the same manner. After a brief time we’re ushered into the Perform Centre where we’re split into groups and put through a round of exercises that will test our strength, balance and all round fitness. First up is the jump test which can, apparently, determine how well you are likely to perform in a sprint. Literally how high you can jump can tell so much about your athleticism explains our instructor.
Squat then a count of three and jump – 27cm is my first jump and I’m impressed. Second attempt is squat then jump, this will give an indication of my explosive power. 23.3cms, surely this should be higher? Apparently, I lack strength in my legs so I would be advised to hit the gym and work on this. I’m not happy, I run up and down big hills for hours on end each and every week. then we’re told the elite athletes can jump as high as 50cm and higher. I best hit the gym!
Y Balance Test
Next up is the Y balance test. This tests a person’s risk for injury as well as demonstrating functional symmetry. Pete Lansley from Vauxhall’s media team shows off his perfect blend of unbalance and lack of symmetry. I don’t get to go on this as time pushes on.
As I leave the Perform Centre, the wall is adorned with the quote, “It’s just hard work and grafting. Then anything is possible!” by some bloke called Mo Farah.
We make our way to the indoor arena with its 3G replica Wembley sized pitch. In the centre circle the England Women’s Under 19 squad is going through a few drills under the watchful eye of senior team manager, Mark Simpson. The gathered media and I wait nervously as Brock Christopher, MJP-GB Performance Director walks in with his gang of enforcers. They’re quite clearly not a bunch of heavies in the traditional sense but each is bulked up to the max and takes no prisoner when it comes to executing each and every drill in the correct manner.
Michael Johnson whipping us into shape!
We begin the session under the watchful eye of Michael Johnson who’s made his way down from the session with the pros to have a laugh at us moaning and groaning as we’re made to stretch and move limbs in ways that are unnatural to us. After half an hour of running and prancing and squatting and jumping and loads of odds things we’re not used to we then start the drills which will make us efficient, powerful and explosive sprinters. It all seems a little absurd but with each individual drill serving a specific purpose, when combined as a whole each of us feels like an Olympic champion sprinter. Just a little slower!
After a much needed break for lunch we head to the hydrotherapy suite for a rehabilitation and recovery session. In the pool we’re took through a few routines aimed at stretching sore muscles under the resistance of the water. Lots of giggling and floating around in no particular fashion ensued. After being made to work hard in the pool, we were ushered over to the Hydroworx pool.
Recovery and Rehabilitation in the Hydrotherapy Suite
For those that don’t know, Hydroworx designs and builds rehab and exercise pools with built-in underwater treadmills and I’d been particularly looking forward to having a go on it. The are only eight of these in the UK and this one at St George’s Park is the only one available for public use so when our instructor for the session asked for volunteers to give it a go I was straight up.
Standing on the deck, I and another guy were lowered into the pool to just above our waist. Straight ahead sat a bank of monitors, screens and other technical equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in a NASA control room. The treadmill was then set into action at a pace equal to a light jog. Running at this pace for a few minutes the instructor ups the speed whilst explaining the technical capabilities of the equipment and physical benefits to an athlete. Then the jets are turned on to add some resistance. Despite the water taking away some of the relative strain running places on the joints it’s still hard work to run and the extra effort the jets are adding is making it more and more difficult (along the air that is collecting in my shorts).
After about ten minutes the speed is lowered on the treadmill and we’re returned to dry land. Following my efforts on the treadmill we’re then led to the plunge pools for a cold/hot treatment. The single most awful thing about intensive training and the need for rehabilitation and recovery has to be the ice bath. Not quite frozen over, but cold enough to bring a tear to your eye we’re told to get into the cold plunge pool for two minutes. For me, the depth is just above my waist for some of the shorter members of the press pack it’s upwards of their chest.
This is the longest two minutes ever in what is designed to make the blood vessels contract pushing the blood full of toxins and lactic acids up through the heart to be dispensed of. After what seems a lifetime were offer the ultimate luxury of two minutes in the divine warmth of the Jacuzzi to let the blood vessels reopen and allow clean blood to return to the legs and aid recuperation. But these two minutes are short lived and its back into the cold pool – I’m beginning to believe the devil is in the room!
After a further two minutes in the warmth of the Jacuzzi, that’s it, our day at St. George’s Park is done. I’ve been stretched and twisted and contorted by the excellent staff at MJP and Perform, I’ve marvelled at the seemingly different language these guys use – a indication of the level of expertise they have in their field.
I’ve been given taste of life as a pro athlete and their quest for that bit extra that makes them, in the words of Lance Walker ‘Version 2.0′ from when they walked in.
Aaron Gourley – Deputy Editor, fcbusiness mangazine
Follow on Twitter @aaronfcb
Images courtesy of Macesport