Getting fit for Rio

Over 17 days this summer more than 10,500 athletes from 206 countries will take part in the Olympic Games in Rio. So, just what does it take to get our British athletes ready and in peak fitness for this big event? Lucy Mason spoke to senior physiotherapist Lee Herrington of the English Institute of Sport’s High Performance Centre in Manchester about the work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare our athletes.

What does it take to create sporting success in this summer’s Olympic Games? The right mixture of science, medicine, technology and engineering, according to The English Institute of Sport.

Its job is to increase the probability of an athlete being successful.

The EIS, which thinks of itself as ‘the team behind the team’, aims to provide sports, coaches and athletes with the best package of support, delivered by the best people in the best possible environment.

Protecting athletes from injury and providing the best treatment if they are injured is a key job. The EIS provides a combination of practitioners from a range of disciplines which includes sport medicinephysiotherapy and soft tissue therapystrength and conditioningphysiologyperformance nutritionperformance psychology, performance analysisbiomechanics and performance lifestyle.

In the build up to Rio, their 300 employees deliver over 4,000 hours of service a week to over 1,700 of our athletes.

Senior Physiotherapist Lee Herrington is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Rehabilitation at the University of Salford, and provides a specialist knee physiotherapy consultancy to a number of professional football, rugby union and league clubs as well as athletes from many Olympic sports.

He is part of Team GB’s Physiotherapy team at Rio, just as he was at the London 2012 Olympics.

So what does his work involve and how is he helping athletes to prepare for the biggest event of their lives?

“Our goal is to win 66 medals at Rio,” says Lee. “To get as close to that as possible we need our athletes to perform at their best.

“Our preparation work with them ahead of Rio is crucial and has become ever more sophisticated over the years. It can range from simple measures such as asking them how they feel that day, how stiff they are after training and are they able to train, to measuring how they perform and dealing with injuries.

“There’s a huge support system sitting behind our athletes and it’s never been as integrated as it is now. The sport dictates the level of intervention but once they come into the EIS network we give athletes what they need.”

Physios, doctors, conditioning coaches, they are also on the lookout for injuries – to ensure they are managed correctly and fixed ahead of Rio.

“We monitor our athletes. They may have had an injury which has healed, but our job is to make sure that it doesn’t recur and, if it does, it’s managed well. Whether there’s been a bone fracture, torn ligament or a tendon problem in the past, we need to make sure that these injuries don’t cause damage in the future.”

A typical day for Lee, after he has battled to work through the Manchester traffic, can see him working with a range of athletes from different sports. Some may be full-time athletes while others are holding down jobs or still at college and need to train from 6.30am before they start work.

“I aim to get them after they’ve finished training,” says Lee. “That allows me to carry out any treatments needed and deal with ongoing issues. Only about 9% of our time is spent in the gym, most of our time is spent working with the athletes rather than on them.

“Later in the day I’ll see my rehab patients who are not able to train fully. The key here is a mixture of strength based sessions, movement sessions and classic physio work to get them stretched out and moving around.

“We are lucky. We have recently moved to an incredible new facility in the city and we’re seeing a huge variety of sports people from rugby and football to cycling, archery, swimming and athletics. Not just Olympians but Para-Olympians too.

“And we’re getting good results. If the North was its own country, in the last Olympics we would have beaten England.

“We can spend up to an hour at a time with our athletes and can see them multiple times a day if needed. I’ve been working with a medal winner with a ruptured knee and I’m able to see him three times a day five times a week. Others with minor knocks we might treat a couple of times a week and then keep an eye on them.

“It’s all very flexible, planned around the athlete and designed to optimise the outcome for each of them. We treat them so they are able to go out and train hard, run well and compete at the highest level.”

A Performance Lifestyle team also works with the EIS athletes to help them with everything from their housing requirements, balancing college/work life with training commitments and generally helping with life’s stresses.

Lee’s EIS role also includes analysis of injury data and predicting where problems are likely to occur which could potentially disrupt an athlete’s training schedule.

“If we know an athlete has a grumbling tendon we need to make sure it doesn’t restrict their capacity to train,” he says. “Our job is to make sure an issue like this doesn’t get worse. With just a few months left until Rio we are working to minimise any aches and pains.”

And what does he think about the Olympics?

“It’s the craziest show on earth,” laughs Lee. “It’s incredible to see such a spectacular range and depth of athletes across those 17 days. I’m sure we will do well. But I’m already thinking about Tokyo.”

For more information on the Rio Olympic Games visit


  • The Rio Olympic Games begin on Friday, August 5th and ends on Sunday, August 21st.
  • It is the first time the Games have been held in South America.
  • ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ is the Olympic motto – meaning ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’
  • The torch symbolises the link between the ancient and modern Games.
  • The first ancient Olympic Games were in 776BC in Olympia, Greece. In 392AD the Games were suspended. 1896 saw the first modern Olympic Games, initiated by Baron Pierre de Coubertine.
  • To make the Games happen requires a workforce of: 45,000 volunteers, 85,000 outsourced staff and 6,500 employees.
  • There will be 7.5 million tickets for sale. About 3.8 million will be under US$ 30.
  • 32 competition venues will be spread across four regions of the city.
  • This year, 42 sports will be contested, including two new additions: golf returns to the Games after 112 years and Rugby is back after 92 years.
  • During the 17 days, there will be 306 medal events.

What is the English Institute of Sport?

  • The EIS helps athletes to improve performance through the delivery of science, medicine, technology and engineering.
  • Over 350 EIS employees deliver in excess of 4,000 hours of service each week to over 1,700 athletes across more than 30 Olympic and Paralympic sports.
  • The EIS operates out of nine EIS Performance Centres as well as numerous other training bases across England.
  • Equipment, technology and accessories is used to support practitioners as well as sports.
  • EIS worked with 86% of the athletes that won a medal for Team GB and Paralympics GB at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
  • EIS areas of expertise cover: Sport Medicine, Physiology, Physiotherapy and Soft Tissue Therapy, Strength and Conditioning, Performance Nutrition, Performance Psychology, Performance Analysis, Biomechanics, Performance Pathways and Performance Lifestyle.
  • The EIS is funded by a grant of £60 million over four years from UK Sport.