In this episode, Dr Greta Dalle Luche speaks with Dr Jo Brown who is a world-renowned performance physiotherapist with multiple Olympic engagements, including the Jamaican bobsled team. Dr Brown supports athletes at the top of their game and is passionate about teaching and coaching performance. Dr Brown has her own podcast titled “Purpose to Perform”.
Dr Jo Brown
Sports and Performance Physiotherapist and Performance Coach at PERFORMANCE STATE.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche
Scientific Lead at Parasym
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 0:06
Welcome to Nurosym in Conversation with. Today I'm pleased to have Dr. Jo Brown.
Dr. Jo is a world-renowned sport physiotherapist, she has multiple Olympic engagements, including the Jamaican bobsled team -I think one of the most recent ones - the Australian beach volleyball, and she's not just dedicated to support athletes, but she's also very passionate about teaching and coaching performance. And she runs her own podcast, which is called “Purpose to Perform”, I highly recommend checking it out, cause it's very good!
How are you doing today?
Dr Jo Brown 0:49
Thanks for having me, Greta.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 0:51
It’s a pleasure to have you here. We are pretty excited to talk to a top specialist about performance and recovery.I think the first question that I like to start with is what drove you to this profession? or what started your journey to high-performance?
Dr Jo Brown 1:08
I guess I saw that as an athlete and obviously when you're an athlete you always want - and you've been an athlete yourself as I understand Greta, so, you know what it's like to always be better and, you know, you come second or third and it's not good enough.
You want to be first. And then I guess, you know, coming from the athlete background, I released the one part of that world and that high performance world and being a physio-therapist is where I found I could connect with, with athletes and make the biggest difference I found.
And then I guess over the years, what I began to realise was if the athlete was physically well, then they wouldn't, well, then they still wouldn't perform at a high level. So I got a lot more interested in coaching and trying to fill that gap. So even though I could help them physically, if I couldn't help them mentally, I couldn't give them what they needed at every moment.
So I really worked in the last 10, 15 years to build my skill set so I can support them as a coach and as a physio, both mentally and physically.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 2:13
Yeah. That's wonderful that you anticipated my next, my next question. I was like, you know, you work with these really top athletes and there's a part which is the physical performance and that there's a mental performance that needs to be there for being the best.
And what's your approach today, how do you think they, these two parts combined in athletes in Italy nothing's performance.
Dr Jo Brown 2:36
So many different answers to that question.
So how I have learned, and I was figured out, they, you know, they talk about elite, high performers and athletes having certain attributes and ways and rituals.
And what I had figured out in my experience is yes, they all do present very similar attributes, but they also can adapt themselves and their lives in a set of ways. So it's not just that a habit, but how they live their life. And it all starts with them actually having that belief in themselves and in their mindset. And I remember sitting in the Australian open physio room one year and looking around the room.
And what I realised is that the difference between the athletes wasn't in their physical capacity, it was actually something else.
And I quickly realise, you know, it was their mindset and there really is a Champion's mindset. And, you know, someone like Raphael Nadal who's won 21 grand slams has, you know, has to have that champion's mindset. And that's, that's what separates him from the guy that you hear for one grand slam and you never hear them again.
So I've been really passionate and, you know, really breaking that down and finding out what that is. And I talk about four pillars of performance:
The first one being your purpose and perceptions.
So that's, that's your thinking, that's your goals? That's your mindset, that's your belief, it's your attitude, it's all those things.And that, that's that first pillar that we start from. And if you don't have that, you know, you can't go any further in performance. So no one wins without believing they can essentially. But then there is no performance without action and that action needs a plan.
So the second pillar is planning and processes.
So that's kind of like your structure and your, how, how you do things. And so that might be, you know, organising your day planning when you travel to practices, planning your meals, planning your recovery, or those types of things.
And then the third one, which is quite often the part that I'm heavily involved in, is actually execution. So your patterns and practice.
So it's what you actually do and what you actually achieve and those high performance moments or those high performance zones.
So on competition day, or, you know, if you're someone that does big speeches, it's on that day that you deliver that speech, how do you actually execute?
Do you have habits and rituals? How do you reset? If something goes wrong? You know, how do you deal with little upsets through the day? So that's what you actually do.
And then the fourth pillar is your people.
So it's your who, so the people that support you, the people that you influence, but the people that you let influence you, and that can be really powerful because that can really change how you think. And then obviously comes back to that purpose and perceptions - that last pillar.
So with most of the people I work with, I tend to have a look at those four pillars and determine which of those pillars they're struggling or having the most problems with. And then what tends to happen as with every single person has to start with the first one that represents perceptions.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 6:19
Yeah. I can see you being present, not just a few of them, but probably in all the four of them in your profession. It's incredible.
I've just, I even just thought like how much people around us influence us. And but let's go back to the first, like believing, believing in it, like how, how important it is for you, like the connection between the mind and the body? I mean, there are so many factors in that. What do you think is the most relevant?
Dr Jo Brown 6:50
Oh my gosh, there's so many facts to that. I guess. What I've seen over the years as a physio is that athletes feel comfortable and they trust me to do my job.
They have better results and that a hundred percent, when someone is stressed or uncomfortable or doesn't have a good plan, I noticed that they, the people that are more likely to be injured.
So there's definitely that correlation between the mind and body that see play out all the time. And high-performance in sport is like anything else. You know, human bodies are like race cars and so the harder we push them, the more we expect of them, the more likely things are going to go wrong, but it's how we deal with that.
We're saying, you know, resilience come out, you know, you know, people like the SAS soldiers and you know, what the human body is capable of and what we can actually overcome in terms of when we do our body's under stress or trauma and the power of the mind to do that, that also in terms of performance, the power of the mind to drive that performance, irrespective of what's going on, you know, I've worked with some of the top Jamaican sprinters, and they've had these horrendous injuries that they've only told me about after the fact, because they just knew they just had to stay present to the performance and get it done.
So, there's definitely a connection in that sense that I think there's also, there's the connection where it's, the body can be controlled by the mind in a way, so the body doesn't do anything that the mind doesn't tell it to do.
Right. So we can almost override it to a certain extent until there's a point where it's, you know, I've bought a flight and we were actually, our body's going to go into shutdown and things are going to start to change.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 8:50
Yeah. Yeah. It's really, yeah… it's so broad. I think he was, it'd be unfair to me to put this broad question, but I really liked your response.
I think the difference with the car is that when the car is built, it's just built. So if you use the car at low speed, you know, you're not going to consume it and maybe it's going to break less as you said. But somehow with these top athletes we just need to run them really fast, then make them recover and then run fast to build that performance.
Right? So, I was wondering, what's your opinion, how important is recovery and what's your approach of movement versus recovery while building performance for you, or during injuries?It's a very broad one. Again…
Dr Jo Brown 9:44
Recovery is huge, and I think it's probably the most underestimated tool that if we really understand it and how the body works you know, we can get so much more out of our bodies and, and some of the sports I've worked with over the years, that triathlon is all about, you know, how many kilometres you can do on the bike.
How many times you can run a week in sessions, actually in the session and the body just doesn't have enough time to recover.
And then the quality is lost. So that performance is actually lost. And I think probably more than the last five to 10 years, we started to understand the importance of recovery so much more and, you know, understand, you know, parasympathetic, sympathetic, nervous system.
And, you know, we do need that recovery to enable healing. And when I have athletes that are struggling with that, I will tend to explain to them, look, if you don't get the rest, you're not going to get the recovery, which means you're not going to get their healing time.
And, you know, we know that that healing time requires that rest. And it's just not going to happen without that.
If they keep pushing, they're going to keep causing damage. But there's an element depending on the injury where complete rest is also a no-no.
So it's getting the right amount of recovery for that particular injury and that athlete. So some athletes you'll notice that they can get away with five to seven hours sleep where others need eight to nine hours sleep, but it's just being able to figure out what's best for the athlete and not a blanket approach.
It really is individualising things for an athlete. And my travel with athletes, I would quickly figure out the ones that need more receipt, the ones that need more recovery.
You know, we found the athletes that can go with just say competing on a day, using recovery boots, and then the next day, and having five to seven hours later, the next day, they are good to go. Whereas another athlete needs recovery boots. They need to have massages. They need to have hot/cold baths.
And I doubt it's like to be the same as the guy next to them and physically to look at them, you think exactly the same, but just like digestion, you know, we, all, some people can't process food as well in certain times.
And so the body is just different. It's very individual.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 12:07
Yeah, that's a great response.
Yeah, I guess that's, that's also why we look at, you know, at Parasym and with Nurosym how to optimise a time where your body is in the rest and digest mode and in the parasympathetic state and how you can reduce the stress input to your body like stress, you know, of course a few bit of stress is healthy, but continuous stress or unjustified stress can really cause trouble.
What are your favourite types of recoveries to prescribe? You know, you mentioned hot/cold bath, which also stimulates the vagus nerve promoting parasympathetic activity; sleep is definitely so important even just to adjust the brain to prepare for the performance, like for certain sports it is so important to visualise movements and techniques. How do you prescribe recovery?
Dr Jo Brown 13:10
Like I said before, it's so individualised and I tried to, you know, talk towards an athlete.
What have you used in the past? What do you like and try to figure out an individualised plan. It can't just be a blanket approach.
I'm definitely a really big fan of breathing techniques and the visualisation, like you say, I normally don't use visualisation as a recovery.
I use it more as a preparation for performance, but it can be really good when they've had a bad race or something and they need to reset from that race.
So then I'll use visualisation as a way to reset and then prepare for the next race. So take the focus of the previous race.
A hot/cold bath is a really great one, if you've got access to that. Travelling overseas, I've had some quite interesting ways of creating that experience with rubbish bins and things like that which is always fun. As a sports physio and traveling is all about thinking outside the box. And like I said, really, you know, trying to figure out what every athlete needs.
And you know, I like to get athletes to have a routine, to have a ritual. So, you know, some people they finish training, they do a stretch, they eat, hot cold bath, music, and sleep.
For some people, music hype them up, for some people, music calms them down. So they have their playlist that calms them down and have a progression, a plan to get into that zone for them.
And most elite athletes will have absolute clarity around what that is. They will know what works best for them.
But in the young athletes, it's a little bit about experimenting and really figuring out what works best for them. But the most underestimated recovery tool is sleep. Getting athletes to really understand the power of sleep and, you know, being able to get good quality sleep versus poor quality sleep from what that looks like for them is really important.
You know, I'm a big fan of, you know, switching off all electronics before going to bed and, you know, getting the room at the right temperature, darkness, all those kinds of things.
And then retain is huge as well. Routine is really important for that recovery and that yeah, just skim them in the right headspace to go again as well.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 15:38
It must be so fascinating to travel with athletes and especially top athletes. What is your what have you learned from them?
Dr Jo Brown 15:49
I definitely learned like the pillars of performance. They have come from what I've seen and realising that it all comes back to that first pillar, like having that mindset and that clarity on goals and routine and all those kinds of things and that power of belief.
And I think one of my greatest strengths, I guess, is I see and believe in your best performance. So I've always had belief, but that's just who I am. I was born with that gift. And what the athletes have taught me is to really keep believing in myself and that I can make a difference.
And so I think I've probably developed in the last five to 10 years and am really trying to share my messages and share my knowledge more.
Whereas before some of those experiences, I probably wasn't so much in sharing, but I've just, I probably come from high-performance myself and stayed there.
So I kind of find my happy place in high-performance. So I'm learning every day and how the body can adapt and how we can stay connected to our loved ones when we're on the road and how we can still run a business while we're travelling, you know, one of the Jamaican athletes, she was running a coaching business the whole time we're on the road and you know, was doing these calls in the middle of the night and all this kind of stuff.
Then sitting in the laundry, you know, doing a coaching call and stuff, just what you have to do to get. So, you know, it's taught me anything is possible. And if you believe, if you can believe that you can experience it a hundred percent and not to shy away from challenge.
So like step into challenge. And I have this saying, I say, if you're courageous enough to face it, you can fix it and forever fly.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 17:38
That's so beautiful.
Dr Jo Brown 17:39
Yeah, that, that's One of my favorite sayings and because so many people shy away from challenge, but to be a true high performer, you've got to face it.
And then the other thing I've learned is when you face challenge, you can choose how you face it.
So you can choose to face it with anger. That's what you need to do, but you can choose to face it with determination or with resilience or with love, you know, whatever comes at, you just face it, but you get to choose the emotion that you face it with.
And that's really powerful when you actually go well, I'm facing this and choose it. The power of choice is huge and what that does for the mind and the body. Once again.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 18:19
Very wise words from Dr.Jo!
I loved “What you believe in is what you can achieve and you have to step in the challenge to get there. What is your favourite part of your job?
Dr Jo Brown 18:37
I love to travel and I love those high performance moments, those Olympic final moments when the athlete is on the edge and everyone's on edge and it's just this like amazing bars. And I get to be at my best in those moments.
I have that thing where is a whole space for athletes. So when they're about to go out and race, their Olympic final or whatever, and they come and spend time with me right before they go and race, I just believe in their best performance and I hold space for it. And that's me in my best self.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 19:18
Wonderful. And I wanted to ask you before, like, what was your sport like when you say when you're competing?
Dr Jo Brown 19:22
Yeah, so I was a swimmer
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 19:27
Oh, that also maybe explains a bit of your PhD choice?
Dr Jo Brown 19:33
Yeah. It kind of drew me into swimming and into that world. Like probably a lot of people that have been in a sport, sometimes exit out of it. Isn't that great. And so there's some memories I don't want to relive, but definitely the knowledge I had from being in the world of swimming and surf- lifesaving took me down that path of working with swimming and doing my PhD in swimming.
Unfortunately in my PhD I learned a lot about myself because I probably didn't, I think when we all do a PhD and you've done one and you know how it is like, you think you're going to solve the world with your PhD and you quickly realise you don't want to solve the world.
Yeah, that's still an amazing experience. And then maybe a learning curve for me.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 20:25
I think it's always a contribution to the world, whatever size the PhD results. You know, you start then you want to, you want to publish like five papers in the first year and you don't understand why people don't do as much. And then you overwork yourself and then you realise that, you know, it takes time and method to get to results.
Yeah, it was definitely a big learning curve for me as well. And I changed so much during it. It was it was a bit of a life journey.
Dr Jo Brown 20:58
A hundred percent, I think anyone that's been through a PhD, you speak to them and they would tell you that it changed their life.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 21:05
A question that I like to ask is what advice would you give to a junior or amatorial sport person who's just starting? What is the single advice you would give to them?
Dr Jo Brown 21:20
Oh, wow. That's such a big question. Once again. I think the first thing is have… It starts with those perceptions to have absolute clarity of your why, so why you want to be good at what you do, why you want to be a high performer?
Why is it you want to be good? Why do you want to be a world champion? Whatever it is, know your, why.Iis it because you want the prestige? Is it because you want to be the best? What are you driven by? What drives me? And then the second thing closely attached to that is know who you are, because you'll be really clear on who you are and always stay authentically you.
So don't let anyone try and sway you to be someone that you're not. You being authentically you is where you're going to perform at the best. So be true to yourself and know your why.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 22:13
That's gold advice from Dr. Jo. And I guess that's why it's so hard for sport people sometimes. Because when you start and when you start to succeed in your sport, you're so young that you really don't know yourself and the process can, can screw that up a little bit. Like can slow things down or fasten them up depending on how good your environment is.
Dr Jo Brown 22:35
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 22:36
Yeah, it definitely made me a wiser person early on in life, but yeah, competing myself, but it also slow down other things. Other people who are under less pressure sometimes they've got more time to be who they are or figure out things about themselves without early pressure of knowing whatever you do is on this biggest stage and maybe not controlling that.
Dr Jo Brown 23:05
Knowing. Yeah. That's like a whole another conversation. Cause I really think when you know your why and you know yourself and you're true to yourself, then you, that gives you these all different resources to deal with pressure as well, understand pressure and understand how much that is internal or how much is external.
And then if your why doesn't relate to the external pressure, then you can let it go. So pressure is a whole different conversation. We'll have to come back to that one another time.
Dr Greta Dalle Luche 23:33
Yeah. I would love you to have you on for another episode. But I know you're a very busy woman, so I think I'm going to leave you go for now and I thank you again so much for your time and wisdom, Jo.
Dr Jo Brown 23:45
Thanks for having me here Greta. It’s been awesome.