Sukhwant Basra, Hindustan Times
September 26, 2009
First Published: 00:30 IST(26/9/2009)
Last Updated: 00:49 IST(26/9/2009)
The man’s cheeks are sunken pits; his legs bulge against the restraining trouser seam. There is a feral quality to his gait, like a cat on the prowl. Somdev Devvarman has been busy over the last six months since your correspondent last met him. His exploits on the court have been oft discussed, dissected and imbibed with the voracious appetite that India has for every fresh blossom that promises to herald a new sporting spring. But Bujji — as he’s been always known on the Indian circuit — has been busier elsewhere. That much is obvious from his legs, that can now piston away for close to five hours in the cauldron pressure of a Davis Cup tie.
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Devvarman has a constant companion; someone who shares his life intimately. He sees Milos Galecic far more often than any other individual on this planet. The Serbian trainer spends “between 60 to 70% of the year” putting India’s greatest tennis hope through a systematic workout that has our man running to the numbing embrace of an ice bath every day. “I travel about 30 weeks and Milos is there for more than 15. When I am not on Tour he’s always around me. That is more important since it’s always been clear to me that I have had the upper hand because of strong legs.” Top-level trainers can cost anything from 700 to 2,000 dollars a week. “I think the person teaching you has to be knowledgeable. Gym training has to have a systematic approach. It’s about the right kind of work and more than anything you need the right kind of person to (help) put that work in.”
Numbers don’t count
To get legs that are cat-like in bounce while being gazelle-like in flight doesn’t need extended hours in the gym. “My average workout is about an hour and fifteen minutes. Sometimes it can be as short as 25 minutes. It’s about making sure form is right so that the specific muscle is being worked. Generally it will be 3-4 weight training sessions in a week — light weights during tournaments and heavy when off.” Put him into a room of boastful iron working men and Devvarman would not know what to say. The usual clichés don’t apply for athletes looking to hone their bodies into explosive weapons. “I don’t know how many push-ups, sit-ups or pull ups I do. We don’t focus on the numbers, it’s the intensity that counts.”
Simple is best
“I am a huge believer in not needing fancy equipment to work out. That’s true even on the tennis court. I have never used a video recorder to analyse my game or computer software.” He says neither do most of the top players, insisting that keeping it simple is especially true for off-court workouts: “I have done enough workouts with Andy (Roddick). They are pretty straightforward. It’s a lot of sweat and they are really tough. That’s about it.” Surprisingly enough, Devvarman does not even believe in supplements. “I don’t have any supplements at all. I just eat well and I eat a lot. I have chocolate milk, lots of chocolate milk — that’s my supplement.”
It’s no sacrifice
Devvarman has a problem with the word ‘discipline’. “That’s the kind of word you use in the army where people give you orders and you have no choice. Fitness and its associated lifestyle is more of a conscious choice, it’s not (in lieu of) something I am sacrificing. It’s something I want to do.” The basics are clear to this one: “I would rather be playing tennis and winning five-set rubbers for India than be partying. It’s the way I am built and the kind of approach I have to my life.” He states that if you feel you are giving up on life to work hard at something, then do what you really want to do.
Devvarman knows that post-workout recovery is just as important as the workout itself. For him, it lasts almost as long as the sweat-work itself. “I stretch for 15 to 20 minutes minimum after a light initial cooldown. I ensure I eat something within 45 minutes — if not a full meal, at least a bit to replace the energy lost. Then, I either get a massage or hit an ice bath. If I don’t have someone to help then it’s always the ice. Nothing works as well as 15 minutes in a tub of icy water to rejuvenate the legs. It’s very popular with the top players. Andy does it all the time. I have seen so many NBA and NFL players do it. It’s really popular with professional athletes in the US.” Working out need not be a pain