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Train like an athlete: Indian rugby star Prince Khatri

The India international, who also runs a gym, emphasizes the importance of functional fitness

Indian rugby player Prince Khatri also runs a gym in Gurgaon, Haryana. (Photo courtesy
Indian rugby player Prince Khatri also runs a gym in Gurgaon, Haryana. (Photo courtesy

Prince Khatri was born into a farming family in Sonepat, a place with a rich sporting history. His family prided itself on the natural food they could provide him, so, while growing up, the prerequisites for fitness were already present: a sporting culture and nutrition, were already there. But not everyone has used such early advantage to play national level kabaddi, train as a wrestler for a year at SAI (Sports Authority of India), be a CrossFit games winner, and finally represent India in international rugby. To achieve all this, Khatri had to work hard, come out of his comfort zone, and make fitness the cornerstone of his life.

Everything changed the day he watched a rugby match in Delhi in 2010. What he saw were athletes who weren’t particularly tall, but fast, strong, and robust, unlike in any other sport he had watched. He was awed by how the sport combined speed and technique, throwing and kicking. “It combines every good thing from every other popular sport,” he explains in a YouTube video from August this year. Khatri returned to Sonepat, started reading about rugby-specific fitness, and started on his journey to becoming an Indian international. He made contacts in rugby and within two years of watching that fateful game, he had made his debut for India. Khatri is now 26, has represented India over 25 times, and has had a stint playing club rugby in Hong Kong. Khatri also runs a gym in Gurgaon. In short, Prince Khatri is perfectly placed to give fitness advice.

“While there are a lot of components to anyone’s fitness journey, the first priority is nutrition, then sleep, and finally, your mental state. After that, training for your goals. These are the principles I follow,” Khatri says.

Prince Khatri playing rugby in Indonesia. (Photo courtesy Prince Khatri)
Prince Khatri playing rugby in Indonesia. (Photo courtesy Prince Khatri)

Athletes who have played at an international level find it hard to introduce fitness concepts to those who are starting from scratch. Khatri gets a lot of newbies at his gym, and the empathetic culture he has been part of in wrestling helps him understand their struggles. Khatri has had his own fitness-related struggles, which helps him empathize as well.

He had been suffering from a long-term groin injury for the best part of a year. And it didn’t go away because he was training for speed while being too bulky. “I am 5’7” and weighed 91 kgs at one point. I had to train really hard and cut my weight to be able to play rugby at the level I wanted to,” he says. “A lot of people come to me and tell me they want to lose or gain a certain amount of weight in a certain time-frame. I discourage this. I ask people to not think of body composition, but body performance. Composition is a side effect of your performance.”

Khatri grew up working on his family’s farm every day. But many of the clients at his gym, come from a much more sedentary backgrounds, where they spend longer stretches of time sitting in an office. “The minimum I would suggest if you have a schedule like this is to move four times a week. When I say move, it means that a range of motion must be maintained. If you’re sitting most of the day, I will ask you when you last raised your arm over your head. Because if your joints lack a range of motion, it eventually turns into injuries and pain.”

He says that one should start with doing some basic things. “Add an alarm every 90 minutes and do some arm rotations and some leg swings through the day. Gradually increase these to bodyweight exercises. Divide them into four parts: pushing, pulling, sitting, and hinging (lifting something from the ground). If you ace this, move on to pushups and pullups. If you can’t do a pull-up, then just hang for 30 seconds. As you progress, add a resistance band and maybe light dumbbells, or possibly go for a jog in the morning.”

Khatri’s own routine is vastly different. He wakes up at 5am everyday and reports to his gym for the 6am class. He trains after his classes end, and designs his own 90-minute sessions. “My training will depend on whether I am mid-season in rugby, or whether I am training for CrossFit competitions,” says Khatri, who came 2nd in the all-India CrossFit Open in 2018. “These days I am preparing for competitions, so it will be a joint mobilisation warm-up for 20 minutes, then push-presses to touch my 3-rep max. I will follow this with an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of push-presses at 80% of my 3-rep max weight. Once I’m fatigued, I will do muscle-ups, in tandem with double-under skipping. I’ll end with some conditioning work. The day after that is for gymnastic skills. So I will be doing toes-to-bar and work on Olympic lifting technique at 70% of my max rep weights.”

On asking Khatri whether training under fatigue, and especially in CrossFit, could be detrimental, he has a healthy warning. “With my trainees, who are not up to the mark, we don’t train them in fatigue. There needs to be an (level of) efficiency before you get to that point.” He says that particular workouts are used to test trainees. These give them an idea of their current fitness levels and how they need to proceed. “We have test days, which shows how much stamina and strength they have. Once they have an idea, they can work on their goals.”

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writes on football and fitness.

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