When the camp for the Tokyo-bound shooters began last month in New Delhi after seven months away from training, rifle coaches were pleasantly surprised to see many of the athletes had used that cloistered time to improve their fitness.
It wasn’t just about losing weight; a stronger core and better toned muscles also meant that shooters would be able to hold their demanding stock-still firing postures, bearing up to 10kg of weight from the rifle and their shooting attire, with less effort.
But this new lean physique also necessitated a significant adjustment: shooters wear clothes that are perfectly tailored– down to the millimetre– to the requirements of their body. The clothes are designed to lend support to the muscles and joints, so that a shooter can stay very still in their posture. Now that their bodies had changed, the clothes had to change too.
“During the lockdown every shooter focused on their physique and they returned much fitter than what they were before. Therefore, a lot of changes were required on their equipment,” said rifle coach Deepali Deshpande. “Apurvi (Chandela, world No 7 in 10m air rifle) lost a few kgs and needed new trousers. Divyansh (Panwar, world No1, 10m air rifle) also lost some weight and a new jacket had to be ordered.”
Panwar said that he worked on his core muscles and lost at least two kilos while training at home.
“I do a lot of yoga. I had ordered a new jacket but because of the lockdown it was not sent. So, I told the makers about the changes and they made the adjustments,” said Panwar, who also tested positive for Covid-19 last month.
The first half of the camp, which has 32 shooters in attendance and would up on Wednesday, was, in fact, largely about the athletes getting used to their new attire.
“Every time you lose weight, the gear has to be adjusted accordingly so that it takes the shape of the body. So, even to take advantage of (improved) fitness, first a shooter needs to get used to his or her jacket and trousers,” said Panwar’s coach Deepak Dubey.
If most sports are about movement and agility, shooting is about standing still; the tiniest twitch of a muscle, the smallest spasm or involuntary postural adjustment can make for a bad shot. This stillness is draining and demanding on the body too; shooters may not need big muscles, but they certainly need a high level of fitness.
“You need endurance, a strong core and flexibility to stand and shoot for hours. The more you are in the standing position the stiffer the muscles get and the chances of injury increase,” Dubey said.
Both Chandela and Sanjeev Rajput, the world No6 in Rifle 3 Positions, who have been shooting at the elite level for years, have had their brush with overuse injuries.
“Apurvi has been constantly competing internationally for eight years,” said her coach Rakesh Manpat. “This breather was a good time for her to work on her fitness. We have got new jackets and trousers for her. It’s a constantly ongoing process. Technically there are always challenges for a shooter when any change happens, but it is taken care of during the training phase.”
Rajput, as the name of his discipline implies, has to shoot in three positions– standing, kneeling and prone.
“There are so many muscles we are just not able to focus on during regular competition times,” said Rajput. “I did good physical work during the lockdown. I worked on my back muscles and thighs particularly. I maintained my weight while focusing on muscle mass build up so that there is no fatigue. I needed to make minor changes with the gear but I could see the benefit in stability.”
Deshpande, the High Performance coach for rifle shooters, said that the improved fitness will only add to the skill of the shooters.
“It will help in their accuracy, precision,” she said. “The first half of the camp was only focused on making these adjustments needed in equipment. Because of this long break it has worked like a detox. When you constantly shoot in competitions, a shooter is not able to focus much on fitness. But they got time during the lockdown to focus on it.”