Ireland back row Fitzpatrick striving to bring sports science to life

The 29-year-old’s company is based out of DCU and focuses on driving athletic performance.

Fitzpatrick helped Ireland to beat New Zealand last year.
Fitzpatrick helped Ireland to beat New Zealand last year.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MANY OF US stress over the difficulty of fitting our training around work and life demands, but Paula Fitzpatrick’s challenge to get that balance right is at another level.

As a member of Ireland’s international set-up, the Tallaght native essentially trains as a professional rugby player, despite the ongoing status of women’s rugby as an amateur sport.

On top of that, Fitzpatrick is one half of STRIVE Sport Science, an ever-growing applied sports science testing and research company based out of Dublin City University’s [DCU] impressive campus in Glasnevin.

The day we meet, the Ireland back row has been up since 5.30am, in the gym with Ireland in UCD at 6.30am, working in DCU by 9.00am and will then train with her club side, St. Mary’s, between 7.00pm and 8.30pm.

The day before had involved a third training session added onto that workload, midday fitness with the Ireland squad. It’s not for the faint hearted, so it’s fortunate that Fitzpatrick positively bursts with enthusiasm for her work and training.

Tupperware boxes of pre-prepared food are a constant companion as the 29-year-old ensures her nutrition is on key, while a switch from vegetarianism before last year’s Rugby World Cup in France has helped in that regard.

Fitzpatrick, after all, is practicing what she preaches with STRIVE, which she co-founded in 2013 with the highly-respected Dr. Giles Warrington, DCU’s Programme Chair of Sports Science and Health.

“There’s three things that we do as part of STRIVE,” says Fitzpatrick. “One is the testing of athletes, then we run research projects, and we also do educational workshops on various aspects of sports science.”

Paula Fitzpatrick Fitzpatrick first played rugby in DCU before joining St. Mary's. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Fitzpatrick, a graduate of Sports Science and Health at DCU, carried out her PhD under the supervision of Warrington, working for four years in the university’s superb facilities – viewers of RTÉ’s Operation Transformation might recognise the labs.

“I knew I wanted to work in high performance if possible, work with athletes, and work in a practical setting,” says Fitzpatrick of STRIVE’s foundations.

“The idea came about starting a business because we always get calls into the department in DCU to see if there’s testing going on, or can people come in to use the facilities.”

Demand and supply. Over a year and a half later, Fitzpatrick and Warrington have worked with a broad range of clients including STATSports, Elivar, the Olympic Council of Ireland, international athletes, rugby players, Louth County Council and the Shooting Association of Ireland.

One of the core components of STRIVE’s work is providing expert physiological analysis for athletes, and not only at the very top levels.

We take all athletes through here. We’d have elite international athletes, who are going for junior Olympic games and senior Olympic games, but we’d also have the weekend warrior who just wants to improve their PB for the 10k,” outlines Fitzpatrick.

“They can book in with us and we’d have a consultation over the phone to find out where they’re at, what their goals are, that kind of thing – so we can tailor the test towards them and their sport.”

The laboratories in DCU allow STRIVE to provide an incredible depth of analysis of each athlete’s physiological condition, all targeted towards that individual’s sport.

“You want the testing to be as specific as possible to their sport,” says Fitzpatrick. “For an endurance athlete, we’d run either a VO2 max test or a lactate test.”

IMG_0172 DCU's labs are fully kitted out for VO2 max tests. Source:

In layman’s terms – which Fitzpatrick is patient enough to explain to us – the VO2 max test allows athletes to learn how efficiently their body is at taking in oxygen:

“Everyone is breathing in the same air, but fitter athletes will be able to take more oxygen from that and use it more efficiently within their body and they’ll also be able to maintain higher exercise intensity levels for longer.”

The lactate threshold test, meanwhile, involves taking intermittent blood samples as the athlete exercises, plotting the lactate profile against heart rate, and eventually allowing the endurance athlete to determine the heart-rate zones around which they can plan their training programme.

As for the power-based athlete, Fitzpatrick says “the gold-standard for leg power would be the Wingate test. It’s one of the most vile tests you could possibly do, but I love it.

That tests your absolute power, peak power, relative power depending on your bodyweight and gives you your power drop as well.

“It’s a 30-second all-out cycling test, peddling at a resistance of 7.5% of your bodyweight. 30 seconds sounds like nothing, but I swear it’s the longest 30 seconds you’ll go through.”

Fitzpatrick’s standing offer to host our first-ever Wingate test remains declined for now.

As well as that assessment, STRIVE facilitate speed testing with laser-operated speed gates, vertical jumps with portable mats or in the lab at DCU, as well as gym testing for one-rep maxes and so on.

The facilities in at the Glasnevin campus mean Fitzpatrick and Warrington can also provide blood testing for athletes in strenuous phases of training, tests for muscle imbalances and a host of other physiological analyses.

IMG_0177 The dreaded Wattbikes on which leg power tests are carried out. Source:

In terms of the research prong of STRIVE, the international back row – who was first involved with Ireland as an out-half, before switching to hooker – explains that the client base is rounded.

They have helped GPS performance monitoring and analysis firm STATSports to validate a project, worked with Cycling Ireland, carried out studies for sports drink Elivar, and put together a series of informational video clips for the Olympic Council of Ireland.

The latter venture will help Ireland’s competitors to prepare for what awaits them in Brazil at next year’s Olympic games in terms of the climate, travelling, and even simple aspects like relaxing in the athletes’ village.

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Finally, STRIVE’s educational workshops involve an equally diverse clientele.

Workshops can range depending on the group,” says Fitzpatrick. “We can do strength and conditioning, nutrition… we did one with the Shooting Association of Ireland, one of the most interesting ones.

“It was all about shooting as a physical sport. People have an idea that there’s not a lot of physical activity going on, but when you break it down, physical training can help your performance in shooting.

“Nutrition would be a big one that the workshops focus on. We’ve done work with Louth County Council, club teams, corporate clients. That’s going in and doing nutritional workshops with companies, because there’s that whole ‘a healthy workplace is a happy workplace’ philosophy. That’s a big belief for us.”

All the while, Fitzpatrick is planning for the upcoming Six Nations with Ireland, who have lost captain Fiona Coghlan, Lynne Cantwell, Grace Davitt, Siobhan Fleming and Laura Guest to international retirement.

Lynne Cantwell presents the jersey to Paula Fitzpatrick Cantwell [right] has retired from the Ireland set up. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Tom Tierney has come on board as the new head coach and Anthony Eddy has arrived from Australia as director of women’s rugby. All change, but Fitzpatrick and Ireland are intent on building on last year’s World Cup exploits.

“It feels very different because Fi, Lynne and also Grace would have been big leaders in the team and made a lot of decisions off the pitch. We’ve seen new people stepping up for those leadership responsibilities, which is great.

“It’s a transition period where we change over, but hopefully we can build on what we’ve already worked to create.”

Away from the pitch, plans for STRIVE are also ambitious. Having recently finished a funding period under Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme, the company is now sustaining itself.

Fitzpatrick is hugely thankful to Dr. Kevin Moran and all DCU’s School of Health and Human Performance for their support and encouragement, with the plan being to eventually outgrow the university’s labs and launch their own facility.

The plan is to gradually take over the world, one athlete at a time,” says Fitzpatrick. “We want to become a centre of excellence for sports science and for athletes.

“What we’re trying to do is translate all of the scientific jargon into practical, tangible information that athletes can follow and use to improve their performance. Our passion is based around educating athletes and helping them to understand how their body works, how to improve their performance.

“It’s all about those 1%s. If you have your training, nutrition, physiology, all that and you’re getting a 1% increase from all those areas, it gives you a huge increase in your performance.”


Check out STRIVE on Facebook or Twitter.

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