The iron man of Indian tennis has a rubber foundation. You have seen Leander Paes dart about court, feet a blur. His secret? Rubber bands! Go on, admit it, that was an ace that left you baffled as it whizzed over your head.
"In a sport that has me travelling for at least 30 weeks a year, there is limited scope to have a gym-centric workout regimen. Instead, I carry my gym in my tennis bag," says the man who keeps winning at the age of 36, a full 18 years after he played his first match on the tennis Tour.
Use some rubber
Paes' bands are not the type you use to tie off the little one's pigtails. Called resistance bands, they are strong, long strands, and he has them in varying thickness to change the intensity of a workout. "These are more versatile than any machine. You can easily mimic the specific movement you need for your sport. I can put them in my back pocket and pull them out at any place that appeals to me on a day. That way, the whole wide world is my gym and not just some specific sweat-reeking place."
On the Tour, Paes uses the bands for his strength-training workouts as well as stretching. "The bands build the whole muscle group and not just the major muscle, the way most conventional gym machines do. Our muscles do not look as good as those of body builders or film stars. But talk explosive power and, baby, we are on a different planet from the world of looks."
Talk stretching and it seems the bands lend a whole different flex to the matter. "Those ligaments and tendons, the smaller muscles, and the whole joint itself are essential components of a complete stretch before physical activity to prevent injury and after, to aid dissipation of fatigue-causing lactic acid. The band allows the stretch to traverse all possible angles that static stretching can never emulate."
Give yourself rope
"The benefits of simple skipping are huge but most people seem to give up this childhood pastime for fancy gym memberships," laughs Paes.
He carries two types of ropes with him. "The heavy rope is used for building and maintaining power in the hands, arm, back and neck. It's super for strengthening joints like the rotator cuff -- so essential in my sport. I do different variations depending upon the part of my body I want to exercise. It's great for young players who may not have access to specific training programmes designed by sensible people."
He also carries, what he calls, a 'speed rope'. "This is thinner and I use it to get the legs whirring at the speed I need to reach those far-off volleys. Variations like double and triple jump, to mention a few, keep the footwork humming."
"The biggest reason for my volleys being as solid as they are is the gyroscope," says Paes.
"It's an unbelievable tool for rehabilitating arm injuries. In fact, (Rafael) Nadal carries one in his pocket all the time. Its strength lies in working the small muscles in the hands, fingers and joints. It also spreads an arm workout through the day. You can watch TV or read while the gyro whirs in one hand."
Hitting the pool is the one thing Paes insists upon. "Most hotels we visit have pools so I have evolved a workout revolving around water resistance."
He recommends that all regular exercise nuts take to the water: "The pool does not cause wear and tear, and it's great for an injury-proof workout. Swimming lengths is a great cardio workout and treading water is superb for building muscle."
Paes stresses that the pool is one of the best ways to train. "To increase the load we use webbed gloves and flippers. Do that and you may never want to hit a barbell again. With the trainer standing outside holding a resistance band around my waist, I go through the full sprinting motion while neck deep in water. Try it, you'll barely crawl out of the pool," he grins.
Each to his own
Paes stresses on personalising workouts. "Some players take 45 minutes to warm up while Andre Agassi would have a hot cup of coffee and then step out for a match. It is important to remember that there are no set rules, it's all about finding your own comfort zone."
But some essentials are common. "Within half an hour of a match I will down a protein and carbohydrate rich shake or snack.
Stretching after a workout is essential to nurse the body over years of training. Remember, consistency is the bedrock of a good training programme. Keep introducing new variations and toys to keep your interest level high. After a time working out gets to be boring, that's why it's essential to keep changing the surroundings and the routines to keep the fun element alive."
No need to get stuck on machines for strength training. Invest in rubber resistance bands and get a better workout that mimics natural movement.
If you want strong fingers, hand and arm, get a gyroscope. It works for Rafael Nadal and we are talking muscle with strength and endurance.
Befriend the pool. It offers you a complete workout and relaxation zone rolled in one. There is also less chance of injury and less load on the joints.
The skipping rope is ideal to build strength, endurance as well as speed. Its versatility is incredible depending upon the rope and exercise you choose.
Get your own
For resistance bands visit http://www.acmefitness.com and htt p://www.prolinefitness.in, they have shops across the country. For gyroscope, place your order online at www.powerballs.co.in