David Joyce discusses the intense training culture in China

With Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation: Integrating Medicine and Science for Performance Solutions being prepared for its release on the 4th January 2016, co-editor David Joyce reflects on the skills and duress development of athletes in Chinese sport.

“I have just spent the week in China, where I was speaking as a guest of the Chinese Olympic Committee at the International Training Summit, a massive conference that attracted in excess of 1200 performance coaches, rehabilitation specialists and academics.

I worked in China during the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics and, to this day, I still consider it the experience that most profoundly influenced my thoughts and philosophies as a both a performance rehabilitation coach and as a person.

In the West, we often pursue specific athletic qualities in our training or rehabilitation. These may be things such as aerobic power or agility or lower body power. Our programming is very obviously targeted to these goals, and we are remarkably successful at it. I feel, however, that by having these as the end targets in our programming, we are being inappropriately reductive, and we are seeking to write programmes allowing the tail to wag the dog.

What China made me consider much more deeply though, is the notion that these qualities are all somewhat surrogate measures of performance. Really, the performance that matters is how well you play the sport.

What does this look like? Well, for the sports that China dominate (and there are many!), the coaches often do not measure such things as aerobic power, lactate threshold, vertical jump or barbell speed. The emphasis is developing the skills of the sport and then increasing the duress that these skills are placed under. At the pointy end of international competition, rarely will success get down to how much you can bench press (unless your sport is bench pressing, of course!).

They do this by altering the environment (playing table tennis in extremes of temperature and humidity), the intensity (playing 2v1 badminton), the volume (performing the same dive 90 times in a single session) or the pressure (weightlifting under competitive pressure judged by all coaches every weekend during a training camp). In the West, we have a fancy name for this process and it’s called Dynamic Systems Theory, but in China, it’s not just a theory, it’s an all-encompassing training culture.

It’s no wonder that Chinese athletes are exquisitely skilled and have ice coursing through their veins even under the most extremes of competition. Ever seen a Chinese diver on the platform at the Olympics? They have faces of stone and they inevitably nail the dive. Competition does not get to them because they have trained under this duress so much that it’s normal.

Dr Ben Rosenblatt, one of my closest friends and a key contributor to Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation spoke at this conference in Beijing. He discussed using a dynamic systems approach to injury prevention and rehabilitation. Much of his talk was honed off the back of the fantastic chapter he wrote regarding training and rehabilitation design, and the role of the strength coach in the rehabilitation process.

The rehabilitative process is still somewhat new to China, certainly from a Western perspective, but the methodology that Ben was detailing was in compete concordance with Chinese training philosophy.

This method focuses very clearly on movement quality and this is a central theme in every chapter in Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation. The book is very principled in design, but the methods described in each of the chapters (34 in total, covering every aspect of rehab and injury prevention) are manifold, giving the reader exposure to a wide array of tools to build a toolbox. Dan and I are so proud of the publication and can’t wait to see it hit the shelves at the end of the year.

How can we utilize this dynamic systems approach in injury prevention? Well, let’s say we have a group of athletes and we want to improve their movement skills, especially as they relate to landing from a jump. We can run a 5-minute circuit whereby the athletes engage in multiple landings, each task slightly different, but the emphasis on quiet landing with good depth and hip-knee-foot alignment the critical (and non-negotiable) ingredients. The variations we could throw in may be:

  • Height of the hurdle or platform
  • Progress from double leg to single leg
  • Holding a medicine ball overhead
  • Increasing rotation moments by holding a dumbbell overhead in only one hand
  • Progressing from forward (sagittal plane) to sideways (frontal plane) jumping and hopping
  • Mirroring a teammate in front of them

The great thing about this methodology approach is that it rewards creativity in drill selection. You can alter the constraints as much as you like (and as much as possible), but be eagle-eyed on the aspect(s) of the skill you’re trying to groove.

Whilst I went over to China to teach, I came back having learnt so much!”

Follow David on Twitter @DavidGJoyce

Edited by David Joyce & Daniel Lewindon

  • Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation

    Integrating Medicine and Science for Performance Solutions, 1st Edition

    Edited by David Joyce, Daniel Lewindon

    World-class rehabilitation of the injured athlete integrates best practice in sports medicine and physical therapy with training and conditioning techniques based on cutting-edge sports science. In this ground-breaking new book, leading sports injury and rehabilitation professionals, strength and…

    Paperback – 2015-12-03
    Routledge