Most people use sports to get fit. But the question is, are they fit enough to play their chosen sport? Or are they exposing themselves to injuries, which they could have avoided by just being their sloppy selves rather than putting themselves through ambitious paces at the gym and on the field? Are they underperforming in spite of all the hard work and effort being put in?
This becomes relevant for both elite professionals and amateur sportspersons.
The trouble with training without fitness
In the last few years, summer camps for various sports for school-going children have mushroomed all over the country. Parents queue up to get their kids into these summer camps, maybe to get them out of their hair for a few hours, or maybe to create a Dhoni, since suddenly the RoI (return on investment, not to be confused with RO, i.e., reverse osmosis) in sports seems to be better than sending children to medical schools.
The good side is, at least now parents are opening up to the idea of sports. And some parents even send their children to summer camps or introduce them to sports at a young age so that they can stay fit and have a well-rounded personality.
Most of these children will go on to play their chosen sport as amateurs, or weekend warriors, just for fun. They will almost never warm up, cool down, stretch or strengthen anything. Even if they end up in a gym with advancing years, they will do the jazzy stuff—not what they should, because they don’t know any better. So budding golfers will work on biceps curls and chest presses to look “manly” by bulking up their upper body, a deadly sin in golf, rather than adopting sport-specific exercises to strengthen the lower-back muscles and stretch the iliopsoas (deep hip and inner thigh muscles) in this case. And they will repeatedly keep getting hurt, their standard of playing won’t seem to improve, and they won’t seem all that keen on it as a career either.
Enter professional sportspersons. In this minority, in our country, talent seems to be overrated. We Indians seem to be experts at producing junior world champs who are non-existent by the time they are in the seniors category. This is because they have either got injured or have not been able to keep up with the physical fitness levels of international players. But the truth is that at the highest level of the game (any game), talent is taken for granted—else they wouldn’t have made the cut. What differentiates the men from the boys, or the women from the girls, is their physical fitness level.
Yet, somehow, most of the Indian sports industry is oblivious to the concept of fitness.
Fitness first, and always
We often use sports as a way to get fit—and certainly, a game you enjoy and will keep playing is a great way to keep active.
But you first need to be fit enough to play a sport. If you’re not fit in the first place, either you’ll have an injury very soon after you start playing, or if you are lucky enough not to, you will not perform at your optimum levels, given your physical make-up. This would irritate you, because in spite of all the hard work, you will not get the desired results. This would also irritate the coaches, as they won’t understand why you are not able to follow their simple advice.
If players, whether amateur, fun-loving weekend warriors or competitive professionals, don’t have or follow a regular fitness programme—apart from their game—their bodies fall out of sync with their game and they are not able to perform at the same levels as before. They develop bad habits (such as compensating for poor strength by straining the smaller joints, say, the elbow, when it is the bigger joints (such as the array in the lower back) that need to be worked on. This in turn either causes injuries (such as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow in the previous example) or prevents them from performing at their best capacity.
Take-home message: Fitness needs to become a part of life, not something used as a quick fix just before a crucial match or the holiday season.
The author is a practitioner of sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and CEO of Back 2 Fitness.
Write to Rajat at firstname.lastname@example.org