“What do you think your body is like—a Mercedes or a Ferrari?” asks Ryan Fernando, a nutritionist who works with some of India’s top athletes, as he begins a workshop unlike any he has done before.
Instead of sitting down with his athletes to figure out their specific nutritional needs, Fernando is addressing them via Facebook. “As an athlete if you believe your body is a high-end dream vehicle then you need to put the correct fuel inside to run it,” he says, and goes on to explain in detail how to boost immunity levels and how to preserve muscle strength at home during the lockdown period.
The advice includes eating “beetroot, green peas, and rocket leaves, because they help in vasodilation which means the widening of blood vessels. When the pipeline widens, you can send more blood to the muscles, more O2, water, vitamins… and you can take out more lactic acid.”
For Fernando, the biggest concern is how to prevent athletes from putting on weight; working out at home simply cannot match the rigours of a training camp, but the body gets used to a certain amount of calories and craves it.
“Do a fasting in lockdown. Get up, have a cup of coffee and do an intense workout,” he says. “Skip breakfast and have lunch.” Foods to burn fat? Cinnamon, lemon, moringa, black coffee.
Fernando, who has worked with the likes of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, is among several specialists—top coaches, physiotherapists and mental conditioning experts who are live streaming sessions for the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to help athletes manage this unprecedented challenge of maintaining their fitness levels at home, with no top-end training facilities at their disposal.
Social media platforms and WhatsApp were things that coaches would exhort their trainees to stay away from, lest they waste their precious time and lose focus. Now, connecting online is the only way to help elite athletes maintain their conditioning.
India’s top boxers have their ‘Online Pathsala’. Santiago Nieva, the high performance director for the men’s team, and Raffaele Bergamasco, the women’s team head coach, have prepared a detailed schedule for the nine boxers who have qualified for the Olympics, as well as for those who hope to make it to future trials for categories where India is yet to seal a berth. Boxers will have to film their training sessions and upload them on a WhatsApp group. The coaching staff will then analyse the videos and offer their inputs, or adapt the sessions.
Similar classes are being conducted for close to 300 junior and youth boxers as well.
“I am using the stairs for different strength endurance exercises, side jumps, single leg jumps,” says the 2019 Asian Boxing Championships silver medallist Kavinder Bisht. “Also, lots of bodyweight exercises and shadow boxing. The important thing is that I am constantly in touch with coaches and try and maintain a routine.”
Physiotherapist Nikhil Latey, who worked with Mary Kom when she won her bronze at the 2012 Olympics, sounds a caution for athletes in his online session, ‘Training in times of coronavirus’.
“Assuming that the lockdown is extended to two months, you will be at 40-45 per cent of your maximum capacity (on return to full training) and you will take two months to reach match fitness. If you push yourself at that time then there will be risk of injury. There is no major competition schedule for next few months so you have time, do not be scared and in a hurry,” Latey says.
Latey gives tips on how to do bodyweight strength training, and fitness and flexibility exercises at home using resistance bands, the one piece of equipment he expects athletes to have at home.
“Ensure that you maintain discipline and do morning and evening sessions for at least one and half hours each. Remember, this is off season training and not a holiday,” he says.
David John, Hockey India’s high performance director sets an interesting assignment for his athletes via Facebook.
“There are seven attributes of fitness—cardio vascular endurance, speed, agility, muscle strength, muscle power, muscle endurance and flexibility. You have to determine and rank which are the qualities most important for my sport and activity,” he says.
“In some sport only some of these qualities are needed, while in other sport you need a more complete range. If you are a sprinter, speed, power and flexibility are most important while agility and CV endurance is not nearly as important,” he says.
John says many athletes, without supervision, end up wasting their time on exercises that don’t add to their sport-specific fitness.
They should be spending time on physical attributes that can actually make a difference in their sport. This is most important.”
Dr Kartik Doshi, head of the Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance centre in Bhubaneswar, says technology has been of immense help during the lockdown.
“You need a programme and athletes who are serious will follow,” he says. “We are also planning to start tele-consultation with all the ABTP centres.”
While trainers have stepped up their efforts using the digital platform, athletes are finding innovative ways to implement them. From rooftops to balconies to porches, they are using limited space to great effect, and from stools to trash bins, they are improvising when it comes to equipment.
Amit Panghal, the first Indian male boxer to win a silver at the 2019 World Championships, does not have a rope ladder to do his footwork drills, so he’s painted one in his garage.
“Innovation is the key since there is no access to the gym and weights,” says golfer Chiragh Kumar, winner on the Asian Tour and Asian Games silver medallist.
“I place a stool in the driveway and do three sets of 10-15 jumps for power,” he says. “The trash bin nearby is tall, and I often jump over it as well. Since the driveway allows room, I do 20-yard sprints, shuttle runs, jumping jacks and on-the-spot jogging. For squats and lunges, I lift my daughter Aynaz on my shoulders.”
Chirag then uploads these videos on Twitter or Instagram and challenges his golfer friends to pull them off. “It’s also a way to break the boredom.”