Legendary Tiger Woods is once again staging a comeback, his fourth since 2012. In tennis this has happened time and again. From Bjorn Borg to Monica Seles and Martina Hingis the comeback stories are aplenty. The most astonishing is French and Barcelona defender Eric Abidal’s sensational comeback within nine months of liver transplant back in 2013.
In cricket, Dennis Lillee conquered a debilitating low back pain and made a historic comeback in 70’s. Don’t forget about Michael Jordan in basketball.
Let’s face it – it’s a gigantic task to recapture form and catch up with the present. The world moves fast. Fitness level plunges being away from competitive sports. It dents confidence. To become the same champion it’s a battle of both mind and body.
While the pain related issues can be settled by surgery and rehab, detraining effect starts after 48 hours of your last training session. Suppose you reach your peak fitness in cardio and notch a level 19 in yo yo. After a break from training for a month or so your VO2 max dips and you are nowhere near that level. Same happens to your strength. For the muscle there is a saying – you either use it or waste it. During recuperation rest will waste away the muscle fibres developed by hours of hard work in the gym. It takes a lot of resilience to recapture the strength and power back.
Dennis Lillee wrote in his book how painstakingly he strengthened his lower back brick by brick. Firstly his focus was to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. Slowly he shifted to developing strength and power. And finally he returned to bowling. His military medium stuff on his return made people believe that he was a spent force. But Lillee remained calm. He meticulously allowed his body to adjust to the strain. Finally he proved everyone wrong by being one of the all time best in fast bowling. It’s a saga of success.
Here is a story of disaster. Bjorn Borg made a horrendous comeback in 1991 at Monte Carlo, 10 years after the most stunning retirement in history of sport. He just didn’t train at all to prepare his body. He chose to pick the wooden racquet which was extinct then. And he didn’t mind the mental gap of 10 year. The very idea was unrealistic and meant to fail.
Comebacks are successful within a span of maximum two-three years. A Roger Federer is smart to understand the harsh reality. He would never leave the circuit for more than six months or so. And during the break he goes through the grind of fitness regimen like before. He would never allow the detraining effect to set in permanently.
Martina Hingis’ second comeback to tennis is just for love of the sport after the first unsuccessful comeback. World won’t remember those. It’s the hunger of returning to rule it again that makes Dennis Lillee, Michael Jordan and Federer the true legend. And behind all these successful story there is a common thread. The legends kept nursing their body and kept the fire in the belly alive.
(Chinmoy Roy is a veteran fitness expert & trainer and has been associated in different capacities with Indian and Bengal cricket for decades)