Pushing yourself to run that extra mile, or playing your heart out for an additional 15 minutes on the squash court, may give you that adrenalin rush, but it doesn’t come easy. Besides willpower and mental strength, an important ingredient required to continue performing is more stamina. Just like there’s no short cut to hard work, building up stamina takes patience, diligence and is a combination of the right physical routine and the appropriate diet. We spoke to experts in the fields of running, swimming and squash and asked them how you should get ready for the long haul.
Strength on the track
Savio D’Souza, Mumbai’s first international marathon winner, who claimed the Pune International marathon in 1985 and 1986 and now coaches long-distance runners, emphasizes the importance of building a strong running base, i.e., the ability to run long distances with ease. “Your first step towards better stamina is ensuring a solid foundation,” D’Souza says. “Start with running long distances at an easy pace. Once your body gets used to the distance, introduce some challenge into your workout.”
D’Souza suggests interval training, i.e., bursts of intense cardiovascular exercises such as sprinting, cycling and swimming, alternating with periods of rest or low activity. Alternatively, he suggests upgrading your routine to something tougher, such as an uphill run. For Milind Soman, model, actor and now a regular on the marathon circuit, building stamina is a gradual process, not something you can acquire overnight or in a matter of days. “Every time you go running, push yourself to go an extra distance, even if it’s something like 200m,” he says.
On the road: A combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises is essential for stamina building
A significant factor in building and maintaining staying power is the correct tempo—you don’t want to run out of steam going too fast. According to D’Souza, a measure of the right pace is when you can talk comfortably while jogging. If you can’t manage that, you’re probably running too fast. Slow down till you get to a comfortable pace.
Soman points out the need to maintain correct technique and form while running. D’Souza gives some basic pointers for a correct form: Don’t slouch. Instead, run tall, with your lower abdomen sucked in just a little, which will automatically thrust your hips out a bit. This will take away the pressure from your lower back, knees and ankles, enabling you to run longer without getting tired.
D’Souza also emphasizes the importance of the right landing technique, i.e., the way the feet hit the ground while running. He says that the balls of the feet should strike the ground before the heels, instead of landing on the heels first. “Try running without your shoes and note how your feet hit the ground. You will find that the natural motion is to land on the balls of the feet first, followed by the heels.”
Raise the racquet
Physical conditioning is one of the most significant factors that differentiates a good squash player from an average one. To last longer on the squash court, Ritwik Bhattacharya, former India No. 1, suggests following a fitness regime that is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
Aerobic exercises such as running, cycling or swimming are of long duration but are low in intensity. Any of these exercises, done at a steady pace for 45-60 minutes, three times a week, will help in building a strong foundation, says Bhattacharya.
This workout should be combined with anaerobic training for optimum results. While aerobic exercises cause the body to use oxygen to convert fat into energy, anaerobic exercises such as short sprints or weightlifting, usually of short duration and high intensity, make use of glucose straight from the bloodstream, instead of using oxygen. According to Bhattacharya, a 2km run under 10 minutes or 2,000 continuous jumps with a skipping rope are a good benchmark of fitness.
Another effective way to improve stamina is by “ghosting” or shadow practice. Mimicking squash movements and footwork on the court without actually playing the game helps the body get used to the activity, says Bhattacharya.
Dushyant Singh, a former squash coach and head of sports, and manager, facilities and events, Pathways World School, Gurgaon, suggests court sprints to build stamina. “Run between the back and front of the court continuously for a minute, then rest for a minute. Alternate between running and resting.” Fitter players, he says, will be able to keep the number of shuttles per minute consistent.
The water babies
“Swim, swim, swim, and then swim some more,” is former national swimming champ Soman’s mantra to improve stamina. However, if you’re not an accomplished swimmer, make sure you get the right start. The right breathing and stroke technique is essential to last longer in the pool.
Nihar Ameen, who coaches India’s swimming champion Virdhawal Khade, says technique comes before anything else. He strongly advises enlisting the services of a knowledgeable coach who will teach you the most efficient way to swim. “There’s basically one stroke model, with minor variations based on factors like body structure, flexibility and buoyancy, and a good coach will be able to train you according to your needs, and what suits you best,” says Ameen.
Make sure you learn the right breathing and stroke technique when you start swimming
Soman says that maintaining correct technique ensures you can train for longer distances by making your stroke smoother and increasing your distance per stroke.
In swimming, your aerobic capacity determines your ability to last. Exercises such as running and cycling for 30-60 minutes, with the heart rate maintained at approximately 150 beats per minute for 75% of the duration of the activity, will help develop this capacity, says Ameen. Complement these low-intensity exercises with interval training with high-intensity exercises that will push you to maximum respiration rate.
Outside the pool, the rowing machine is one of the best ways to build stamina, says Ameen. He also recommends using light weights with several repeats. “Building stamina is just the opposite of building power. For power you will have heavier weights with fewer repeats, while for stamina it is the other way round.”
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