Horschig’s gym: the St. Louis workshop where India’s elite lifters reset themselves

Just over two weeks after their rich medal pick at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the 10-member Indian weightlifting team boarded a flight to St. Louis, USA. Hastily planned, it wasn’t a regular exposure trip. It was to have Dr. Aaron Horschig – physio and strength conditioning coach known as the “wonderman” behind Mirabai Chanu’s Olympic silver medal in Tokyo – inspect the battered bodies of the hitchhikers.

For more than three weeks, Dr. Horschig examined the smallest muscle movements of the Indian elite lifters to identify muscle imbalances and glitches that had hindered Chanu, Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Sheuli. All three had won gold at the CWG and the effort of training, competition and congratulations took its toll.

Jeremy, who competes in the 67kg class, braved a left elbow injury to win, while 73kg lifter Sheuli suffered a troublesome left hamstring. “Achinta doesn’t have a big problem, but his left hamstring hurts him sometimes. Jeremy has some imbalance problems with his back and knee. His left glutes are also weak,” national weightlifting coach Vijay Sharma said before leaving for the US.

Muscle imbalances aside, Jeremy’s biggest problem was an elbow injury. The 19-year-old was in acute pain in Birmingham after tearing his ligaments and tendons. When he arrived at Horschig’s gym, he was unable to lift even an unweighted barbell without feeling pain during the full extension. Used to lifting three times his body weight, he was now unable to even lift a barbell.

dr. Horschig had him undergo a routine that significantly restored his natural extension. Jeremy started with simple shoulder taps with five second grips, followed by other isometric exercises. He then moved on to the full range of movement workouts, such as dumbbell presses and push-ups. By the end of the program, Jeremy was able to lift without pain and was reintroduced to weighted squats.

“He hasn’t fully recovered yet, but should be back to full fitness soon,” Sharma said.

Jeremy’s other problem – imbalance in the left glutes – has also been resolved. “We used exercises like single-leg squats to help him feel the balance problem and improve coordination. Weightlifters move weights mainly with two feet on the floor, so performing corrective exercises in a leg position is essential to expose minor imbalances.” and clean up that can lead to bigger problems if left unchecked,” Horschig explained.

For Sheuli, the imbalance was mainly due to an incorrect training load. His weaker left hamstring was put under increasing strain as the workout intensified, and the 20-year-old would feel pain in his “high hamstring,” or posterior hip region, during the pull phase of his heavy jerks and cleans as the bar passed his knee.

“Achinta had been battling hamstring pain for over a year. He is now 90% recovered. If a certain part of your body is weak, it will eventually break down. We should be careful with his training load and consult a physiotherapist every now and then. It wasn’t a big problem, so he recovered quickly,” Sharma said.

“I found with mobility tests that he had limited external rotation,” Horschig said. In a 57-second clip uploaded to Twitter last month, he resolved the issue of Sheuli. Sheuli felt pain during the pull phase of a 143kg deadlift, prompting Horschig to test his internal and external hip rotations.

While the internal rotation was fairly symmetrical on both sides, the external rotation test showed limited movement on the left side.

The process of fixing Sheuli began with a kettlebell stretching the groin that required the lifter to hold the stretch for five reps of five seconds each. Once some progress was made, Horschig recommended a clamshell with side plank — a modified side plank with a resistance band — and single-leg hip thrusts. Gradually, they moved on to “pause deadlifts,” with Sheuli going heavy and pausing his lift in the pull phase, holding the position for five seconds. The pain was now gone.

“We decided to tackle it with these mobility and stability-enhancing exercises, and we’ve seen great progress in his pain management and strength during the pull phase,” Horschig said. “The main area for improvement at Jeremy and Sheuli is stability and control. They are both very mobile and flexible athletes and with the time and focus on technique, and the corrective exercises we implement in their training and recovery time, they should see great progress. The good news is that both are technically very strong and are always eager to learn and improve.”

While Horschig has only recently started working with Jeremy and Sheuli, Chanu has been consulting with him for over two years. Since Sharma found Horschig on Instagram, Chanu has made five trips to St. Louis. The consultation started via Zoom calls during the Covid-enforced travel restrictions in 2020. Chanu still has weekly consultations.

Chanu’s problem for the Tokyo Olympics was that her right shoulder blade was not moving optimally when her arm was above her head. Her current concern is the limited stability of her left shoulder during the jerking routine.

Horschig had Chanu lift a bar with hanging weights overhead. The one-arm exercise — it was done with the left arm — was to be done in a seated lunge position. It attempted to improve shoulder stability and control through a full overhead bow motion.

“The bouncing weights hanging from the bar make it very unstable… Our goal is to improve her ability to pivot and maintain that stability with the bar overhead in the jerk reception,” Horschig said.

“I wouldn’t say we’re ever perfect, but she’s made amazing strides in reducing major imbalances.”

Chanu’s hip mobility has also improved, causing her to have less lower back pain that she had during heavy lifting. The former world champion suffered from low back pain in the past. She experienced pain in the lumbar region during the recent trip to the US.

Horschig let her do one-leg squats and found that the left hip didn’t open as wide as the right. The problem was addressed after targeted training.

Chanu says Horschig helped her better understand her body. “If I train for seven hours, I spend an hour doing muscle-strengthening exercises. I work on every little part of my body. I have to be extra careful during matches and protect myself from injuries. I try to forget the problems,” she said recently at the National Games.

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