Before the emergence of Saina Nehwal, women's badminton in the country was more about building a point through long rallies revolving around drop shots and placements rather than smashes and an aggressive game plan.
But the first Indian woman to win a Super Series title always knew that she was no touch artist and brute power in her smashes was her biggest weapon to annihilate opponents on the court. But if you expect that her playing style would prompt her to pump more weight and hit the gym regularly then you are mistaken.
"There is no direct correlation between the power a player can generate in the stroke and the size of his/her muscles," insists the 19-year-old who has rewritten many records in her fledgling career and is currently touted to be one of the best performing athletes in the country.
"Earlier I used to do a lot of heavy weight training but ever since I started working with a physiotherapist (she first trained under South African Heath Matthews and now trains with Kiran Challagundla), I have realised that there is no need to do that."
Saina is today considered to be one of the fittest Indian athletes on the international stage and that says a lot about the hard work put in by the Hyderabad lass, who tends to gain weight if she slacks from her routine. The two-time national champion says that workouts with heavy weights only result in increased weight and stiffness in the body. "It's not ideal for a badminton player. Especially for girls as we can't afford to put on muscle that inhibits movement.
"In badminton, agility is very important since you have to move very quickly and in all directions. Hence putting on weight even by building muscles is not the best idea," she adds.
Her sport demands that a player has to bend forward, backward and sideways in the span of a single rally and at the same time be ready for a jump shot within a space of seconds. "The game is so demanding that a badminton player has to have tremendous lower body strength and upper body balance to not just perform at the highest level but also negate the possibility of injuries," says Mathews, who works with most athletes supported by the Mittal Champions Trust.
Mathews points out that badminton players can easily lift double their body weight during squats and even Saina's physical training programme revolves around building her lower body strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Running and stretching
To be able to sustain the gruelling match routine and in her own words "retrieve every shuttle", Saina says that her off- and on-court training routine focuses on agility and stamina-building. "Every sports person has better flexibility than a normal person. But one has to keep working on it. I spend a lot of time on stretching during breaks and even when I am playing tournaments."
But the one thing Saina enjoys the most is running on the treadmill at really high speeds in order to keep herself in shape and build her stamina to take on the mighty Chinese.
"I run for almost 70 minutes every alternate day. It is normally fast to very fast. In the last five months I have even stopped doing squats and I now alternate between free weights, running and agility training like shadow runs and on court multi-feeds," she says.
An hour-long training session normally starts with a high intensity cardiovascular workout that includes endurance runs on the treadmill and, weather permitting, outdoors, mixed with some very high intensity training in between to simulate the extreme physical conditions a player can face during a match.
Mathews adds, "During a match a player's heart rate can reach as high as 180 beats per minute. The training programme is also designed in a way to ensure that the player gets used to these extreme conditions."
Saina's single-minded dedication towards her career has been well documented but the youngster adds that the same kind of workout also leads to boredom and mental fatigue and she keeps changing her routine for better results. During off season last year, the badminton ace also undertook a special training programme with the Beijing Olympics-bound boxers to improve her upper body balance and strengthen the rotator muscles of the shoulder, which undergo extreme stress every time she goes for the kill with her powerful smashes or the deceptive half
Tetra bands and stability balls
The 19-year-old has never been a fan of using external aids for training but over the years as her travelling has increased she has learnt to make the most of tetra bands and stability balls for her agility training. "You can't do weights in between tournaments. But most of the gyms have tetra bands and stability balls. I have started enjoying training with these aids now," she adds. "They avoid the monotony of a workout and also serve the same purpose as weight
* Saina says that her training revolves around agility and endurance -- anyone aiming to gain overall fitness should ensure the same.
* Her emphasis is on spending considerable time on the treadmill at a considerably high pace to improve stamina.
* Stretching forms the most important part of her training regime since it ensures that the body does not get stiff thus ensuring agility.
* Though weight training is essential, one should not use very heavy weights and more emphasis should be laid on the number of repetitions than on the load factor.
Age: 19 years
World ranking: 9 (Oct 2009)
Junior National champion: 2004, 05
National champion: 2006, 07
Achievements: Won the Indonesia Super Series in 2009, Won the Chinese
Taipei Grand Prix Gold in 2008, Won the Philippine Open in 2006
Only Indian player to be crowned world junior champion
Extra weight means extra precautions
Let's face it. Not all of us are built like athletes or are working towards being one. Most of us exercise because we are overweight. If you're packing in a few extra pounds, here are a few precautions to keep in mind when starting a new sport or fitness regimen.
Before you try a new weight loss regime, get your body composition analysed. In overweight people, the percentage of fatty adipose tissue is usually much more than muscle mass. Muscle tissues are stronger than adipose tissue and help us carry our weight. So, overweight people risk putting their joints under pressure while working out.
Build up your strength. In overweight people, strength training that beefs up the muscular skeletal system and increases stability is more important initially than cardiovascular
Consciously select activities that are less strenuous on joints. Start with low impact activities like swimming and brisk walking. When you're in a pool, the water's buoyancy reduces the impact on your joints. Slowly progress to more vigorous activities like power walking. Remember that brisk movements create a tremendous force that is partly absorbed by the body. Walking, for example, generates a force that is about four times the person's body weight. Running creates an impact eight times greater.
Have a medical test before you embark on a fitness routine. Your routine should factor in your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as your resting heart rate.
Select appropriate gear. Since your knees, elbows and ankles bear most of your body's weight, make sure they are adequately supported when you exercise. For instance, supportive shoes are a must to absorb the impact of running and speed walking.
Mix it up a little