England hockey women work up a sweat for Commonwealths
England's women's hockey team feel the heat in a special chamber that can recreate Delhi's climate.
By Paul Harris
I am gasping the moment I step inside. The air is heavy and the heat intense.
I try to take another step but it is so humid that it feels like the air is resisting me. The camera is faring no better, the lens has steamed up and cannot see a thing.
I'm in a special environmental chamber where they can recreate the heat, humidity and altitude of almost any location in the world. Today the chamber is set to 30 degrees Celsius and 85% humidity to mirror conditions in Delhi where the Commonwealth Games are due to start.
I can't imagine doing anything in these conditions let alone cycling and lifting weights for an hour but that is exactly what the England women's hockey team are here to do.
They have recently returned from the World Cup in Argentina, where they took bronze and need to acclimatise quickly to the conditions in Delhi.
This environmental chamber at the English Institute of Sport's (EIS) high performance centre at Bisham Abbey is the largest non-military chamber in the UK but is still no larger than the temporary buildings you would find on a building site.
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There are three hour-long sessions in which the athletes are split into two groups. Half of the group go through a "robustness" session which involves waddling around the chamber with a heavy load across the shoulders.
It's not the most elegant sight but they're strengthening the soft tissue around the hip and lower back - the part of the body that hockey taxes the most.
The other half are on the bikes and for 30 minutes they alternate between a minute's worth of high intensity cycling and a minute's rest.
Andy Hudson, EIS's strength and conditioning coach, explains that this is a chance for the athletes' bodies to get used to the Indian climate.
"What we're trying to do through this acclimation process is give them the opportunity to experience the elevated heart rate and blood flow that comes hand in hand with the increased heat and pressure and give them an opportunity internally to adapt to the hot environment."
England are keen to improve on the bronze medal they secured in last month's World Cup and are looking to exploit any advantage they can find.
Mentally, it's making them able to understand what kind of pressures they might be under
Tom Cross, performance pyschologist
"It's uncomfortable to do high intensity exercise in this sort of environment and therefore just doing it more frequently ahead of travelling gives them an opportunity to get slightly ahead of the curve," he adds.
It's clear that although the session is designed to maintain the athletes physically, it is as much to do with preparing the team mentally for the conditions that await them.
Athletes often struggle in unfamiliar surroundings because their thoughts interfere with their performance. But this session is part of England's psychological training, which includes visualisation and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Tom Cross, EIS's performance psychologist, explains; "Mentally, it's making them able to understand what kind of pressures they might be under and how they can keep their thoughts and minds focused on what they need to be focused on, which is playing hockey".
In elite competition, they say you need a physiotherapist for your body and a psychologist for your mind.
England's hockey team have both and should be prepared to in peak physical and mental condition as they touch down in Delhi.
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