Resistance band workouts to English classes, coach Graham Reid explains India hockey team's lockdown routine
From running with resistance bands to continuing English classes, India men's hockey team players followed a very interesting schedule to stay in best physical and mental shape during lockdown
India men's hockey team made a stunning start to the year with their debut at the FIH Pro League, beating the Netherlands in both matches of the two-leg tie. India thrashed the European team by a 5-2 margin in the first match before winning the second one in a shoot-out. They then went on to stun the world champions Belgium before losing the second match of the tie. Then came another shoot-out win over Australia. What stood out for India in those matches against world number one, two, and three teams was how the Indian athletes matched the fitness levels of their overseas counterparts.
With their perfectly chiseled bodies and workhorse-level stamina, the current unit comprising of players like Manpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Akashdeep Singh have emerged as part of one of the fittest Indian hockey teams of all time. It has been a result of hard work done under the guidance of scientific advisor Robin Arkell for years.
Current coach Graham Reid, who joined the team in April last year, has added more fuel to the mission. During the tour of Belgium in October last year, the team made a trip to Arnhem to hold a joint training session with the Netherlands team. The session was used to compare GPS numbers of both teams, giving Indian players the benchmark desired to compete at the top with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being the ultimate target.
Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown that followed, however, brought an expected halt to players' scheduled skills and fitness training as the athletes were restricted to their room at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru. Both men's and women's core probables for the Olympics were at the Bengaluru camp when the lockdown was enforced on 25 March. And it was only on 19 June that 'homesick' players were given a month's break after lockdown norms have been relaxed.
During their stay at the campus, high-intensity training was suspended in view of the lockdown, and players' movement in the SAI campus was also restricted. The focus, hence, shifted to individual fitness programmes to keep players in the best shape as on-field activity and gym training were out of question. Help of technology and apps were taken to hold team meetings as well as individual sessions to keep players on their toes.
In an e-mail interaction with Firstpost, coach Reid explained how the players worked on their physical and mental fitness while being at SAI centre during the lockdown.
Excerpts from the interview
What was the fitness regime like for players, when not playing in a tournament, before the lockdown?
It depends on the situation. If there's no upcoming tournament for a long time, the players are mostly focussing on running and exercises in the gym. There's a good mixture of hockey training and fitness drills. If the players are preparing for a competition, then the players work on their fitness by carrying out hockey drills on the pitch.
While fitness regimes could vary position/player-wise, what was the most common schedule like during lockdown?
There were periods during the lockdown where individualised fitness schedules were devised and there were periods when the entire group did similar exercises. The players are generally divided into groups on a week on week basis. A particular group carries out a particular fitness schedule on what's being identified as the best regime for them. The fitness regime for each player generally depends on the history of a particular player. Depending on the injuries incurred by a certain player, a fitness regime is devised accordingly. The most common fitness regime during the lockdown mostly included push-ups, crunches, individual runs, body movement exercises, and strength training.
Was there any innovation or experimentation done with fitness training considering the limitations of lockdown?
Our team's scientific advisor Robin Arkell was very inventive with fitness drills during the lockdown. We changed certain exercises in a way so that they can be carried out in a safe environment. The players had to get used to exercising without using gym equipment. They carried out running with the bands in their rooms. They ran on the road around the campus as well.
What were the main focus areas and why? What was the biggest challenge from a fitness perspective during the lockdown?
We didn't have any main focus area for the players as far as fitness is concerned. We focussed on maintaining the players' fitness and strength as high as possible so that they didn't lose too much. We sat down with each player and worked out a physical plan and a tactical plan. Not being able to practice hockey and utilise the gym was the biggest challenge during the lockdown.
What work was done to keep mental fitness at its peak during the lockdown?
The one thing we wanted to make sure was that the players are kept occupied. The players have carried out English classes and shared stories from their life on video during the lockdown. We have created a small library with different levels of books for the players. We made sure that the players are speaking to their families. I am very proud of the way the players have remained positive during this period.
A lockdown where players are confined to rooms and have very little on-field activity is never an ideal scenario, but is there any positive from this period from a fitness point of view?
It's very difficult for elite athletes to keep going day after day. Once there is a 12-month extension on a target, the players get an opportunity to recuperate. This period has given the players a chance to reload. Once the players are back on the pitch, then they will have to continue practicing for a long period of time. So this period is a recuperation period for the players.
What is most crucial for players to keep in mind as they prepare to reach peak fitness level?
The most crucial thing to keep in mind would be patience for players. Hockey is a vigorous sport on your body and so we just have to make sure that we work the players back into their peak fitness level slowly. They will have to take small steps towards their peak fitness level. We will be preparing schedules accordingly.
Was GPS data of players maintained during lockdown? What comprises the data and what are the variations?
Every time the players do their running, they have to wear a GPS system and a heart rate monitor. We can monitor the work rate that they are doing. We track through the GPS system and the heart rate monitor and ensure that they are training at the appropriate level. The GPS system tracks distance, speed, acceleration among other data. We track how much high-speed running is done, how much mid-level running is done, and so on. Depending on the data, we devise different fitness schedules for different players.
Competitive hockey is still far away, but how long do you think it will take players to reach match fitness?
The standard is that when a player is away from the game for a certain length of time, the player takes around the same length of time to get back into his form. It's going to be a long process and the last thing we want is the process being slowed down due to injuries. There's no hurry and we have time. Once a tournament is confirmed then we can prepare accordingly.
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