The England Lab: Our man tries out the FA's 100m St George's Park complex before Rooney, Gerrard and company move in
14:34 GMT, 27 September 2012
In the hotel at St George’s Park, there’s an evocative photo
mosaic of legendary England players and moments of the past. Becks, Gazza,
Robson and Ramsey are all there, taking pride of place in the plush lobby.
But these images are the only concession to the past in the
Football Association’s shiny new 100m headquarters nestled deep in the
For the rest of this place is about the future – both in the
almost Space Age training equipment and facilities on offer at every turn but
in the grand vision that brought the whole thing into being.
Welcome mat: The main entrance to St George's Park, the Football Association's new 100m training complex in the Staffordshire countryside
Wacky designs: The reception features a multi-coloured selection of football shirts
Next month, the England senior squad will walk through its
doors for the first time as they prepare for the latest couplet of World Cup
qualifiers against San Marino and Poland.
They will enter a building that is part-science lab,
part-training ground, part-rehabilitation clinic and part-medical college. For
the first time, our national team will have everything under one roof – no more
working out of hotel rooms and suitcases.
The new home for all 24 English representative teams, from
schoolboys to seasoned pros, St George’s Park is the end result of a
quarter-century of wrangling, planning, budgeting and building.
But this will all be worthwhile if this state-of-the-art
technology helps deliver a first major tournament success in nearly 50 years.
World of wood: One of the changing rooms at St George's Park. Each one is named after a famous England player
Inspirational: Quotes from famous names adorn the walls throughout
England’s head physiotherapist Gary Lewin says: ‘This is the
culmination of a 25-year process. In all the time I’ve been involved with
England teams, we’ve always worked out of hotel rooms wherever we are in the
‘At last, we have a ‘home’ and a ‘base camp’ for our medical
staff. But St George’s Park will be much more than that – it’s a centre of
excellence for medical education, coach education and data collection, which
will be shared with universities.’
And those members of staff will have the best of everything.
From this point forward, England failures will owe nothing to physical
At the heart of the complex is the Human Performance Lab,
full of machines which can tell you everything about the make-up of your body
Ready to race: Four Wattbikes are hooked up to the computers in the Human Performance Lab
Anti-gravity and anti-oxygen: The AlterG treadmill (right) next to the altitude training chamber
The anti-gravity treadmill is based on technology borrowed
from NASA and strips away up to four-fifths of your body mass to literally take
the weight off your feet.
England stars who pick up knocks on the field can keep up
their training routine without needless pressure on aching joints.
Four Wattbikes – exercise bikes which accurately measure the
amount of power your legs produce on the pedals – add an element of competition
for the players through programmable races.
In the corner, an altitude chamber with a treadmill, bike
and rowing machine to test the efficiency of your respiratory system in low
Alpine air: There's an exercise bike, treadmill and rowing machine in the altitude chamber
And when the elite athletes move in, every second of their
work out will be logged, recorded and pored over at great length by the finest
Along the tall corridor is the rehabilitation gym, which is
cunningly positioned above the full-size indoor Astroturf pitch, the idea being
that any injured players can be inspired in their recovery by watching their
teammates training below.
Lush: The indoor Astroturf football pitch will be used for training games when the England team move in next month
Again it’s packed with the latest equipment as you’d expect.
Technogym won the commission to fit out all the gyms at St George’s and there’s
kit here that looks genuinely frightening – until you start to play about with
The ‘Kinesis’ sounds especially daunting, but its flexible
cables and pulleys allow for an infinite number of different exercises that
work muscles you forget you have.
Elsewhere in the room are good old-fashioned weights and
medicine balls, which the England players will no doubt relish chucking around
in a month’s time.
Inspirational: Exercise bikes overlooking the indoor pitch, so injured players can watch their teammates training below
Im-press-ive: This Technogym leg press is the only one in the world at the moment
State-of-the-art: Exercise machines in the gym, including the versatile Kinesis One (left)
To make sure the reactions of Joe Hart, Robert Green and
company are as sharp as they need to be, BATAK boards have been installed.
They’re grids of lights that flash up in random sequence, leading to a flurry
of palm-bashing as players go head-to-head to record the highest score.
Down in the underbelly of the building are the more sedate
surroundings of the Hydrotherapy Suite, where the players will unwind after a
hard training session.
This time, cutting edge technology meets the water – the
Variopool has a moving floor to adjust the depth, there’s an underwater
treadmill for resistance training and the dreaded ice pool, positioned
mercifully close to the warm bubbles of the jacuzzi.
Water world: The Hydrotherapy suite has a main pool (background), ice bath (centre) and jacuzzi (foreground)
But despite all this being created ostensibly for the
advancement of the England team, the bosses at St George’s are insistent it
will be accessible to all.
Surprisingly, there are no security gates at the start of
the winding drive to the front door and club sides, local junior teams, individual
athletes in rehab from injury and those simply curious about fitness are being
‘This is a centre for the whole football family,’ says the
Park’s Managing Director Julie Harrington. ‘We want to encourage a sense of
belonging for clubs in the Football League, the Premier League and players from
other sports as well.
‘We’re already had Olympic and Paralympic athletes through
the doors, as well as the England rugby team. There’s been interest from people
who like extreme sports and from those who’ve written to us and asked for help
in their recovery from injury.
‘It all about the exchange of ideas this creates.’
There’s no disputing that St George’s Park is an impressive
place. It's value will hopefully become apparent with future England success.
Perform, part of Spire Healthcare, is the official healthcare provider for St. George’s Park, the FA's new training base for the 24 England teams. Visit www.spireperform.com
HEART OF ST GEORGE HOW I DID ON THE EQUIPMENT ENGLAND WILL USE
My visit to St George’s Park was more than just a tour – it
was a hands on chance to try out the same pieces of equipment Wayne Rooney,
Steven Gerrard et al will be using in a few weeks’ time.
Far from being an elite athlete like them, I content myself
with two or three jogs around the park each week and an occasional game of
five-a-side with my mates.
So how would I get on when put through my paces
TEST ONE: THE
Everyone likes a tootle out on a bike, but there’s suddenly
a very different feel when you’re lining up in an interactive 1km race against
three fellow journalists.
Strapped in and hunched forward as though bracing for a
gale-forced headwind, I make the decision to power off from the starting line,
pumping my thighs until I’m topping 900 watts of power.
On the screen in front of us, my virtual bike lurches into a
wheel’s lead but I’ve ignored rule number one and gone out far too fast.
On your marks! The contenders line up for the 1km Journo Wattbike race. I'm on the second bike from the left
Power surge: During the kilometre race, the bikes accurately record the amount of power output from our legs. I averaged just over 900 watts
Close run thing: A win for the Mail Online… but only just
Thankfully the early pace means the metres are tumbling down
on the display in front of me and despite the pain creeping into my knees, I’m
able to cling on and win in a time of 1 minute 18.5 seconds.
It’s no exaggeration to say this will probably be the
pinnacle of my sporting life, but I’m soon brought crashing back down to earth
by the trainer, who points out that the guys on the Tour de France do that 200
times over every day… for three weeks.
TEST TWO: THE ALTER G
This piece of
equipment really is something else. It’s essentially a normal treadmill that’s
been ‘pimped’ by NASA boffins.
You slip on a pair of tight neoprene shorts and then are
zipped into the airtight ‘tent’ which totally encases the treadmill.
As you step on, the AlterG weighs you and adjusts itself
accordingly. As you ramp up the pace, the pressure inside the ‘tent’ can be
altered to strip away your body weight in increments up to 80 per cent.
Space age: Working into a light jog on the AlterG Treadmill as my coach adjusts how much of my body weight has been taken away
Treadmill tent: You're zipped in to an inflatable enclosure when running on the AlterG
The idea is that athletes can run long distances without
exerting harmful pressure on their knees and ankles. Mo Farah used the
technology before the Olympics to build stamina without straining his joints,
but its main use would be for recovery from injury.
I’m not going as far as Mo, but feel I could run all day
with so much weight taken off my feet.
TEST THREE: BATAK
You might have seen this on the Jonathan Ross show and while
it is a fun game, it’s used here to test the agility and reactions of
the players – especially the goalkeepers.
It’s a series of pads mounted on a steel frame – some above
your head, some below your waist and some in between – which light up in random
sequence. You turn them off with your palm as fast as you can manage.
Lights, camera, action! The BATAK Board tests agility and reflexes
One hit every second: I scored 30 from my 30 second run
I have 30 seconds and record what I thought was a
respectable score of 30 – exactly one light switched off a second.
But it’s a long way short of the records set by the Formula
One drivers who use the BATAK regularly – Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen
can do 138 in a minute, while the unofficial world record is 155!
TEST FOUR: STRENGTH
Next, we’re introduced to Grant, whose title of ‘Master
Trainer’ suggests what’s about to unfold isn’t going to be easy. ‘You won’t
need your notebooks for this one,’ he says.
He’s set up a circuit of eight exercises in the strength and
conditioning gym which overlooks the outdoor pitch designed to mimic the
precise dimensions of Wembley Stadium.
Heave! Testing our one of Technogym's Kinesis machines in the St George's Park gym
It’s a mix of push-ups, pull-downs, medicine ball throwing,
squat thrusts and pretend kayaking in intense 30 second blocks, a guaranteed
way to shock your muscles into action.
We’re all struggling to get our breath after just four minutes
of rapid-fire exercise, but the England players will do hour after hour on
these shiny new machines.
TEST FIVE: FUNCTIONAL
This is a series of seven apparently straightforward tests
to measure our susceptibility to injury – and it’s harder than it seems.
The trainer awards three points for perfect posture and
form, two if there’s a few wobbles and one if you’re utterly hopeless and can’t
do the exercise at all.
There’s a squat balancing a metre-long ruler above your
head, a step over a piece of string, a plank and an elbow to knee stretch while
balancing on your other arm.
It also shows how balanced you are and it’s soon apparent
that I’m not as symmetrical as I thought. I score 16 out of 21 which is
respectable but doesn’t make me immune from knocks and niggles.
/09/27/article-2209412-153AFE0C000005DC-636_634x419.jpg” width=”634″ height=”419″ alt=”Chilly: The journalists brave the ice bath in the Hydrotherapy suite, while luckier ones get to relax in the jacuzzi” class=”blkBorder” />
Chilly: The journalists brave the ice bath in the Hydrotherapy suite, while luckier ones get to relax in the jacuzzi
Weird feeling: Time for a jog on the underwater treadmill
Monitored: The coaches can check stride and posture with the aid of the treadmill's underwater cameras
The underwater treadmill is a treat at the other end of the
room. You stand on the platform and are lowered into the water, before the band
starts turning and you’re running at a light jog.
Obviously the resistance of the water makes it a hugely
beneficial experience and large television monitors in front of you allow views
of your stride from under the water. I'm sure they can pick up Sky Sports News as well.
TEST SEVEN: FOOTBALL
Our day ends with a chance to try out the luscious Astroturf
surface we’ve been given tantalising glimpses of all afternoon.
A couple of FA coaches oversee the kick around, with their
emphasis on trying to change the mentality of Saturday and Sunday morning coaches
all over the country.
It’s certainly true that if you give a group of Spanish,
Italian or Brazilian lads a ball on the beach and they’ll caress it, pass it
amongst themselves and try to outdo each other with skills and tricks.
English lads in the same situation would have divided
themselves into teams on a pitch with towels for goalposts as quickly as the
next wave comes in.
Dome of dreams: The indoor Astroturf football pitch certainly looks impressive
Tag! The journalists take part in a warm-up exercise on the indoor football pitch
The FA is desperate to get kids away from never-ending game
scenarios and into drills designed to improve their technique – so the next
generation can address the gaping technical deficiencies of English teams.
We were shown a few drills but then the pressure to get into
a bit of five-a-side became too much. We played initially in three zones, with
the focus on two-on-one or two-on-two contests, before opening up into a more
It’s the perfect way to let off steam at the end of a great