It's winter in Austria, and it's cold. Snow glistens on the ground and the icy chill is numbing. Not exactly the type of setting in which you'd expect to find a cliff diver. But here in Thalgau, in the state of Salzburg, stands the Red Bull Diagnostics and Training Center (DTC), and Mexican diver Jonathan Paredes has left the warm sunshine behind in order to put himself through a week of rigorous tests and training ahead of the 2017 Red Bull Cliff Diving season.
It may be a few months yet before Paredes returns to the 27m platforms in a bid to better his career-best 2nd place finish of 2016, but in a sport that is becoming more and more competitive every year – there were a record six individual winners in 2016 – it's more crucial than ever to get things right in the off-season. The benefits of a good training regime and strict diet are well documented, but in this age of rapid technological advancement there are new avenues of expertise and insights opening up all the time. And for a cliff diver, with all those twists, spins and explosive manoeuvres exerting constant pressure on the body – as well as the mind – the detailed testing and diagnostics provided by DTC can prove to be invaluable.
"It was a great experience," said the Mexican. "Going to this place where all the best athletes go, and doing the same tests as them. It was really interesting to see which exercises I was good at and which ones I wasn't."
The program of testing at DTC is extensive, covering the whole spectrum of sporting performance from coordination and muscle control through to stability, flexibility, endurance and recovery times. A strong emphasis is also placed on mental training, something which the Paredes seemingly learned a lot from:
"The psychological part was really interesting for me," he explained. "There is a lot I can take away from that and start to work on."
Joining him during his week at DTC was Angela Passenbrunner, a physiotherapist who has been a constant helping hand (or hands) on tour for the last few years, working with the Red Bull Cliff Diving athletes since 2013. Passenbrunner's expertise and familiarity with cliff diving meant that she could deliver an in-depth analysis of the results and provide Paredes with vital feedback.
"The testing opened his eyes for what he has to focus on," revealed Passenbrunner. "It´s not just diving technique, he also needs good endurance for improving recovery of the body. Dynamic core stability, coordinative perception and motor control of muscles is important too, in order to perform the movements in the air and to prepare the body for the impact at the entry, rather than just tightening the whole body."
Passenbrunner also echoed the Mexican's thoughts about mental training: "He got a glimpse of what he can do to train mentally, to stay calmer in stress situations, focus on himself, and not get distracted in competitions."
Although he needs to work on a few things, Passenbrunner noted that the 27-year-old showed good strength in his legs and very good visual perception - clearly two very important attributes for a cliff diver. Strength to launch the body into those explosive mid-air manoeuvres and visual perception to understand his position all the way down and rip that water cleanly.
"My main advice for him is to focus on gaining more flexibility of the hips and calfs," explains Passenbrunner, "plus dynamic core stabilization combined with training of the glutes, for a better leg alignment. Endurance improvement is also essential, but with higher intensity so that his muscles don´t lose their fast twitch ability. Finally, mental training to stay calm in every stressful and demanding situation in competitions."
Clearly there was plenty for Paredes to take away from Austria, but not before he grabbed a perfect picture opportunity from an icy lake jetty - this was his first experience of snow.
Considering he pushed the great Gary Hunt all the way last season, a few tweaks and tune-ups might just be all the Mexican needs to fire himself to glory in 2017.