Managing human performance at the most elite level

As the Prada Cup nears, the crew of INEOS TEAM UK prepares to take on the America’s Cup competition for real. It’s Ben Williams’ job to manage crew performance and get them ready…

On 15 January, INEOS TEAM UK will hit the waters of New Zealand again in the fight for the America’s Cup. This next set of races, the Prada Cup, will ultimately determine which team gets to challenge the cup Defender.

While world-class engineers pour through the data to understand how the boats have performed so far and seek to make every gain possible, Ben Williams, the team’s Head of Human Performance, will be doing the same on the human side with the help of Garmin technology.

Managing human performance

Williams must physically prepare the crew off the water, maximising their potential on the water. The boat may be a technological wonder but it doesn’t sail itself and having a crew at their peak is essential.

“When most people think of athlete performance, they think about race day, but for the most part races are won through dedication before the event in both crew and boat development. If the crew aren’t fit enough to be out on the water or the boat isn’t competitive, the race is lost before we begin.”

Ben Williams, Head of Human Performance, INEOS TEAM UK.

Garmin have teamed up with them, providing human performance technology that will help them get the crew to the next level. Data across the crew’s training and recovery is crucial in understanding progress and optimising time in and out of the gym.

“Having the data to understand teams physical health means they can be on the water as much as needed, in peak shape, and we can prevent any issues in advance. With Garmin’s support, we go along way to removing unknowns and guess work so we can be much more accurate in the prescription of training and recovery. Like the athletes on the water we aim to give our all in a support role to enable their endevours” – Ben

What technology is INEOS TEAM UK using to maximise performance?

Garmin has kitted the team out with all sorts of tech including cycling computers and smart scales. The fēnix 6 Pro Solar watch, with its comprehensive and non-intrusive data collection, has been particularly important. Equipped with this, Williams and his team can measure all sorts of vital metrics…

Making gains with heart rate, variability, training load and stress

Whether you’re in elite sport or just improving your personal fitness, it’s all about training adaptations.

“Essentially, progressive overload is where we do something that challenges the body which creates signalling for adaptation to cope with the new demands.” – Ben

Getting the data from Garmin devices helps Williams and the team track these adaptations. It’s not just about pushing the athletes to their limits, they use the numbers to make more exact judgements.

“We measure heart rate, power average, normalised power, peak power and time in zone. When we’re trying to develop an athlete we’re looking at what exposure we have to give them for them to overload a stimulus so the body recognises the need to adapt. In recovery we look at their stress score, chronic load, heart rate variability and resting heart rate to ensure they’ve recovered from the physical load to create a positive adaptation.” – Ben

Boosting recovery with advanced sleep monitoring

Rest is hugely important for boosting performance. According to Williams, you don’t get fit from training, you get fit from recovering from training. It’s at this point that your body adapts to cope with the stress you put it under.

“We look at health and recovery protocols just as much as we do training itself. There is no point having an excellent training block if you do not recover and harvest the stimulus.” – Ben

The fēnix 6 Pro Solar gives each athlete a full breakdown of their light, deep and REM sleep stages as well as Pulse Ox1 and respiration data. This information is key for Williams because he can understand how well the crew are recovering from their training

“We know a lot of good things happen when you sleep, you restore muscle glycine, you use proteins to repair, you recover and improve cognative function, you drive immune function. Essentially, our body resets itself in a whole wave of different ways.” – Ben

But there’s more that sleep data can tell us, including specifics around how much recovery you need and what happens if you don’t get it.

“Research suggests that if you don’t sleep 7 hours or more, you’re 20 – 30% more likely to get ill or injured.” – Ben

Motivating and engaging the athletes

Williams is actually using Garmin data for more than tracking and analysing. It’s become a great way to keep the crew interested and engaged with their training.

“It’s great for the athletes to be able to engage with those metrics and for them to understand when they feel good and bad. We don’t want athletes that can’t think for themselves, this helps them to build a picture. We present them with the data and they engage. Some are really interested in stress scores, sleep metrics and body batteries, etc.” – Ben

The more engaged you are, the more you’re motivated to continue and improve. And William’s has gone even further with using the data to engage the crew…

“It’s on their phone and watch so we encourage the guys to dial in and understand their physical eco system. They even play top trumps with it in the gym. They want the best recovery score because they’re competitive individuals. It’s a bit of fun, with a serious underlying tone that’s telling them how they prioritise their week.” – Ben

The importance of having the right technology

To aid them in all of the above, INEOS TEAM UK chose to partner with Garmin on human performance technology. For one, Garmin gives them a comprehensive set of innovative features.

“Garmin as a brand has a long history of reliable equipment and the new gen of smartwatch with all of the things you can upload and the way they can connect to heart rate monitors, power meters, they’re good in harsh conditions, they can monitor your sleep scores, heart rate, power meters, heart rate variability and they have internal algorithms to provide stress scores which in the sports science arena provides us with robust and usable data to inform our practice.” – Ben

Just as important to the team is the accuracy, consistency and reliability that you only get with the best technology.

“The reason we wanted the Garmin hardware & software systems in our performance model is that it’s accurate, consistent and reliable. That’s super important to us because our coaches can effectively analyse the data, athletes can engage with that same data themselves on the app and both can converge over meaningful conversations about training & recovery.” – Ben

But Garmin also goes further, creating a wider experience to help the team. It’s one thing to track and measure data but that data must be presented well and effortless to share and access.

“Where Garmin Connect stands out is that it connects to so many variables and it becomes very easy to set up a system for data capture. Things have stepped forward so quickly because the ecosystem is easy to use, it’s user friendly and it’s not a burden on us to collect the data. It’s all very intuitive and ergonomic and it just works really well. It’s made capturing and using data a lot easier than it was 5 years ago.” – Ben

Discover more of Garmin and INEOS TEAM UK

The America’s Cup is one of the most exciting international sporting events around, witnessing these already world-class athletes push the limits of human performance. Want to learn more? Visit our INEOS TEAM UK partnership page.

1This is not a medical device and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or monitoring of any medical condition; see Pulse Ox not available in all countries.