Dr Ben Rosenblatt is one of the UK's most successful and respected physiotherapists. He masterminded the conditioning programme that led the Team GB female hockey team to a history Gold medal at the Rio Olympics and is now looking to replicate that success with the England football team having been headhunted to try and turn around years of underperformance.
What are the key values that have underpinned your approach to S&C training throughout your career?
I feel that my role is to provide physical training solutions to the sports performance challenges that teams, athletes, coaches and support teams face. I highly value listening and watching so that you can get right to the heart of the matter and I highly value not having a method or a way as this may limit the training solution.
That being said, I tend to characterise the problems that athletes and coaches face into the following categories:
Can you tolerate the demands of sports training that you need to be able to complete in order to get better?
Can you tolerate the unique demands of your competition?
What do you need to leverage on or to develop in order to help you win?
Having worked in a variety of sports, which would you say are the most advanced in terms of their application of S&C science?
I think it’s highly varied and dependent mostly on the skills and experience of the coaching staff.
In the UK high performance system I think there is a really unique approach of using science to solve performance problems.
In other environments it can feel like the cart is pulling the horse. A great example of that is load monitoring. Many sports teams and organisations monitor training load using a variety of technology. Based on the data they collect, they develop rules of how much or little a player can do. However, managing training load may not be an important issue which the coaches and athletes are trying to resolve!
What specific training techniques did you use with the GB hockey team in the build up to Rio and how do you think this differed to their competitors?
The key objective was to develop the player’s capacity to absorb high volumes of hockey training. We achieved this through a constraints based approach to motor learning (to reduce the incidence of risky motor strategies during play) and building tissue conditioning through high volumes of low loading activities. This would have looked like lots of lunging, bridging, crawling over and around obstacle and jumping on and off things.
The Olympics was a unique tournament where we would have to compete 8 times in 13 days. We did some research on the physical profile of a tournament durable player and discovered that stronger and fitter players were more durable than less fit and strong players. Therefore, regular exposure to max strength training (squatting, deadlifting, leg pressing etc) and ensuring that the players were receiving an appropriate running stimulus within training were really important in developing and maintaining these characteristics. We also build very high volume training weeks into our calendar. This meant that the players had experienced the volumes of work that they were going to face at the games and it provided a larger stimulus for aerobic adaptation (a block periodization method).
Finally we sat down with the coaches and athletes and asked them what was going to get them into the team and how were they going to help the team win? We then built their physical training around their tactical and technical objectives. Through this process we discovered that the players were very fast and could turn well, however in a decision making scenario they would often get beaten. Therefore, we included a context specific decision making component in all of our plyometric and agility activities.
What do you see as the next major milestones for athletes in terms of S&C advancements?
I really hope it goes towards listening to athletes and coaches more and then using technology to challenge and support what they are seeing and feeling to ultimately help us make better decisions.
I also think we are about to make some really interesting discoveries around what motivates people and teams and how we learn motor skills. This will inevitably influence our coaching practice positively.
How much further do you think the application of rehabilitation science has to go in sport?
There’s so much we can do!!!
We can use science to understand the fundamental mechanisms that are taking place as an athlete heals. This can help our decision making around how we structure rehabilitation and training programmes.
We can also start to use technology and scientific processes to understand the individual injury risk an athlete may face when competing. This can help us build training programmes to reduce the risk of this happening. Science and technology can help us understand better why people get injured and bespoke their rehabilitation. This will help us make more objective and more consistent decisions as a support team.
How do you think GB have managed to find and maintain an edge over the competition in so many Olympic sports?
I think it comes down to lottery and government funding. Fundamentally coaches and athletes are full time and are supported by full time support teams. This means that we can focus all of our attention and efforts on helping athletes train to win.
We also have a system that learns fast and shares information quickly. What is learned from one sport or coach can be quickly transferred to another.
How important do you think the relationship between physical and mental preparation is for athletes at the top level?
I wouldn’t distinguish the two. A lot of the physical adaptations that take place from training are worthless unless the athlete knows how to use them in competition. There’s no point in helping someone sprint faster unless they win the races on the pitch! Athletes also tend to build a lot of confidence in their body’s from knowing that they’ve done work which has directly supported what they are trying to achieve. Mental preparation facilitates and helps to transfer any type of physical, technical or tactical development into the arena that it counts.