Warriors invest in high-tech advantage

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 11:09 03/02/2013

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Forget the days of sportsmen just spending hours in a sweaty gym, running hundreds of kilometres around a practice field, and huffing and puffing as trainers bark orders at them climbing up hills for pre-season training.

Modern sport is different. All those older techniques are still employed - don't worry - but these days, professional sports teams employ more science to give them the edge.

During the NRL off-season, the Warriors joined the scientific revolution in rugby league. In two weeks, a selected few will be able to walk into a club gym unlike any seen before under Mt Smart Stadium's main stand.

At one end will sit an expensive hypoxic chamber, designed to replicate the effects of training at high altitude.

Monitors will dot the walls, relaying the heart rates and fitness data of players as they walk into the room. A $59,000 anti-gravity treadmill, which effectively reduces the athlete's body weight - allowing an enhanced speed of recovery for rehabbing players, will be in use.

Surrounding gym apparatus will be top of the line - featuring top pieces used by pro American football teams, and others designed by Warriors trainers themselves.

The hypoxic chamber was installed three weeks ago, with most of the rest of the gym to be fully functional by the middle of this month.

For an idea of what the finished product might look like, think what the likes of top American football college programmes, such as Notre Dame or Alabama, have to use, Warriors head trainer Carl Jennings said.

"We're not just kitting a gym out with equipment we're not going to use," he told Sunday News.

"This stuff is the high-end equipment that is built for functional strength development. It's not about just getting big and strong - it's about developing functioning, strong, athletic rugby league players."

The seeds of the redeveloped approach to the scientific side of getting the best out of the Warriors players were sown in July when co- owners Sir Owen Glenn and Eric Watson announced their plans to create one of the top sporting franchises in Australasia.

The level of investment into the Warriors training facility has been impressive - even though Glenn admitted he struggled to understand what a hypoxic chamber even did when first told about it.

"It was the first time I'd ever heard of it," Glenn said. "In fact, I had to look it up. But they told me how important this high-altitude training is. It's getting to that stage where in professional sport, you have to go to the extremes.

"It's not just natural talent - it's about giving our 13 players the best opportunity to beat the other 13. I heard about in the lead-up to the grand final last year putting lamb's blood in to the players - I think that's all a bit extreme, but we're giving them the best shot."

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The new hypoxic chamber puts the Warriors on a even footing with a number of other NRL clubs who have it in use.

"With recovery and preparation, it has a profound effect on the athlete," Jennings said.

Jennings and his four-person team, including sports science manager Brad Morris and assistant trainer Ruben Wiki, spend about six hours a day training the Warriors players, and another six analysing data, producing reports and having meetings.

"We spend hours and hours trying to develop the athlete that, in that high pressure moment, makes the crucial play," Jennings said.

"[The NRL] is probably the toughest sporting league in the world in terms of what the athletes have to go through, physically and emotionally.

"What we need to ensure is we develop athletes that are really competitive from day one. As the year progresses, keep them on the park, and get them to the end of the year in relatively good shape."

Ultimately, the scientific side of league comes down to the little things.

All players in the NRL are super-fit - but investment in training, to the extent the Warriors are preparing to do, creates athletes with that extra step of pace or added second of time on the footy paddock. Small things that create title contenders.

- Sunday News

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