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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Five Lessons the Stepathlon Challenge has taught me: 

by Shayamal Vallabhjee  – MD of The HEAL Institute (@shayamalv on Twitter)


Its been merely ten days since I embarked on the Stepathlon Challenge, an initiative by a friend and colleague, Ravi Krishnan – CEO of Stepathlon.

This isn’t the first challenge I’ve embarked on. As other ultra marathon runners would know, we seek our thrills from “pushing the limits’ and embracing the challenges most others shy away from. However, the Stepathlon Challenge has opened my eyes to a whole new set of learnings. Having worked with professional sportspeople all my life, I can confidently say that the ‘motivation to train’ is never an issue. In fact, we generally quantify the success of a session based on how long we spend ‘out of our comfort zone’  as opposed to the length of a training session.

When I registered my company into the Stepathlon Challenge (Team Healers), I initially thought it would be a walk in the park (literally & figuratively) After all, I’m fit and I run daily. How hard could 10000 steps a day be?

With only 10% of the challenge complete, I’ve already learnt so many important lessons that I’m convinced the Stepathlon Challenge will go down as one of the most important learning curves in my life.

Here are five important lessons I’ve already learnt:

1. Its amazing how little we move: Its common knowledge, and highlighted by books like Born to Run, The Lore of Running & Eat and Run, that movement is essential to life. When you register for the challenge, you are given a pedometer to track your steps. Two days into the challenge, I realized that if I remove my morning and afternoon workout sessions from my daily activity tracker, my movement patterns in the day are abysmal. In fact to quantify it, I average between 14 000 & 17 000 steps daily. If you remove my workouts, I barely make a 1000 in the day. Scarily, I was under the impression that I was active.

2. Its not about me: This is one of the most important lessons that entrepreneurs learn quickly. It had barely been a week into the challenge. I was flying and loving it. But when I logged onto the team tracker on the Stepathlon site, I had noticed that that others weren’t finding it that easy. Some of them barely touched 10 000 and that was at the back end of a busy day which included a workout. Their struggle was represented in the team average, which forced me to not only appreciate the fact that the Stepathlon Challenge isn’t only about me, but more importantly, it made empathetic towards their struggle. Needless to say, this opened the channels of communication between us and has now resulted in a rejuvenated organization.

3. Like anything, its best to plan: In a 100 day Challenge, its important to pace yourself. I think the most common mistake that most participants make, is that they are over-eager in the beginning. Lets face it. You cannot train for 100 days in a row. So if you rely on training to hit your 10 000 steps, you going to burnout very soon. The Stepathlon Challenge has taught me to bring structure into my day. How am I going to complete my 10 000 steps without a work out & more importantly, how am I going to break down this challenge over the course of a day?

4. Share your story and watch the support pour in: Everyone likes to put forth a persona of perfection. After all, no one likes to publicize their failures and struggles. But the truth is that, we are human – Being human means that failure is part of life and life is a string of challenges. When we create this persona of perfection, we alienate ourselves at a time when we need support the most. The Stepathlon Challenge taught me that by being honest about the struggle, we humanize ourselves. And their is no more a gospel truth than this… Humanity will respond to the plight of someone struggling. They will offer support and help which will make your journey attainable and that much more enjoyable.

5. Raise The Bar: For everyone who is actively participating in the challenge, you would have noticed that 10 000 steps a day isn’t going to cut it if you want to feature in the Top 10 Corporates. Thats the bare minimum. If you are as competitive as I am, you will have to ‘Raise The Bar’ – but remember:

  • Dont leave your team mates behind
  • Consistency is still the key to success, &
  • Nothing worth winning is ever easy


Kabaddi – From the LockerRoom
by Shayamal Vallabhjee (Follow of Twitter: @shayamalv)

Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi……….

India’s oldest sport is fast becoming its biggest attraction. This high octane mix of tag and wrestle, packaged & served in 45 minutes, is taking over the airwaves. With a higher TRP’s (Television Rating Points) in its first week than the FIFA World Cup Finals, Kabaddi definitely has the makings of India’s next sporting craze.

My company, The HEAL Institute, was in the midst of the action. As the Sports Science & High Performance Partner to the Bengaluru Bulls & the Jaipur Pink Panthers, we were tasked with addressing their physical conditioning and injury management.
The teams gathered for a pre competition training camp ten days prior to the league. The biggest challenge initially was to convince these athletes of the importance of science in performance enhancement. Having realized that the average Kabaddi tournament is three days long, we soon understood that in a league than span over 40 days, recovery was going to be the secret to success.

A Kabaddi match is divided into two halves of twenty minutes each. A team of seven players will generally have two raiders and five defenders. Over the span of forty minutes, each team will average between 35 – 40 raids of thirty seconds each. During a raid, a players heart rate will exceed 160 beats per minutes, he will be required to turn between six to eight times and lastly, recruit all his muscle fibers in an attempt to explode to safety.
This adrenaline packed thirty seconds will amount to more physical wear and tear than a 100m sprint, a triple jump or fast bowler delivering a ball in excess of 150km per hour.

The first ten days of the tournament provided me with what was a rude awakening. I had seen more ACL’s (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) ruptured in ten days than I had previously witnessed in 12 years of high performance sport. This was definitely not a sport for the feint hearted. Over the course of forty days, HEAL had managed over a dozen ACL tears, more than 15 ankle sprains, some serious concussion injuries (many of which required stitches), dislocated shoulders and innumerable muscle strains. Truth be told, I think that everyone involved had on some level under-estimated the level of physical conditioning required to perform at ProKabaddi level.

As the Sports Science Partner, our priority was to infuse science into the sport. Since recovery was always going to be the secret, we focused primarily on maintaining their physical conditioning & injury management. Monitoring diet, assessing hydration daily, massage, hydrotherapy & injury management amongst others formed the the crust of our protocols. In a sport that traditionally relied on physical prowess, I’m positive that science played a part in helping the Jaipur Pink Panthers secure the title.
The question is, what are we going to do different next year to ensure they retain the title?

Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi…

Staying Pain Free like a Pro – Case Studying Mahesh Bhupathi
By Shayamal Vallabhjee – MD – HEAL Institute (@shayamalv on Twitter)

Very often I’m asked, What is Sports Science? And my answer inadvertently is always, ‘its the difference between gold and silver.’ Its the scientific application that quantifies all those tiny variables that add up to the 0.5% that gives an athlete a competitive advantage in an already high performing environment. Sports Science is the answer to excellence.
But if I have to break it down a little further, its all about two things – injury management & performance enhancement. Its about managing pain (because there is always pain) and pushing limits. Simply because in my world – the world of professional sport – you are defined by the limits you set for yourself.

After 15 years at the pinnacle of high performance, I have seen it all – the tireless dedication, unwavering discipline, passion, hunger and will to overcome adversity that seems becomes second nature in the life of a professional athlete. Without it, success will forever elude you.
One athlete who has managed to exemplify such professionalism is Mahesh Bhupathi. The twelve time Grand Slam winner has enjoyed a career that has spun over twenty years.
I was fortunate enough to have spent over five years with him as the person tasked with managing his health – from nutrition & conditioning to injury management and scheduling.

When you look at a professional athlete, you are seeing a finished product. That single performance, irrespective of the result, is the back end of years of sacrifices. Success in professional sport is all about consistency & perseverance. Throughout my life, I have always ensured that I stick to the basic principles of training to ensure that my athletes stay injury free and improve on their personal bests.
These five principles are:
Progressive Overload: By gradually increasing your training stress, you will allow your body time to adapt in response to that overload. As a rule of thumb, never increase your workload by more than 10% weekly.
Individuality: Everyone responds differently to training stresses and recovery patterns. Its important to know this and understand this. If you listen to your body, you will know how hard to push and when to rest.
Specificity: Your body will adapt to the training you subject it to. Thats why in professional sport we say, ‘Practice like you play.’
Reversibility: Very simply put, the gains you make can easily be lost if you don’t train. Consistency!!! Consistency!!! Consistency!!!
Diminishing Returns: Everyone has experienced the phenomenal progress you make when you start training. Diminishing returns means that as you get fitter, those gains get smaller, not to mention you have to work twice as hard for them.

When I worked with Mahesh, we simply employed these principles in our training. A day in the life of a tennis professional will include anything from 2-4 hours on court, 1-2 hours in the gym, 1-2 hours of injury management (ice baths, massage, physiotherapy) & 6-7 structured meals that are designed to meet their specific energy requirements.

Mahesh is an extremely disciplined athlete who always pushed everyone around him. The aura around Mahesh was one that exemplified excellence, which reflected in his career. Its simply not possibly to enjoy a career that has span over twenty years without a high work ethic & discipline. I think the following quotes says it the best…
Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.