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Inside the Olympic Village…With former TCG trainer; David Joyce

Ni hao from inside the Olympic Village,

Today I was wandering around the village and had a look inside the gym that we have on-site here. It’s relatively basic with plenty of resistance and cardio machines with open space for flexibility work. It got me thinking about writing a piece on strength and conditioning in the middle of a big tournament such as the Olympic Games.

In my view, the role of the S+C coach at this stage of the game is not to get the athlete any stronger or fitter. It’s a bit too late for that! I do believe that loading a movement pattern that is used during the sport is of value however. This helps a process that my fellow coach in China, James Finn, would call neurological priming. Essentially, this is a process whereby the brain is ‘reminded’ of the motor skill that is vital. It is basically like muscle memory and activating the appropriate muscles in the appropriate manner and sequence and is definitely of value.

"The strength coach at the Olympics is to ensure the motor patterns are ‘clean’, and also to lead the recovery sessions, something that is vital in the sports with multiple games or races"

It is a way of ‘turning on’ the muscles in preparation for competition and has been of great value to our athletes. We need to be careful about making the athlete too fatigued though and so we tend to do only a few repetitions of key movements.

The gym is also used by athletes wanting to relieve the boredom of sitting in their room in the Olympic village so often we’ll see athletes in there cycling away listening to their iPods or watching TV. The final group of athletes we see will be those in weight-restricted sports such as boxing, lightweight rowing, taekwondo etc who need to shed some weight in order to be legal to enter the competition. These athletes will be in their sweatsuits, often doing intervals on the bike or treadmill.

The weightlifters will be in their own performance rooms, primarily in the competition venue. They will be lifting heavy weights but with an emphasis on technical skill and minimising energy leakages. They will not be lifting under any illusion of getting stronger at this stage, more just honing the technical aspects of the sport.

In sum, then, the role of the strength coach at the Olympics is to ensure the motor patterns are ‘clean’, and also to lead the recovery sessions, something that is vital in the sports with multiple games or races over the course of the fortnight (such as hockey, tennis, water polo and rowing).

Next week, we’re going to discuss recovery strategies during an Olympic fortnight. This is something that really can make the difference between a medal or a fourth place finish. If you’re interested in reading other insights into the science behind the events taking place at the Olympics, have a look at my regular piece that I’m writing from within the Olympic Village that can be found at www.pponline.co.uk.

‘Til next time,

Stay robust, amigos!


David Joyce

Sports Medicine and Performance Consultant for Team China leading up to the London Olympics. Holds Masters degrees in both Sports Physiotherapy and Exercise Science and lectures on the MSc in Sports Physio course at the University of Bath and on the MSc in S+C at Edith Cowan University.

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