PV Sindhu’s exceptional fitness regimen behind success at Rio Olympics
By a conservative estimate, she does about 600 pushups and 2400 abdominal exercises each week.olympics 2016 Updated: Aug 21, 2016 01:34 IST
Racquet skills aside, the one defining attribute of PV Sindhu over the last week has been her fitness. The 83-minute final went the way of Carolina Marin on account of her superior court craft and not for Sindhu being found wanting in limb.
Behind the silver is a story of years of hard work. After all, the 21-year-old first turned up to work with coach Pullela Gopichand when she was all of eight years old. Her fitness bulwark has been built since then and two crucial months of training in the lead up to the Games were the apogee of an incrementally increasing work load over 12 years.
Full Time Job
“Her daily schedule consists of three sessions, with the first one beginning at 4am. It continues till 6.30 or 7am. We can go through as many as a thousand shuttles per session,” says Gopichand, the coach with the Olympic medal touch. To put it in context, during the final, only 25 shuttles were used.
It goes on: “We come back by about eight for another couple of hours of group session. Then it’s back again around 11am for an hour and a half. In the evening she has a gym and court session or a gym and running session.” So how many hours a day is that? “Six to seven.” How many days a week? “Six”. Is your mind boggling yet? Hold on, it gets more intense.
Sindhu does at least a 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups a day. The latter are not of a single type but different variations (seven to eight) of exercises that activate the core and abdominal muscles. Thrice a week she does 600 to 700 abdominal routines. By a conservative estimate, she does about 600 pushups and 2400 abdominal exercises each week.
While Gopichand is the master planner and overall monitor, the fitness execution it left to the physio Kiran Challagundla. Kiran made your correspondent realise just how hard they have been working at their academy in Hyderabad to pull off this silver.
“Sindhu is a tall girl. For her, balance and stability drills are essential. The routine has to keep varying and we tweak it each week. Graded loading is the key,” says Kiran. The player has a blood test every two months so that her nutrition and supplements can be tweaked to compensate for any deficiencies. Her body weight and heart rate are constantly monitored to asses her physical condition.
When it comes to building the kind of endurance that the sport demands, there is a lot of legwork involved. The same graded approach comes into play. “We do different things. Like two to three sets of ten 400m runs or one 2.4 km run. Some days, we push for a 10 km run. The point is to keep the training varied, not let the body get used to it and therefore stop growing,” says Kiran. Progressive loading is what the fitness industry calls this.
What’s on her Plate
Much has been made of coach Gopichand’s ban on junk food and sweets from Sindhu’s diet in the run up to the Games. But it’s elementary to him: “The sugar hampers recovery, it causes inflammation,” says Gopi. Kiran clarifies that becoming a champion means giving up the right to choose what you eat. If you have a child and nurture dreams of Olympic glory, pay attention to this: “There is nothing like what she prefers. She eats what she is told to.”
There’s constant supervision and each meal is measured out. “A challenge that we have with Sindhu is that her appetite is very less. We monitor each meal and give her high calorie food when she’s not feeling hungry enough,” says Kiran.
That’s also why the supplements are key. “Even during the Games she has been carrying three types of nutrition supplements in her bag. These vary – high energy, protein-based or recovery inducing.” They can be fluid based or energy bars.
Not Yet at Full Potential
After the six or so hours of training, the day is still not done for Sindhu. There is always recovery. “There are three bits to that. Post practice, at night and then next morning. It comprises active recovery which is yoga, sleep, relaxing in the swimming pool and light fitness. Passive recovery is icing, massage etc,” says Kiran.
Gopi is not too happy that Sindhu does not like pranayam (yogic breathing routines) too much. “Yoga is very good, but they have to believe in it. I do and I hope one day she will too,” says Gopi.
All this and they still aren’t completely satisfied with her. “She is just 21 years old. She will fill out. She can improve at least 20% in all aspects – strength, endurance, balance….at least minimum 20% we can guarantee,” says Kiran.
Phew! There you have it then, the making of champion needs a team that can put together a schedule that is tweaked on a weekly basis. Best bit? Even a silver later, they aren’t satisfied. Sindhu is certainly headed for more. After all 20% more of her will be an altogether different monster out on court.