Shaping an Olympian: Neeraj Chopra’s Physiotherapist Talks Training
Where does Physiotherapy fit in the making of an Olympian? FIT speaks to Ishaan Marwaha, Neeraj Chopra's physio.
In 2011, a teenage Neeraj Chopra was packed off by his parents to a gymnasium to lose weight, get fit, and inculcate some discipline.
As fate would have it, here he discovered javelin throw, and the rest is, quite literally, history.
But the journey to Olympic gold is not a solitary one. Chopra, like all successful sportspersons, was propelled along by a strong team and support system that worked behind the scenes to help him harness his potential.
One inconspicuous wheel in this well oiled machine is his physiotherapist, Ishaan Marwaha.
Ishaan's tryst with sports began at a young age. "I used to play cricket in school, but I had to stop after I got injured," he says.
At first, physiotherapy was just a way for him to stay involved in the sports world.
"I consulted my teammates, and coach and they recommended that becoming a physio would be the only way for me to remain a part of the sports fraternity."Ishaan Marwaha. Pysiotherapist
From there on, Ishaan went on to do his graduation and post-graduation in physiotherapy and sports rehabilitation, a few internships here and a few jobs there before his company, JSW, eventually put him with Chopra in 2017.
"Since then I've only been working with him individually," he says.
FIT speaks to Ishaan Marwaha about his journey with India's first Olympic gold medallist in Athletics, and the importance of physiotherapy in sports.
Why Do Athletes Need Physiotherapists?
First things first, what do physiotherapists even do?
"The main job of a physiotherapist is prevention of injury and the rehabilitation and recovery," explains Ishaan.
"With athletes though, it is a little different," he says. "It is equivalent to a coach."
"We have to follow a holistic aproach which involves injury prevention, the recovery, their diet, and the most important thing is the understanding of the athelete's body, and giving him advice accordingly."Ishaan Marwaha
In fact, if there is one other person who understands the athlete's body in and out, other than the athlete themselves, it is their physiotherapist.
With a physiotherapist, he explains, the athletes, too, are able to learn to listen to their bodies and work smarter.
"Earlier, athletes had the perception that if you sweat it out more, that is a good session, but that's not the case. Some sessions should be hard and some need to be lighter, so you're able to recover well."
Ishaan explains how athletes get smarter when they can understand when to push themselves and when to take it slow, and this is where a physiotherapist comes in.
"Neeraj has come to understand his body very well. Whenever he feels like, no, I am not ready for a hard session, he will tell us and we will plan accordingly."Ishaan Marwaha, Physiotherapist
From Wrestlers to Javelin Throwers
Before working with Neeraj Chopra, Ishaan was attached to the Indian wrestling team, working closely with Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Punia, and Yogendra Yadav when they went to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Does the switch in sport also mean a change in approach for the physiotherapist?
Yes. Ishaan explains this by saying, "working with a javelin thrower is a little more tough as compared to a wrestler."
"Because wrestling is a contact sport, it has less (chances of) injury as compared to Javelin throw where you run in very fast, and there is a tremendous amount of force being generated from your foot to your shoulder."Ishaan Marwaha, physiotherapist
With javelin, there is more focus on flexibility, power, and mobility, he says.
And what does a typical physio session with Neeraj Chopra look like?
Ishaan talks about how they start every training session with a 15-minute activation warm-up.
They spent 3 or 4 sessions a week on a carefully planned injury prevention program, apart from which, the team focused on overall maintenance.
"This involves the normal fleshing and deep tissue treatment for any tightness, aches, and pain he may have from regular training," says Marwaha.
Neeraj Chopra’s Surgery and the Road to Recovery
Ishaan also speaks of Chopra's rehabilitation after his 2019 surgery, only a year before the Olympics qualifications.
"At the time, we obviously couldn't do much with his elbow, so instead of wasting those 3 to 4 weeks, we tried focusing on other parts of his body, like the shoulder, the spine and the hips, and also on strengthening the ankles which play a crucial role in javelin throw."Ishaan Marwaha, physiotherapist
Getting back to a 100 percent, though, was a gradual process, he says.
"We didn't start with throwing right away. Initially we started with some medicine balls inside the gym itself. And slowly when we gained confidence with that we started trying some standing javelin throws just for him to get the feel of it again," Ishaan adds.
Physical and Psychological Support
The Tokyo Olympics saw many Indian athletes opting to take their physios along even with the tight COVID-19 restrictions on accompanying parties.
Ishaan explains why physios are crucial for an athlete's performance, not only leading up to the completion, but also during it.
"When you're competing, It's very important to have a physiotherapist who has been there with you through your training also," he says.
"With Neeraj, say when we're doing deep tissue treatment, I know how much pressure he can tolerate, but if there is some other physio at the competition, who's not familiar with him, he won't know this."
In high pressure situations like the international competitions, not to mention the Olympics, an athlete's close-knit team not only provides physical support but also moral support.
"With me, Neeraj and Klaus (Chopra's Coach) it became a psychological support system also. Like sometimes if Neeraj doesn't feel right, he can talk to us like friends."Ishaan Marwaha, Physiotherapist
"So it is good for the athletes also to have people around who they can talk to and who understand what's going on in their mind," he adds.
‘Kids, Focus On Your Flexibility'
For someone who is just starting out with sports, Ishaan has a simple and straight advice: "Don't lose your flexibility."
He explains this by saying, "once you lose your flexibility, you become more prone to injuries."
"For teenagers," he adds, "start with athletics like running, jumping and once you age, then you can select depending upon which area you are good at."
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