Earlier this year, we paid a visit to GB Taekwondo with the intention of finding out how they were using the Wattbike on their road to Tokyo. Fast forward a few months and things were looking a little different, to say the least. We caught up with GB Taekwondo coach, Rhys Ingram, to find out how using the Wattbike helped them redefine remote training throughout the pandemic and how it’s powering the preparation for next year’s games.
HI RHYS, PLEASE TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOU AND YOUR BACKGROUND?
I’m the Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach for GB Taekwondo and a Senior S&C Coach for the English Institute of Sport. I have been fortunate to work with GB Taekwondo since 2013, in that time supporting athletes across an Olympic Games, four World Championships, and countless other major international tournaments. Prior to this, I worked with various sports in preparation for the London Olympic Games (British Fencing, Wheelchair Rugby & Basketball, Para-Swimming, Athletics) as well as, non-Olympic athletes (England Squash, Women’s Rugby & Football). I earned my MSc in Strength & Conditioning from Middlesex University and have a Bachelors in Sport & Exercise Science from UWIC.
HOW HAS YOUR ROLE CHANGED WITH THE PANDEMIC? HOW DO THE TRAINING METHODS DIFFER?
Prior to the pandemic, I would work face to face with our athletes at our centralised base, the National Taekwondo Centre in Manchester. Each week we would run a series of strength and power sessions, conditioning sessions and support injury rehabilitation. We would also observe and support technical Taekwondo sessions wherever needed. Beyond this, we would spend time updating programmes, working with other members of the coaching/support team and reviewing data collected, in order to best support the athlete in their training towards all competitions.
Since the pandemic hit, our routine has changed but the objective has remained the same. We were able to provide our athletes with a mix of equipment from our gym to take home, enabling them to keep progressing in their training. This included weights, plyometric equipment, heart rate monitors and even Wattbikes.
From there we were able to programme remotely for the athletes to maintain their physical and mental readiness throughout their lockdown. Face to face contact was temporarily replaced by WhatsApp, Facetime and video conference calls, with programmes being regularly updated based on feedback from the athletes and based on the constantly changing circumstances of the lockdown in the UK.
Now we’re back to training at the National Centre things feel more normal. We’re working with athletes in person once again which is great, just with extra precautions taken to ensure everyone’s ability to train safely, such as providing PPE, extra cleaning of equipment, smaller groups and health checks taking place.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ADAPTING TO THESE CHANGES?
The key things that have helped us adapt and keep pushing through this changing time has been having a clarity to our training goals. This enables us to be flexible in our approach, even when some very unexpected circumstances present themselves.
As a coaching team we have been able to identify our key performance indicators with Taekwondo players so that despite the pandemic we could still pick up on different ways to keep our athletes moving towards their goals.
We are fortunate to have an extremely motivated and committed group of athletes who understand the importance of maintaining their physical readiness. This has meant that together as athletes and coaches I think we’ve been able to adapt well and this will pay dividends when we are able to return to full international competition.
HOW DOES THE WATTBIKE FIT INTO YOUR TRAINING PHILOSOPHY?
We aim to have the fittest Taekwondo athletes in the world, who have the ability to push any fight to a pace that the opposition won’t be able to handle. In order to do that we need to ensure that our athletes’ metabolic conditioning is world-leading.
When developing the plan to achieve this goal, we need to consider many factors, especially how we are able to get the most out of our athletes without negatively impacting their ability to train on the mats with their Taekwondo coaches.
The Wattbikes have been key for us in being able to provide our athletes with data-driven conditioning sessions that minimise impact and wear and tear on their bodies when attempting to train two to three times per day. Whether it be longer aerobic sessions or short, sharp, high-intensity sessions, the Wattbike provides a solution to many of the things we want to achieve. It enables us to keep things fresh and interesting for the athletes as we can prescribe and review sessions based on different measures such as time, distance travelled, wattage and more. Our athletes can then focus on different things and see the progression in different aspects of the training year-round.
HOW ARE YOU USING THE WATTBIKE HUB AT THIS TIME?
We use the Wattbike Hub to help track athletes progress, and to prescribe sessions to athletes when we are not there. It means we can remotely support the athletes and evaluate their performance to ensure that even when we’re apart, as we have been during the pandemic, our athletes are able to keep pushing and progressing towards their goals.
ARE YOU USING ANY OTHER APPS TO COACH YOUR ATHLETES AND TRACK THEIR PROGRESS?
Alongside the Wattbike Hub we use our Polar heart rate systems to track the athlete’s training zones and how this relates to their wattage during different sessions. We also have an in-house Taekwondo app that we use for monitoring an athlete’s wellness measures, such as sleep, energy and other factors that impact on their performance.
These apps are our main electronic support during training weeks, however, as we usually see our athletes each day, we have found that nothing replaces the face to face conversations we can have to check in on how athletes feel, how they might train that day and how we might best support them in other ways such as recovery.
HOW ARE YOU COMMUNICATING WITH/COACHING YOUR ATHLETES RIGHT NOW?
As previously mentioned, we are now back in the centre with our athletes, training under strict conditions. As a result, the need for electronic communication has reduced, however, when wider messages need to be communicated across the whole coaching or support team we’re still using things like Microsoft Teams to have those meetings.
When working with the athletes we’re trying to keep things relaxed and fun wherever possible. Whilst this is an important time for us to make improvements ready for the Olympic Games, we also appreciate that stress levels are higher than normal and that competitions might be a long way off. So to keep everyone motivated and happy I think it’s important to coach in a way that strikes the right balance between performance and fun!
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP THREE TIPS FOR IMPROVING PERFORMANCE DURING THIS TIME?
Keep moving. It’s really easy to find yourself spending more time on the couch binging Netflix programmes during the lockdown and this reduction in overall movement will have a huge impact on your recovery, mood, weight and performance. Try to use the time to get out on walks or bike rides. Spend time engaging in positive activities that make you feel happy.
Keep focussed on your goals. We utilise a mix of short, medium and long term goals in training and competition with our athletes. An Olympic Gold Medal is an amazing thing but even that can seem irrelevant when you’re trying to get through a hard session or to wake up early a year or more from the Games. By employing smaller, short term goals, such as maintaining a certain wattage on a tough interval session, we’re able to motivate the athletes to keep pushing through a whole cycle, no matter how hard the sessions become.
Control what you can. Many people have felt a little out of control during this period. As a result, I have heard people talking about their sleep and diet being affected negatively, and whilst I can definitely empathise with this, both those things are ultimately in your control. Don’t allow a disrupted schedule to result in regular late-night games console sessions. Equally don’t allow being stuck in the house for more of the day to result in more visits to the biscuit cupboard! Nothing will affect your recovery, mood and immune system more than a good night’s sleep so whilst we’re taking such precautions to manage risk around a pandemic, a good night’s sleep is so important. What we eat is also a huge factor in our overall wellness, recovery and mood. By focussing on good nutrition and maybe even learning to cook some new, healthy meals, we’re able to better manage how we feel session to session. Getting both these things under control and in the right place is vital to you being the best you can be, so taking the time during lockdown to get them right is so vital!