How ace shuttler Ashwini Ponnappa is training smart for the 2024 Olympics

Badminton player Ashwini Ponnappa trains in the gym for 90 minutes to two hours every day.
Badminton player Ashwini Ponnappa trains in the gym for 90 minutes to two hours every day.

Summary

Ashwini Ponnappa, who’ll be representing India in badminton doubles in Olympics this year, has been following an off-court strength training programme designed specifically for her

Ashwini Ponnappa was in action at the Thailand Open in Bangkok last week. While a professional athlete always puts in all of herself into every competitive game, Ponnappa and her latest doubles partner Tanisha Crasto treated the tournament – where they played and lost in the semi finals on 18 May – as vital real game experience to further develop their on-court synergies and understanding. After all, the duo, in just 10 weeks’ time, will be representing India in badminton doubles at the world’s biggest sporting event — the Olympic Games (her third summer games appearance) in Paris.

Also read: How table tennis player G Sathiyan rebuilt his game and is set for the Olympics

At 34, Ponnappa is the senior partner in the team, while Crasto at 21 is at the beginning of her career. “My experience attracted her enthusiasm and vice-versa," says Ponnappa of her latest doubles partner to Lounge.

Ponnappa shot into fame as a rookie shuttler when she won the women’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010. Since then, she has made advancements in her career including making it to the London (2012) and Rio Olympics (2016) and picking up several medals along the way. There have been a few bumps too including injuries and illnesses. For instance, a serious month-long bout of dengue while playing a pre-Olympics tournament in Canada impacted her performance in Rio de Janeiro (in 2016). Then, another illness struck that scuppered her hopes of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Ponnappa suffered a serious back injury the same year as her Commonwealth Games success. Since then, she hasn’t been able to follow the same fitness routine as the other shuttlers.

“Any badminton player’s off-court training routine includes a whole lot of running. But my back injury was so serious that I couldn’t run at all. I simply couldn’t do the training that everyone else on the squad was doing," recalls Ponnappa, who has ever since been doing off-court and strength training separate from the rest of the team.

Training six days a week, three times a day

Now that Ponnappa is in her mid-30s, she trains smart and not hard, she says. She has been working with her own strength and conditioning coach Deckline Leitao, who takes into account her back injury and the limitations owing to it. Ponnappa has been training with Leitao, who has a degree in sports science and certifications from National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), for several years now. Typically, she trains with him six days a week three times a day, with each session lasting between an hour to 90 minutes. She has one day dedicated to rest and recovery.

“Badminton is a gruelling sport and we don’t really have a proper off-season. So, we are constantly either playing or training," she says. The training phases and intensities are planned according to the tournament calendar that a player decides on.

At this point in time, Ponnappa, who has trained at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy since 2007, has been having two on-court sessions and one gym and physical fitness session every single day. Apart from one day of full rest, she also gets Wednesday and Saturday evenings off. During the on-court sessions, shuttlers work on skills, coordination, drills, movement, rallies and weaknesses. Some of the on-court training sessions can last up to three hours, says Ponnappa.

“These days, the first session starts at 6am because of the excessive heat that we have been witnessing of late. The morning session ends anywhere between 7.30am-8am. After that we go back, eat, rest and return for a shorter second session. Often, the main session is broken down into two shorter sessions each, focusing on a different aspect of the game. In the late training session, we stick mostly to technical aspects of the game and try to improve in those areas," she shares. The day isn’t done yet as Ponnappa goes for gym work in the evenings. This can last anywhere between 90 minutes to two hours. “The training has been hard, long and very tiring, of late," says Ponnappa, who did this interview from the training camp, on one of her evenings off. All this hard work since she started playing in the hope of a shiny little medal at the Olympics one day. Paris 2024 might be her final shot.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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