MJP: Media Pre-Season Training
Vauxhall blogger Peter Lansley documents his time spent with former 100m World Champion Michael Johnson during a pre pre-season session at St.George’s Park.
I don’t usually run fast enough to worry about how I’m going to stop. But by the time Michael Johnson and Brock Christopher have taken us through the stages of a sprint – the building blocks of how to run the 100metres, if you like – I find myself having to apply the breaks before I bounce into the wall at St George’s Park.
Usain Bolt and Theo Walcott may not be quaking in their boots at the competition just yet, but for any 40-something to be finishing a morning’s athletics training session feeling they can run faster than they could at the start strikes me as quite a coaching achievement.
We have been invited down to the national football centre to engage in a spot of pre-season training with Michael Johnson Performance (MJP), the global training organisation headed up by the American who won four Olympic gold medals as he became known as the world’s fastest man in his 1990s hey-day.
Another Michael Johnson, the former Derby County defender, is watching from the side of Pitch 4 on a beautiful summer’s morning as footballers’ thoughts drift away from England’s World Cup campaign, concluded with the goalless draw against Costa Rica the previous evening, towards pre-season.
The Midlander remembers coming back from international duty with Jamaica and being excused the first fortnight of his club’s pre-season training, as Roy Hodgson’s players will be now.
“You already have peak fitness, having trained from the end of the domestic season for the internationals, so you don’t really suffer for missing the first half of July,” he said, as Marvin Sordell, the former England Under-21 striker, and other professionals go through a session of “dynamic activation” with Lance Walker, MJP’s global performance director, in front of us.
“Anyway, the days of players coming back for pre-season out of shape after stoking the barbecues are long gone. Everyone is looking for that marginal gain now.”
The pro footballers are being put through their paces as we prepare for our health checks. “Just remember about 98 per cent of your time on the field is spent without the ball,” Walker tells them. “So we’re going to concentrate on some speed work.
“When I’m going for a 50/50, if I’m accelerating into it against a guy who’s running, I’m winning. It’s about the initial force to get the acceleration.”
We move into the Perform gym with Ian Aylward, the strength and conditioning coach. On the ‘Y Balance’ test, which gauges joint stability in a range of movements, I manage 58 centimetres on one push. The girl from The Sun achieves 28 better – about one for each year between us then. It doesn’t help when an ageing right-footed footballer suffers from wobbly left leg syndrome.
Now it’s down into the dome where Brent Hills and Mark Sampson, the England Women’s management team, are coaching the Under-19s. “Don’t worry,” Hills reassures me. “Brock knows how to differentiate.”
“Our goal is not to drive you into the ground,” MJP’s GB performance director promises, with only half a wink. He leads us through a sequence of minutely specific stretches and steps for half an hour, with a support team giving us such precise adjustments that normally arthritic joints actually feel more supple.
Then comes the killer line. “So that’s the warm-up complete. Ready to go?”
After bending, striding, squatting, jumping our way through another half hour, Michael Johnson prepares us for the final sprint. “Now it’s time to put it all together,” he says. “Ignore the cameras, wanting to beat the next guy, don’t just waste your energy by forgetting everything we’ve been telling you and just ‘Run, run, run’ with your arms flailing everywhere. It’s about being efficient. Trust in the technique.”
So with a big kick downwards on the left leg – for equal and opposite reaction – and arms tucked in, we keep our heads down for the first two long strides, but with the MJP logos on our dri-fit T-shirts facing towards the finishing line, then keep everything in line. It’s a good feeling.
Lunch up in the Bobby Moore boardroom tastes excellent. And the afternoon session in the Perform pools rewarding – even the two-minute turns in the ice bath that promote recovery of any torn fibres by constricting the blood flow to the injury, thereby keeping swelling down, prioritising support of the heart and the vital organs. Returning to the Jacuzzi is to find a new corner of heaven.
It’s fascinating to sit down and chat with Johnson, who has worked with Derby County and the Ivory Coast over the past month. “We’re not in the skills business of football,” he says. “We’re about improving athleticism, at the core of all sports.” One thing is for sure: any sportsman lucky enough to experience such expert guidance will feel more ready for the next challenge.
Michael Johnson and the MJP staff were speaking at the Michael Johnson Performance Pre Season Training Camp at St. George’s Park. For more information on MJP go to www.greatbritain.michaeljohnsonperformance.com.
Perform Staff were speaking on behalf of Perform at St. George’s Park during the Michael Johnson Performance Media Pre Season Training Day. For more information on Perform go to www.spireperform.com.