Neeraj Chopra’s training methods and how he tries to stay injury free

Neeraj Chopra’s exercise routine has been designed by his coach Klaus Bartonietz. Flexibility, power and proper recovery have been key to the Olympic champion's journey.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Natural talent is a fine trait to have for athletes but it’s often the work ethic in the gym and training ground that sets champions apart.

Indian javelin throw ace Neeraj Chopra is a fine example of that.

As Ishaan Marwaha, Neeraj Chopra’s long-term physio, puts it, “He is over-enthusiastic in training. Whatever is asked of him, he always goes above and beyond. That makes him different from other athletes, you need that dedication level.” 

Besides following a strict diet to keep himself fit and healthy, Tokyo Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra is known for putting in the hard yards in training and the results, more often than not, translate on the field during big competitions.

Here’s a brief rundown of how Neeraj Chopra trains.

Neeraj Chopra training

Since he is a javelin thrower, Neeraj Chopra has to focus on building up both his upper and lower body strength. It’s also necessary for the Indian to finetune specific joints and muscle groups according to his style of throwing.

Working with the medicine balls is an important aspect of Neeraj Chopra’s training regime. He has to spend a significant time in the gym doing strength training to ensure that his arms and elbows are in the best shape possible. Cable pull exercises are important as they strengthen the shoulders, elbows and muscles of the arm.

There are a couple of exercises tailor-made for Neeraj Chopra. One of them involves him standing tall with his arms raised above his head, holding a weighted ball. Then he starts kneeling gradually and when he is inches from the ground, he will start bending backwards holding the heavy ball. The body arches back like a bow until the ball is just half an inch away from the ground.

Once his entire body weight is on his toes, he finally throws the ball like a catapult. It helps with both strength and flexibility - two essential components for javelin throwers.

Neeraj Chopra also picks up weights after bending his body backwards to open up his rotator cuffs and strengthen his back.

Dumbbell front and side raises further help him boost his shoulder strength. Lying oblique crunches and Swiss ball crunches increase core body strength. To improve his sprint speed, he does leg raises with a focus on the hamstring.

Most of these drills have been devised by biomechanics expert Klaus Bartonietz, his current coach. Previously he was training with German great Uwe Hohn.

Exercises like squats, snatch, weighted lunges and time circuits are also a part of Neeraj Chopra’s daily gym sessions.

Post Tokyo 2020, Neeraj Chopra has been hard at work to correct his previous shortcomings and flexibility has been a big focus.

“Neeraj is not a power thrower,” Ishaan Marwaha told the New Indian Express. “He relies more on flexibility. He wants his body to be relaxed when he goes for the throw. 

“Some throwers are power throwers, they don’t need that flexibility as they have the power to push. But flexibility helps you keep away from injury,” Marwaha said.

Besides flexibility, Neeraj Chopra has also been working on his hip mobility and ankle strength to give himself a better edge.

Both hip mobility and ankle strength are crucial for producing a strong block, where the javelin thrower breaks their run by planting their leading leg just before releasing the spear.

The braking movement produces immense pressure on the body and a mobile hip and strong ankles become paramount to avoid any type of injuries,

Jan Zelezny, who holds the men’s javelin throw world record, was particularly known for his quick hip movement during blocks and Neeraj Chopra, who has a similar style to Zelezny, tries to emulate the Czech legend.

Recently, Neeraj Chopra has added the Tabata workout, a type of high-intensity interval (HIIT) training which constitutes a circuit of 10 different exercises, to his regimen.

The workout involves 20-seconds of high-intensity exercises followed by 10-15 seconds of rest. The Tabata is an ideal cardio circuit for burning calories during a workout and also increases afterburn - calories burnt after the body resets back to normal after the exercise.

The Tabata workout was introduced to Neeraj Chopra’s gym routine as he had put on weight after taking a short break post-Tokyo 2020. The Indian, however, has grown fond of the app-aided exercise.

Recovery

The intense training regimen also requires an optimal recovery system. Neeraj Chopra uses ice baths, contrast baths (in warm and cold water), deep tissue release and eight to 10 hours of sleep per day to keep himself fresh. Being a sound sleeper helps Neeraj in this respect.

Besides working hard, Neeraj has also gained enough experience to be able to train smarter - something he needed to do desperately after undergoing elbow surgery in 2019.

For javelin throwers, in particular, elbow injuries are a scary prospect as more often than not, elbows don’t regain their full extension after surgeries.

Neeraj Chopra’s rehabilitation, though, went well and he was able to regain the full extension of his elbow post-surgery. If it went any other way, the Indian ace’s career would have hit a massive roadblock.

Thus, it’s essential for Neeraj Chopra to understand the limitations of his body to avoid any further injuries to his elbow.

“Initially he would just push himself through pain. Now he has matured. He knows how to prevent injury,” Marwaha noted.

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