How are athletes staying fit in the age of COVID-19?

Profile Picture: Jeremy Balan

May 14th, 2020

You don’t have to push cars around or dodge shiny boxing sacks to stay fit in the age of COVID-19 — we're looking at you, Jameis.

But how are your favorite athletes staying fit while under quarantine? I was under the assumption most well-paid professional athletes would have all kinds of workout equipment at their disposal in their homes, but according to a trainer who works with many of those pros, that is not necessarily the case.

"You'd be surprised," said Anthony Donskov, the founder of Donskov Strength and Conditioning, which trains many pro, Olympic, and college athletes, but largely deals with hockey players. "Some don't have anything, so they're just working with body weight, which is a challenge."

So what can top-level athletes — and you, too — do to stay in shape, even if you don't have the equipment you're used to at the gym?

Stick to a routine

Donskov says athletes should do their best to maintain the training regimen they were working with before quarantine, which includes sticking to a routine.

"The No. 1 thing for high-level athletes is we like them to resume what their schedule looked like when they were playing — sleep cycle, keep nutrition consistent, and their body fresh — so if they return to high-level sport, they can maintain that schedule," he said.

Nutrition is key

Many athletes cooped up at home almost surely are not as active as they would be training and participating in their sport, so they can't necessarily eat the same way they would, because they aren't burning as many calories.

"You can’t eat like you’re playing pro (sports). Quantity needs to go down," Donskov said. "You want lean protein. Fish — which is high in omega 3 — chicken, and bison. Start with protein and build around that.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel. Find good sources of carbs, like green, leafy veggies. The science behind leafy veggies is they burn calories to digest."

Control volume and tempo during workouts

Because what athletes have at their disposal at home can vary, it's important to use what you know and what you can control.

That could mean increasing the speed of workouts or the amount, especially if you are without conventional weights and working with body weight to maintain or improve strength.

"Unless you're getting fatter, you can't increase the weight you're using, so one of the major variables we look at is tempo," Donskov said.

Time can also a factor you can manipulate, to add extra pace to your workouts.

"Think about Parkinson's law — the more time I give you, the more time you will take," Donskov said. "One day, get through as many rounds of an exercise in 15 minutes. The next day, do it in 14 minutes, but with the same volume, and you can keep cutting time from there."

Keep your skills sharp

Honing skills, outside of a conventional practice with a team, can be a problem, especially for a sport like hockey, which requires ice. There are synthetic ice surfaces some players may have to skate on, but more often than not, ice time is probably not accessible.

"It's a unique game, because it's played on ice," Donskov said. "The locomotion required is so different from a field-based sport, but that doesn't mean you can't work on other skills.

“It's important to keep your skills as sharp as possible — stick handle and shoot — but unfortunately the rinks are closed. There's nothing you can do to get back on the ice until they open up."

Even something as simple as balance could be an advantageous aspect to focus on, but there are also "dryland" activities hockey players can use.

So when sports restart across the country, will be see a decrease in quality, at least in the early stages, because athletes haven't had the training regimens they were accustomed to while under quarantine?

Maybe, but it will be a level playing field, because everyone is dealing with the same issues.

"Everybody is going to have the same starting point," Donskov said.