The Powerade Sports Academy is an elite coaching experience where sportsmen and women from around the world train across five different disciplines – athletics, swimming, football, cycling and basketball – with Olympians and world class coaches.
As I headed towards the Park Club in west London on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been told that I was to become an elite athlete for 24 hours, running, swimming and cycling alongside 2016 Olympic hopefuls. I was buzzing at the opportunity.
The programme included learning skills in five different Olympic sports, plus inspirational lectures and tips on training and hydration, and meals designed specifically for the Academy by leading nutritionist Beatriz Boullosa, who is the head nutritionist for the Mexican football team.
I entered a giant marquee containing around 70 participants from 16 different countries, all decked out head-to-toe in Powerade-branded kit and eager to get started. After a few short assessments involving sprint speed, cycle power and mobility, we gathered for a nutrition talk by Boullosa.
She told us that she’d prepared the week’s menu with the chef to come up with nutritious meals for the athletes – second helpings for me then. She gave us a real insight into what should form the basis of our daily diet, with the emphasis on proteins and carbs and how to find the right balance for your individual activities.
She also highlighted how important sleep is to performance. “If you don’t get enough sleep you simply won’t develop or improve,” says Boullosa. “And your muscle mass won’t have time to develop or recover.” Not one to be an early riser, I was rather pleased to hear this.
We then had a briefing on who would be looking after us for the week (or, in my case, for 24 hours). It read like a who’s who of the sporting world: Ben Titley, head coach of the British Olympic Swimming Team; Mechelle Lewis Freeman, 2008 Olympian in 100m and 2007 World Champion; Barry Shillabeer, British Swimming’s lead strength and conditioning coach; nutritionist Beatriz Boullosa; and Carl Butler, chartered physiotherapist of Great Britain’s swim team.
They were all incredibly approachable and tailored sessions to strengthen and condition the participants to become better all-round athletes.
After a nutritious dinner it was back to the rooms for lights out (although not before watching the Olympic 100m final). After a 6am start, an 8am Pilates session set us up for the day. This was followed by a sprint session in the morning then swimming before lunch and an endurance running session in the afternoon. The day ended with a bike session in the evening.
The sessions were detailed and informative, with all the coaches sharing their incredible knowledge in their selected fields and the enthusiasm was infectious. I picked up some tips from Mechelle Lewis Freeman who is a 2008 Athletics Olympian, 2007 World Champion and 2007 Pan American double Silver Medalist. Her events include the 100 metres and the 4x100m relay.
She taught us that there are three key essentials for faster running. The first is knee drive, where you power the knee forward and focus on the return. Arm swings are the second key ingredient, as you can only move your legs as fast as your arms swing. And finally, a strong core is essential since this forms the foundation of the arm and leg movements.
The endurance session offered a taster of what Jose Barbosa, a former Olympic 800m finalist, puts his elite athletes through. “To increase endurance you must work on your VO2 max,” he says. “My VO2 max interval session means little recovery and a high intensity work out. Barbosa delivered this information with an evil smile on his face.
We started with 10 x 100m at a reasonable pace with 20 second recoveries between reps. We rested for three minutes after 10 reps then repeated. The elites, he explained, will do 60-80 x 100m with much less rest.
The evening bike sessions started with the official team GB warm up. This consisted of 25 minutes cycling focusing on cadence with an increase in intensity. We started with 12 minutes keeping the RPM (revolutions per minute) above 70, then two minutes at 80 RPM, two minutes at 90 RPM and two minutes at 100 RPM. This was then quickly brought right the way down to 70 RPM for two minutes followed by 3 x 6 second sprints aiming for maximum velocity, six seconds isn’t a long time but you most certainly start to feel it going flat out.
I registered just over 1,100 with my max wattage, which I felt happy about until I was told that Sir Chris Hoy reaches around 2,400 watts. But I guess that’s why he’s an Olympic and world gold medallist several times over.
The top tip I’ll take away from this session is to drag my foot back on the pedal to ensure a more efficient technique. Powering your foot down and ignoring the uplift phase makes for inefficient pedalling. Instead the movement should be fluid, with the legs engaged at all times. At the bottom of the stroke ensure you are dragging your foot back along the ground, this will engage more of your calf muscles and increase the efficiency.
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