Fitness helps Saina, Sindhu match Sachin, Virat

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Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu; picture credit: India Today

Five years back if you glanced through a sports page, stories would be mostly on the Sachins and Virats. Post 2016 Sindhu, Saina, Srikanth -the three ‘S’s’ from Hyderabad are giving the cricketers a run for their money. P.V. Sindhu’s spectacular run has turned badminton into a popular sport in India.

I had the privilege of visiting Gopichand’s academy in Gacchi Bowli, the breeding ground for international talents. In collaboration with the Sports Authority of India, it is far from a plush look that say, a Bandra Kurla Cricket Academy in Mumbai gives. But in every nook and corner, there is a mark of dedication and pursuit towards excellence. During a conversation, Gopi revealed the extensive research work put into practice to ensure that the Sindhus keep flowing.

Badminton is an overhead sport in which frequent jumps and smashes demand explosive power of the legs and upper extremity. In short, the balance of the game is overwhelmingly tilted towards power. Realising it, Gopi has installed a full fledged gym where Saina and Sindhu mostly use free weights rather than machines. The strength programme is customised for each player with the focus on power.

The strength and conditioning coach, dedicated for this purpose runs through a badminton specific fitness test to ascertain strength and weakness of a certain player on a specific parameter. For example, the vertical jump test is where one needs to jump from one spot and reach as high as he or she can. It reveals the power in the legs. Having the data is fine but to transform the weakness into strength asks for skill of the fitness coach. Kudos to the fitness coach who has structured the regimen and catapulted Sindhu into an elite league.

If you look at the physique of Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu – it is discernible that Sindhu has powerful legs with a gifted muscle group. For most field sports, a strongly built lower limb is of paramount importance in excelling at highest level. The mid-section of the body remains the epicentre of generating power. Virat Kohli while doing his snatch nicely put it, “If you are into running sport, strengthen your lower limb with a capital S.”

In India, the biggest shortcoming in fitness training for minor sports is lack of strength training. Shuttlers mostly do their sprint, continuous slow cardio and agility. Lack of power is too evident. In Gopi’s academy all the talents are exposed to strength training at the outset. They grow stronger by the day. In 2006, Saina Nehwal started training with Gopi. She got her Olympic bronze in London in 2012. It was intense fitness work during this period. Her game rose to great height.

Saina Nehwal suffered a knee injury after parting ways with Gopi. Following that there was a dip in her performance. In Vimal Kumar’s academy she may have got adequate support on skill. But she must have realised that to get back to peak fitness reverting to her origin is the best option. Hence she has come back in Gopi’s fold.

Physios and nutritionists are now heard of in most sports academies. But they must not be an ornamental part. Their presence has to be felt. In Gopi’s academy the nutritionist writes the menu and cross checks who takes what calorie of food. That is the scientific approach to attain excellence. With his vision, Gopi recruited a team of skilful coaches, trainers, physios, nutritionists and  psychologists. The team works with great cohesion.

Gopichand’s academy is not the ultimate in badminton. But look at the series of talents produced – Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth, HS Prannoy and B Sai Praneeth. Take a bow. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) once followed the Australian model while forming the National Cricket Academy. Why not follow Gopi’s model when you think of launching a national badminton academy?

(Chinmoy Roy is a veteran fitness expert & trainer and has been associated in different capacities with Indian and Bengal cricket for decades)

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