One leg fitted into a restrictive cast. But the rest of the body was free to go through the grind of preparation for the Olympics — back then still a year away. C Kiran, PV Sindhu’s physio and trainer was doing more than patching together a fractured foot — that famous long leg that lunged Indian badminton massively forward with a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. Kiran had decided the rest of the body was ready to plod along even if it meant sitting on a bench and skilling up.
“It’s not like she was sitting at home for 2-3 weeks. Gopi and me knew we didn’t want to waste time. You see, the other leg was fine, so was the upper body and the abs. We simply designed a way to improve her skills while one leg was still in a cast,” Kiran recalls.
For two and a half to three months, the rest of her body kept getting trained, and when she returned, the foot healed — though it meant starting from scratch on strength and endurance, Sindhu was never out of training even for a moment.
“We removed the cast and we started off like nothing had happened,” he remembers.
An important member of Gopichand’s staff, Kiran is credited with helping Sindhu come through six back to back matches at these Olympics — reasonably recovered, and not falling back on fitness or getting tired. Five of those were top-intensity matches were against very tough opponents.
Kiran says Sindhu is an extremely cooperative athlete — and her metabolism is excellently active — and on the day she won the medal, that stretched from a three-setter match against the blitzy Carolina Marin to at least a hundred questions answered across international and national media to the medal ceremony — all standing up.
Kiran says 7-hour training sessions with two small snack-breaks are not uncommon for PV Sindhu.
How tough an hour-long match will turn out on the body depends squarely on how supremely concentred the training has been back home. “She’s done sessions — that went on for 7 hours at a stretch with hardly 15 minutes snacks breaks,” he says. Always starting at 4 am.
Sindhu is technically Gopi’s second generation of trainees — after Saina Nehwal and Kashyap and Guru Saidutt. At the academy in Hyderabad, the juniormost started the earliest — and Sindhu was accustomed to starting out even before the sun had risen even when Nehwal and Kashyap were being trained for their 2012 Games.
Nothing changed really even after the 21-year-old herself qualified for the Olympics. It was still a pre-dawn start for the tall girl.
“4 am to 7 am. Then 7.15 to 9.30. Then 9.45 to 11.30,” Kiran remembers. It was routine, as was the strict enforcing of rules for sleeping and waking up.
Kiran, though, reckons the toughest workout was keeping her away from her phone. Someone who loved her phone weaned away from it — because the distractions went beyond the on-phone time. “Not just her, all the young people find it tough,” he says.
But what ended up being the toughest challenge for Kiran was ensuring that Sindhu relaxed after the tough games. “Most times she gets too excited after a match. Also, low intensity longer sessions are much tougher than high intensity short sessions,” he explains.
It turns out Sindhu will not shy away from training at anything with heart rate of 180, 190. “She is ready for that level. But 120 heart rate over 1.5 – 2 hours, maybe not at this age,” Kiran explains.
The most crucial improvement in Sindhu’s game has been her agility. It was about making her legs move faster.
When any shot is hit, shuttles come oddly at a receiver — the height as well as the turning trajectories, and usually a low centre of gravity is recommended. On an average in a match a player ends up doing 300 squats while returning. And to keep on squatting needs a lot of fitness. Sindhu is
5’11”, and that means greater strain on her knees and back, though some solid work has gone into agility given Sindhu’s low defense right through up to the finals even was impeccable, her retrieving not a glaring wobble as it tends to be for young tall players.
Sindhu also attempted the jump smashes — two legged jumps about 2 feet higher from the ground, which demand a higher centre of gravity if the shuttles coming to her at midcourt. The higher ones are more intuitive when hitting the tosses.
“We had to find the perfect centre of gravity. We tried higher, we tried lower and even sideways because badminton has a lot of contortions,” Kiran says.
“We figured which ones were suiting her. For a few strokes — centre of gravity was high, for a few lower, for some side,” he adds.
Still, Kiran believes this is not the finished product, and Sindhu can upgrade the silver – even though this might’ve seemed like a peak until now.
“Personally I think she can improve 20 percent. From physio’s point of view, and in all aspects — speed, strength, endurance, she can go higher,” he promises.
Fitness also demanded that she forgot about a match the soonest after it was done. “Yes, 1.5 hours of a draining match is tough. But it’s more important to see how fast you can get her out of the match mentally. Winning a very close match sometimes means you can be excited about the victory for 7-8 hours,” he explains.
“Match is done, come out of stadium, finish,” he says.
In the evenings just 1 hour is spent thinking of the match. “That keeps them mentally fresh. You cannot think too much about winning also. Even that can tire a player out.” That is, till the medal is won.