After more than 60 days of being confined to their rooms, India’s elite athletes have returned to the field – albeit with restrictions – in a staggered manner over the last two weeks. The first to hit the ground running were the golfers, followed by track and field athletes and weightlifters since they were already inside the National Institute of Sport campus in Patiala.
These athletes may have a head-start over their colleagues from other sports, who will restart training only next month, but even then, it is likely to take them months – in some cases up to six months – to return to pre-lockdown levels of training.
Here, some of the Tokyo Olympics hopefuls share their experience of resuming training after more than two months because of the pandemic-induced lockdown:
Shivpal Singh (Javelin throw)
WORKING ON: Shedding extra weight, regaining fitness
Like many, Shivpal too has added a few kilos during the lockdown but sees the lighter side of it. “The biggest change I can observe is around my waist. I had six-pack abs that have turned into a family pack,” Shivpal, who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, jokes.
He, however, realises it will be no joke to regain his form and fitness. He admits that ‘every inch’ of his body feels weak. There’s stiffness in his back and shoulders and when he tried to lift weights the other day, he could manage just 100kg instead of the usual 118 kilos he could earlier manage. “It will take at least two months to get back into rhythm,” he predicts.
Shivpal qualified for the Olympics with a throw of 85.47m at a meet in South Africa days before the lockdown was announced in March. Since then, he has not been able to train, resulting in his ‘throwing arm going a little weak.’ “To what extent, I don’t know. I will have to make a few throws to understand that.”
That might not be possible immediately since he is not allowed to use his training equipment yet. Till that is permitted, he can use the track to warm up and train. However, regimented training is proving to be a tough task after two months of a relaxed schedule. “Since there was no training, I had the luxury to wake up at 9 am and stroll to the mess for my meals,” he laughs. “We resumed training just a couple of days back and waking up 6 am feels like a herculean task. Likewise, going to bed early is also not easy.”
Tajinderpal Toor (Shot Put)
WORKING ON: Wrist muscles, regaining throwing rhythm
For a shot putter, Toor says, the lack of activity has a big impact on the wrist muscles. He tried to keep them in shape with some light gripping exercises he could perform indoors but that was hardly a substitute for the rigorous workouts he otherwise indulges in. “Staying indoors only meant light fitness training apart from climbing stairs at the hostel to maintain fitness,” says Toor.
During training before the lockdown, Toor managed a throw of 21.45m, which is way more than the national record of 20.92m he achieved to win the gold medal at the National Open Athletics Championship. “So for me, training stopped at a very inopportune time. The whole process of making throws requires the body in proper rhythm and I felt the same in March. Now with this break, I would at least need two months after I start training fully to achieve the same kind of rhythm,” he says.
Toor, however, has used the lockdown to make notes about the changes he needs to introduce to his strategy and technique. “I have worked on specific areas like standing in a power position in the middle of the throw and adding more weight to the legs prior to the lockdown. I spent some time on squats and light bench training in the last two months so that when full training resumes, we can aim for these changes along with the starting of basic things,” he adds.
Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting)
WORKING ON: Strengthening shoulder, back and thigh muscles
The former world champion and her team appear to be in no rush. After 65 days of lifting light weights inside her room – the only workout she could manage – Chanu could step outdoors, but it will be at least a couple of weeks before she will be able to lift the barbell again. The reason, according to a weightlifting official, is to avoid injuries.
Till then, the focus will be on regaining the lost muscle mass and strengthening her shoulder, back and thighs.
“For the first two weeks, we will work just on this area,” the official says. “It is unlikely that any international competition will be held this year, till December at least. So, we are pacing ourselves accordingly.”
The other aspect is her body weight. Chanu, who competes in the 48kg class, usually weighs around 50kg. However, because of the lack of physical activity during the lockdown, she has added roughly six kilos to her normal body weight.
It’s been the opposite case with Jeremy Lalrinnunga, a promising young talent, who has lost close to five kilos during this period.
“Until they reach desirable fitness levels, they will not lift weights. And even when they start doing that, it will be gradual – beginning with 50 per cent of the usual workload and then adding weight,” the official says, adding that in power sports, it may take up to a month to recover from one week of training lost. That means it could take at least another five to six months for Chanu to lift a combine (snatch plus clean and jerk) of 200kg in training, something she routinely did before the lockdown.
Jeev Milkha Singh (Golf)
WORKING ON: Hip movement, chipping and putting
The winner of 14 international titles was one of the first professional golfers to tee off at the 7,204-yard long Chandigarh Golf Course, when it reopened on May 20. Jeev had been preparing for the sport’s return throughout the lockdown and used the break to strengthen the core of his body. However, when he returned to the golf course, reality hit him.
“It is all different once we play golf on the course. In reality, we turn our body a lot and it also means a lot of pressure on the hips. After the first day of playing golf, my muscles were sore and I understood that they have to be fine-tuned for the rigours of playing all the 18 holes,” he says.
The last nine days have seen Jeev playing nine holes just twice, apart from heading to the range to practise his swing. It is a departure from his usual six-seven-hour routine, which includes an almost four-hour practice round followed by a couple of hours at the driving range and practising chipping and putting.
For now, however, he is just searching for his rhythm.
“I have to spend some time to reach that level again. Earlier, I used to hit 100-150 balls per day but now I am hitting just 50-60 balls. I struggled with the feel of the chip or putt. It will come with practice again. I feel like going back to my novice days.”
Arpinder Singh (Triple Jump)
WORKING ON: Angles of his jump and improving the hop
During the lockdown, the triple jumper would perform seven to eight jumps daily at a lawn outside his home near Amritsar. There, he would focus on jumping on a single leg by running from a short distance. He knows, however, that the lack of cardiovascular training could hamper his training when it resumes full-fledged.
Arpinder usually shadow-practices his run-up and jump several times before actual training begins.
Given that he hasn’t been able to do that as well, he fears it will take him at least 40-60 days of full training to cross even the 15-metre mark. “As a triple jumper, I focus on the whole body as each part of the run-up and the triple jump process is vital. During the last two months, I have done less cardio training and it will hamper my progress once full training resumes. Technically speaking, I will have to revise the technique day by day and also add more strength at the same time. Only then can I achieve my best once full training schedules begin,” the 27-year-old says, adding that he will be working on angles of his jump and improving the hop as the days progress with coach PB Jayakumar.