(Photo: Michael Darter)
We have all seen the video (2008) of Robbie Maddison jumping on a motorcycle to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Las Vegas in front of 50,000 people and then jumping back down. Everyday we see similar videos by Red Bull of athletes doing things that seem almost impossible. To prepare that jump, Robbie and a team of experts from Red Bull spent 5 months practising endlessly, incrementally raising the ramp, adapting and adjusting.
Red Bull is a brand that is inextricably associated with extreme sports and top performance. Being the fastest, the boldest and the strongest can only be achieved if you are completely dedicated, though. To help athletes be their best, Red Bull built a 325m High Performance Center in Santa Monica, California, which is equipped with ramps, trampolines, workout machines, but also filled with state-of-the-art technology to study and measure human movement and effort: Moxy sensors that send infrared light into the muscles about 3 centimeters deep to reflect hemoglobin to measure how much oxygen is in a specific muscle; cryosauna chambers that subject the body to very cold temperatures for brief periods of time, to assist in recovery; a neurological training system with a headset that measures brainwaves, a sensory-performance station where athletes can test ten perceptual and visual-motor skills using a touch screen and strobe glasses, an anti-gravity treadmill, a Formula 1 simulator and breathing masks to measure lactate thresholds and lung capacity. Red Bull staffed the center with world-class performance specialists too.
One of the most important -and often overlooked- elements in competitive sports is understanding how the brain works and how an athlete responds to all the physical and mental stress. If things can accurately measured they can be systematically improved. The difference between winning or losing is often inside the head. The center and experts not only help athletes improve their physical strength, prevent injury or practice new skills. More importantly, it helps them train their brains, to adapt quickly and constantly, to embrace failure, to manage stress and to prepare to take on new, more ambicious challenges. It is today one of the world’s most sophisticated and experimental training programmes in the world, with partners such as Cirque du Soleil, Intel, the US Department of Defense and a network of universities and scientists.
Not only traditional athletes use the facilities, Red Bull is also working with professional video game players to help them improve their skills. At the lab they monitor a player’s biometrics, such as eye tracking, brain states, heart rate, galvanic skin response, facial patterns, team communication, to understand concentration, reaction time, anticipation and the effects of stress or fatigue (more on that in this article).
Thanks to the experience it has obtained from studying the human body, Red Bull’s High Performance center now gives special courses in which they teach various techniques to improve psychological skills, including breath-hold exercises, speed racing, bomb disposal, or improvisation. They are called Performing Under Pressure camps and are run by former US Navy Seals. One of the exercises involves crawling blindfolded through the interior of a dark wooden box containing pythons.
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