Synthesis insights from observing a sports training camp

I had had the good fortune to be invited to participate as an observer to an elite sports training camp at the Red Bull North America lab. Here is the twitter feed #rbhighperformance and the video from the camp they ran last year


Understanding even one ecosystem in more detail helps us manage all ecosystems more effectively – whether it is the performance of an elite athlete, a collaborative human endeavor, or a natural system such as a grassland or forest.


At the endurance 2.0 camp, every athlete is clearly a unique ecosystem with individual processes, hacks, skills, functions, limitations, and strengths. However, every one of us including scientists, athletes, trainers, and participants also functions as ecosystems interacting in novel and specific pathways through the process of exploring human performance. The workflow and disparate set of tests also evolved into a tightly coupled ecosystem of experiences that clearly enhanced many aspects of both scientific discovery and physical performance. This is a clearly a very effective approach to accelerating discovery in any discipline.

Intensive, integrated, and interdisciplinary.


Specific comments

(1) Collaboration & workflows. Collaboration between different types of scientists and between athletes and scientists generates new and profound opportunities for the improvement of human performance and potential more broadly. Sharing how we get to the end product whether it is a dataset, a publication, effective medical treatment, or the podium illuminates general workflows (or hacks) that we use to get where we need to go.


We need to share these sets of processes with one another, heck everyone, to both inspire and inform the steps to better performance. Of course I want to see elite athletes do even better, but I also want other natural ecosystems (and humanity) to function more effectively and healthily. Hence, visualization and communication of the steps to effectively increasing human potential is also a valid product worth sharing for any discipline.

sports workflow






ecological workflow



Product to share: workflows to better performance.


(2) Data & transparency. Each elite athlete is an ecosystem with a set of important and interesting interactors from mental to physical attributes. All the data collected during an intensive training camp has merit and speaks to the pathways of improved performance. Nonetheless, it does not have to end here. In sponsoring and directly working with amazing human beings, Red Bull has the capacity to increase global awareness of the value of keeping track of ones health and performance. Each athlete trains yearlong and generates an immense volume of data on performance, health, mood, and movement – imagine a more holistic version of strava that incorporates and captures these interactors related to performance. This is an incredible resource at many levels. Each athlete should be provided with not only a sports/training coach but also with a data coach that assists with archiving and adding meta-data to the 10s of thousands of values collected individually. She/he can also provide insights into broader patterns of performance synthetically. Ideally, this person is an expert in sport science and synthesis and handles all the sponsored athletes in parallel, but an alternative model would be to share data from this endeavor globally and crowd-source insight-analyses from other athletes, scientists, or any citizen interested in exploring the quantitative aspects of elite athlete training. Individual athletes would benefit from the discoveries, i.e. I noticed that the performance for some athletes is increased following downtime before a time trial whilst others not, but we all benefit from the capacity to compare ourselves to benchmarks. Badges and leaderboards associated with the current sports sharing tools are certainly effective, but we can do better and go wider. Importantly, we need an integrated sharing tool for the public with elite athletes on more than the physical elements of training leading to increased performance.

RB global biometrics

Products to share: data coaches for elite athletes first, then the world.
Global biometrics tool that encourages open data on how the elite function.


(3) Synthesis science is useful. The lessons from this weeklong training/testing process eclipse the specific. Quantitatively. We need the detailed measures of individual muscle oxygenation, cardiac output, and brain activity to better understand each athlete as ecosystem. However, synthesis science can extend and reciprocally inform the training activities of the Red Bull human performance team and elite athletes. The camp does not have to end here. Synthesis tools such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses provide the capacity for a reader (scientist, trainer, athlete) to quickly access the state-of-the-art for the research on a particular topic (PLOSONE example and a how to read metas paper). With informed discussion with the sport scientists, contrasts and summaries of scaled, relative differences for each athlete and between athletes can also be achieved. Summary measures used in many syntheses such as effect size estimates are appropriate. A dramatic paradigm shift is evident from observing this camp in motion for scientists and sports trainers alike. Collect the fine-scale data needed but keep the big picture synthesis connections in mind. Again, this is best realized by having different kinds of scientists present and by facilitating discussion between all participants in the process. The team leader (Per) checks in with all participants daily. I have not seen this before in scientific collaborations but the opportunity for everyone to speak promotes novel discovery through connection. With synthesis and long-term usefulness of data in mind, these discussions profoundly shape the generality for increased human performance through integration of data and the ideas behind them.


Products to share: synthesis of the collaborative efforts associated with training effects on performance. Identification of the specific syntheses that coaches & athletes can use to assess general trends within the discipline.



To my delight, there is a lot of ecology in sports science. Sharing and describing the workflows, data, and syntheses will benefit elite athletes and elucidate the general properties associated with increasing human, and ecosystem, performance globally.