CHENNAI: Card games. Hours of streaming movies on phones. Lots of naps as well. Doesn’t really read like the routine of a professional athlete, does it? But this is what most of those at Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) national camps are doing post lockdown.
For highly-trained athletes used to training two times per day, these times are more frustrating for them than it is for the common man. In a chat with this daily, Athletics Federation of India’s (AFI) high performance director Volker Herrmann speaks on their fitness, mental health and how the pandemic is impacting athletes in the country at the moment.
What happens to the athletes when they’re not able to train properly?
They’re highly-trained machines. Lack of endurance or strength training may cause certain health problems. Gaining weight is an additional problem, one that we’ve to avoid. When you are not able to train, two things happen. Doctors advise endurance runners to not stop training immediately. Improper detraining can affect their cardiovascular system, even weaken their immune system. But if it’s only for three weeks, then it will be easier for them to get back into shape.
For other athletes, their strength is what is mainly reduced. Even their level of technique is affected. It makes it more difficult for them to start the new season.Throwers and shot-putters usually burn a lot of calories, as they have a lot of muscle mass and do a lot of strength training. Without that, their body composition might change. Muscle mass will reduce and body fat will increase. It takes a toll on all organs and muscles, as they are used to heavy loads.
How crucial is diet while not training?
It has to be checked. For example, they have to reduce the quantity of carbs. Or else they will gain weight. That increases the risk of injury when they start training again. If bones are not exposed to regular strength training, density also reduces slightly.
What efforts are taken to maintain their fitness?
To stay flexible, we have introduced basic core exercises: push-ups, planks, crunches and yoga sessions. We are trying to make groups of three, four athletes so that they can maintain social distance while doing these things. It’s all done inside the hostel. They have their own yoga mats and towels. So, it’s very safe.We are planning to request National Institute of Sport for additional weights. But that may take time. It’s not possible to do the same for all athletes.
So we are charting out a plan to make the best of the situation. The Olympics has only been postponed, not cancelled. So we have to make sure that our athletes remain in the best shape. It will be great if they get back to training by the end of May or June so that they can be ready for competitions in October and November.
How is all this going to impact their mental health?
It is not just about the physical aspect. You also have to consider the mental one. If you are used to playing a sport four, five hours in a day, and then suddenly you are not allowed to carry on like that, you get a bit nervous. For these athletes, it’s their profession. They can’t work from home. People like me can still get work done with a computer. But that’s not the case for them. They are used to following a routine every day. That is why we are implementing these daily exercises and yoga sessions. Keeping their minds healthy and focussed helps.
For now, we have started some physical activities. We are thinking of engaging them with some games. We are trying to get their profiles updated on AFI’s website. We are also planning to send them a small motivational video. Basically, we are trying to give them some tasks. But we are yet to implement all this. We are still trying to figure out how to carry out these activities, keeping in mind safety and precautionary measures. Hopefully, it will help keep up their spirits.
How long is the recovery process going to take?
For heavily-trained bodies, recovery is faster. Once they get back to their routines, the process is faster as compared to a regular human. But, you also have to consider this. A year has 52 weeks. Usually, there is around 8 to 10 weeks of competition. And after the main events (Olympics) — when the athletes are still at their peak — they rest for three to four weeks to recover and relax their joints, muscles, and even their brains. Now, we have stopped training and competitions at the lower level. So, they will take more time to regain fitness afterwards. It’s hard to give the exact window. But it’s roughly seven to eight weeks. So we need a slightly longer training stint to help them achieve their peak fitness.