In discussion with Gaurav Nijhon, the man behind the fitness of several of our Indian tennis athletes. It was wonderful catching up with Gaurav, to know the specifics behind the preparation which goes behind key players and their tournaments.  

Tell us about your journey in Sports? Why specifically Strength & Conditioning? What interested you about this field?

I was actually in the corporate sector. I worked for 2 years with Mahindra & Mahindra in the Risk Advisory section. I was an athlete myself & was into the 100 meters running. So basically over time, I realized that I was not made for the 9 to 6 pm routine job. So I moved into this field and it’s been good 5 years now.

Well I was always an athlete and you know I was keen to do something in sports. Being an athlete, I always used to feel that fitness is one of the most important aspect of the sport & by getting exposed to things, reading about it, I came across this profession which is strength and conditioning. This is like a very dynamic profession, where you can stay with the athlete and make an impact in that person’s life & that is what something really interested me about this.

Gaurav engaging the players during the training sessions at PYC with the athletes

How did you work your way into entering this field? What sort of certifications and trainings that you had to complete.

It all started from by doing a basic personal training certification and you know that’s the first thing that any trainer must do before he decides on what he has to do next. I am an Australian strength and conditioning Association level 1 certified trainer. I’ve done my certified tennis performance specialist which is conducted by Dr. Mark Kovacs which is a very well renowned sports scientist in tennis. I’ve done my certified functional strength coach level 1 and level 2 which is conducted by Michael Boyle strength and conditioning in the US. I’m also precision nutritionist level 1. Later on, in my life I just decided to pursue my masters and strength and conditioning, so I’m also enrolled in that program.

Who are your mentors and role models in Sports Strength & Conditioning?

I’ve got quite a lot of mentors and role models in the field of standing conditioning. To name a few, I cannot forget Dan John and Ann Baker who you know I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with them in my University & learned quite of it quite a lot not just about strength and conditioning but also about general life. I also cannot forget Matt Kuzdub who’s been doing phenomenal work of making the making people exposed to evidence based practice in in the field of strength and conditioning. Michael Boyle and Dr. Mark Kovacs who’s are renowned sports scientists in the field of strength and conditioning. They have all contributed in who am I am today.

How did your association with PYC Gymkhana and Indian Tennis began?

My first assignment was with Purav Raja who was kind enough to give me an opportunity to work with him. And while working with Sandeep in Pune, I was contacted by Rutuja’s father for her training and that’s when I met him and Sir and that’s when basically my Association with PYC began.

Gaurav with Ace Tennis Athlete Ankita Raina at PYC Gymkhana

When a new kid joins the academy, how do the fitness routines start?

I am a strength and conditioning coach. So I am a believer in the part that first you have to be stronger in the Gym, before you can do all the drills.

So when a kid is starting off, we review the aspects like their landing mechanics, the way they de-accelerate and accelerate. We don’t go into the Tennis specific parts when an athlete is starting off. It is important to develop a good athlete first and the tennis specific pieces can be taught later.

While reviewing and working on the improvements, we focus in parallel in the gym on strengthening the body and the legs and so on which enables the athletes to perform these drills and be at their best on the court.

Your views on the state of Sports strength & conditioning field in India?

Things are improving. People have started to look at fitness as some of the key ingredients needed. There are a lot of aspects now where a we can assess and call out the potential injury concerns much in advance. It’s important to be proactive in these areas.

On the general focus of fitness drills for the players?

We need to monitor the load on the players because at times, they spend a lot of energy on the court. We can’t tire them in the Gym and on the court. We need to ensure that the coach and the physio are in sync. So I and Hemant Bendrey sir chalk out the sessions for the week and the goals from them.

Listen into what the players have to say about the intense drills

How do you manage the load during tournament weeks?

It depends on how the player is feeling that day. Based on factors like how much they’ve slept, time on the court, how they are feeling physically and so on – we make the decision to either reduce or increase the strength and conditioning training for that day.

So, what the future plans?

To procure some better equipment so that we can assess the athletes better.

Probably also get a centre of my own. It’s important because till we make Tennis affordable for a lot more people, we will not have that many people coming into the sport. It’s not even about Tennis, first get more and more people into fitness as the starting point. My goal is to make fitness as affordable to as many people as possible.

If we say education is important then, physical education literacy is also equally important.

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