Yuvraj Singh interview: 'The harder I trained, the harder I have run, the fitter I have felt'
What has it taken for Yuvraj Singh to get back to fitness and crucially, win a place back in the Indian team?
Yuvraj Singh has made bigger comebacks in his life than his most recent one to India’s T20 squad for the tour of Australia. His story of being the hero of India’s biggest triumph on a cricket field since 1983 to the player who struggled in another World Cup a year later in Bangladesh is well known. His battle against a rare form germ-cell tumour between the lungs is one of immense courage. And away from the spotlight that wearing India’s blues inevitably brings, Yuvraj has put in some hard yards to get back to what he calls his best shape since the 2011 World Cup.
Recently Yuvraj was in Kolkata to be a part of the Tata Steel Kolkata 25k run in his role as a Puma athlete. “I am just going to be attending the event. I don’t think I can run 25 kms. I want to encourage everybody to run because running is the best form of exercise there is,” Yuvraj told Firstpost.
So how has running helped Yuvraj? What has it taken for him to get back to fitness and crucially, win a place back in the Indian team? Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: Everyone knows what you have gone through over the last four years. How has your personal fitness regime changed from before the 2011 World Cup to now?
A: I think, you know, before my diagnosis I was pretty healthy and my own fitness regimes were in place. I mean, I never had any major fitness issues before then.
After coming back from cancer, I had to start again completely. There was only one form of exercise that could help me. And over the last 16-24 months, I have had a lot of running regimes – long distance, short bursts. That’s been the best form of exercise for me especially because I had lost a lot of lung capacity. So with a lot of running, I got back my agility and now I am able to play cricket again.
Was running the suggested fitness routine for you to get back into the swing of things?
Yes, definitely. I think running is the best form of training for anyone in the world. There are times when you want to go to the gym and you don’t find a good gym. Times like those, you just put your headphones on and go for a run. I think running has been the most fruitful form of exercise for me to be in shape.
So you have been following running regime for two years now?
Well, no. I have been running all my life! (laughs) But yeah last two years I have been running a lot.
Whenever you are immersed in these running routines, you know, in the full swing of things, is there any instance at all where you get some kind of doubts in your mind – whether you can push yourself all the way? Do doubts about whether your lungs can take this stress creep in at all?
There used to be, yes. When I started off, I definitely struggled a lot. My body was just not reacting to the routines, everything seemed slow. Initially, I did have doubts if the body would ever come back again to full fitness. But with spending a lot of time on training and fitness, slowly the body has come back. But it has taken a lot of time. Keeping at it was the key.
The harder I have trained, the harder I have run has actually made me come back to my best fitness. I am now much more fitter than I was during the  World Cup.
These running regimes must be as hard on the mind as it is on the body. I have read how marathons are as much about the mental strength as the physical training. How has it been for you? Does being a professional cricketer make it a little easier to be mentally prepared to undergo such regimes?
See there are two types of people. People who genuinely like to run and can do it naturally. And the other is people who HAVE to run, because they are athletes and it’s their job. There are some who can just get up in the morning and go for a run automatically. It’s just different for different individuals, the mentality.
Personally, I used to enjoy running a lot before. I used to do long-distances before the World Cup. But after the diagnosis, it’s been about short-bursts for me. These little shuttle runs, that are geared more towards helping me be on the cricket ground. Not so much about enjoying running.
Tell us a little bit about your diet routine over the last few years of your comeback from cancer.
After coming back from treatment, I went to France for a few months for oxygen training. There I learned a lot about diets, and how to cut down body weight and be in shape. So I just concentrated on eating good carbs and more of protein. Brown rice instead of normal rice. Instead of wheat roti, gluten-free atta. These are the kind of things which has helped me maintain a certain weight.
Well, as a Punjabi you must love your food, right? How difficult has it been to stick to this regime?
[Laughs] Yes we all love our food. But sometimes you have to sacrifice to get back to where you were. I still like to binge-eat here and there. Mostly I am on a good diet.
In terms of your game, how do you feel about your cricket right now? Where do you think your batting is at the moment?
I have been doing well in the Vijay Hazare tournament, scored some crucial runs. So, yes I am doing well at the moment. Just focusing on doing well with whatever cricket comes to me now.
Your fitness and running regimes, how does it fit into your regular domestic cricket calendar? Is it pre-dominantly off-season?
These regimes are mostly just off-season, because that’s when I can put in the extra hours. It’s very difficult to put in that time when the season starts. Of course, then it is about maintaining fitness by doing weights in the gym and very light running. But running is something that is always required.
Harbhajan Singh had spoken about his time away from international cricket a few months back, about a time when he felt there was little motivation to go back to domestic cricket. It took him some time to deal with the fact. Do you agree? How easy or difficult was it for you?
It was very hard, yes. Once you have played international cricket, for 13-14 years it is definitely hard to pick yourself back up for domestic cricket. But you need to realise quickly that playing domestic cricket and doing well over there is the only way to come back. Both Bhajji and I have focused on that this year and both are doing pretty well now. It’s all about enjoying the game.
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