These are strange times. College sports have shut down. Many high school organizations are following suit. Most athletes do not have access to gyms or a full range of equipment options. Seasons were cut short, off-seasons have been severely interrupted, and the athletes find themselves frustrated, confused and without good training modes.
This is when the true coaches have to step up.
They are. Coaches around the world are leaning into the challenge and recognizing that now, when things are far from ideal, is when the athletes need us most. While this is a strange moment in time, this moment will pass. Coaches must not only support their athletes through it, but set them up for success on the back end.
For those who continue to charge forward, take a look at the five core concepts for training through the quarantine: Optimism, Humility, Consistency, Intentionality and Ingenuity.
Optimism has been linked, obviously enough, with higher levels of well-being during adversity, as well as greater physical health. If nothing else, coaches should do everything they can to cultivate optimism within their athletes. Fire up that light at the end of the tunnel, give them something to train for, and support them along the way. This too shall pass, and when it does, we will be stronger for it!
At the Good Athlete Project, we define our approach as a thoughtful process capped by a max effort. If you were to compete in a powerlifting meet, for example, that’s all you could ever expect – train, then max. Conditions are rarely “perfect,” even when we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. So be humble.
There might not be a lot of records set during the Spring 2020 training block; that’s okay. Taking some stress out of the moment might actually lead to higher performance. Coaches should advise athletes not to strive for perfection, but commit to a thoughtful process with intensity and consistency.
Show up every day. Coaches, show up for your athletes and expect the athletes to show up for each other. No program, at-home or in-person, will be effective without consistency. Additionally, there is a connection between consistent routines and quality of life – coaches need to create structure in order to maximize the potential not only of the body, but also the mind.
Support athletes in creating routines that are congruent with our current reality. This would be a great time to reinforce healthy sleep patterns. Without eventually entering a parasympathetic state, there will be no recovery. Without recovery, a training effect will be limited.
Whether it is training, sleep or nutrition, coaches should take some time to lock-in habits that make sense in the context of the new normal. Build structures that revolve around intentional practices.
What do you want? An at-home training practice – all training practices – should revolve around this concept. Are you training for fitness? Strength? Power? Skill? All of the above? Identify your goals, be clear about your intentions, then build toward them.
Going for a jog is fine. It might not directly support the goals of a powerlifter. There is nothing wrong with doing thousands of pushups and sit-ups during the quarantine, but that training is not likely to meet the needs of a football player, a 50-meter swimmer or hockey player.
That said, there is nothing wrong with running, pushing or working on one’s core. The human body, after all, can only move in a finite number of ways. How athletes do those things (squat, hinge, push, pull, lunge, run, etc.) will make all the difference. Once we identify why we are training (intentionality), then we can get to the important ideas regarding how we will perform our movements.
For a refresher course, take a look at the approach of University of Minnesota’s Cal Dietz.
Volume and intensity – those are the two primary variables that can be adjusted in order to influence training outcomes. There are countless ways to achieve those outcomes.
We usually consider volume in two ways: repetitions and duration. A high amount of reps over a long period of time is great for fitness. Cross country runners should not have too much trouble training from home – there is not much need for additional equipment, train as usual.
Training for power and strength are more challenging, at least at first glance. Intensity is the primary variable here and we again see two main components: resistance and speed. Notice that at no point is “heavy barbell” a prerequisite for training. We have a fairly old-school mindset at the Good Athlete Project when it comes to training and we are always grateful for the heavy barbell, but an adaptable approach is far more important. In the absence of a barbell, ingenuity is key.
If you are hoping to add resistance to a training program, here is some good news: gravity has not gone anywhere. There are “weights” all around us, though they might not carry a name-brand insignia. Grab a laundry basket, fill it with the heaviest things you have in your house, move that thing with speed, or with control during an eccentric phase, and you will elicit a training response.
This might be an important time to pause. For some coaches, it takes a moment to wrap their minds around this idea. Remember that growth is not elicited by a specific sort of equipment, but a specific sort of strain, or demand, imposed on the nervous system and muscle fibers. Equipment has been designed over the years to make the strain easier to accomplish. Have confidence that this at-home training will work.
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Speed is the easiest variable to control during at-home training. Our programs have started to incorporate a greater number of jumps, short sprints, and throws. To develop power, an athlete has to recruit the nervous system quickly. Remember the physics equation F=MA (Force = Mass x Acceleration)? In the absence of excessive mass (the amount of weight athletes currently have access to), the focus should be on acceleration.
We work with a powerlifting team who has been doing more jumps and sprints than they ever thought they would have to. And it’s working.
Call To Action
Coaches, the easiest thing to do right now would be to take a break – in many cases, that is likely well-deserved. Sit on the couch. Get the most out of your Netflix subscription. That would be the easy way.
No one should tell you that the easy way is wrong.
But we should ask ourselves the question, is that the right way? Right can only be defined by identifying your goals. What are the goals you have for the teams you train? Why are you in this business? If your goal is to enhance the lives of young people through strength training, to optimize their performance, to teach lessons that last a lifetime, then there is only one option. Step up and coach.
It will not be easy. Use Optimism, Humility, Consistency, Intentionality and Ingenuity as a guide, but bring your own unique skills to the situation. You can handle it. You’re one of the good ones. The athletes need you now more than ever.
This article was written by James Davis, executive director with the Good Athlete Project. Davis is also staff and student wellness coordinator at New Trier (Ill.) High School and executive director of the Illinois High School Powerlifting Association. You can contact him at email@example.com.