Table of Contents
- The Number of Athletes Allowed in a Weight Room Will be Limited
- Coaches Will Have to Leverage Larger, Available Spaces to Distance Athletes
- Athletes Will Not be Able to Share Equipment
- Athletes and Clients Will Need to be Educated on How to Properly Clean Equipment
- Equipment May Have to be Moved Within the Weight Room
- Strength Coaches Will Have to Leverage Sport Coaches and Other Assistants More Than Ever
As of this writing we are in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the news reporting the latest headlines related to record numbers of cases and the frantic pace with which our healthcare system is working to combat the virus, it’s incredibly challenging to think about the future.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding when schools will be back in session and when training facilities will be allowed to reopen for business. Good coaches have settled into the groove of virtual coaching and programming but are likely still battling the inherent challenges of trying to train young adults remotely. In parts I and II of our COVID-19 Contingency Series, we addressed strategies coaches can use to make the best of their current circumstances.
In Pt III, we’ll forecast what our weight rooms will be like when we do inevitably return to our facilities.
Rest assured that whenever we’re allowed to be with our athletes again it will be far from business as usual. We’ll hopefully be coasting toward some semblance of normal at that time, but coaches will have to take proactive measures to ensure the safety of their athletes. Here are the six ways that we think life in the weight room will fundamentally change, and how we’ll have to adapt as coaches to keep our athletes safe.
1. The Number of Athletes Allowed in a Weight Room Will be Limited
Seems like a no-brainer here, but most of us are used to packing our weight rooms with shoulder-to-shoulder athletes all sharing the same equipment. I’ve been in 2000 sq. ft. weight rooms with 50-60 athletes at a time. Not exactly the definition of social distancing. Most of this article will focus on options we have at our disposal to facilitate distancing, but first and foremost the easiest way to allow for greater space between athletes is to decrease the capacity of your weight rooms. Here are some ideas for keeping space between athletes in the weight room while still training as many as possible in a time-efficient manner.
- Segment larger teams or classes into smaller training groups. Vary programming parts to ensure groups are on different parts at different times.
- Stagger training sessions. Start a new group every 15-30 minutes rather than every hour to space out equipment use and increase athlete turnover
- Keep training sessions shorter, and increase training frequency if possible to equate volume. Instead of training 1 hour 3x/week, try to train for 30-40 minutes 5x/week.
Here’s a very simple example of how the last recommendation might play out. In the “before” example, larger groups start their weight room sessions every 30 minutes, with sessions occurring 2-3x/week and lasting 1 hour/session. In this example we would have two teams in the weight room at once when the second session starts until the second to last session finishes.
In the “After” example, the same teams are forced to spread out training sessions to do their best to equate volume with more sessions in less time. Coaches will also need to leverage other available spaces to make this model work. Here, sessions will run every 30 minutes with two teams running simultaneously in separate spaces. The key is keeping only one team in the weight room at a given time.
Before: 1-hour sessions, 2-3x/week
After: 30-minute sessions, 5x/week
2. Coaches Will Have to Leverage Larger, Available Spaces to Distance Athletes
This may be the most challenging change to make since most of us have done our best to organize our weight rooms to be finely tuned machines, capable of handling large groups of athletes in defined spaces. Most of us organize our racks and stations to accommodate 2-4 athletes under the pretense that they may not have to move from that space their entire training session. However, we’ll have to break that mold and branch out to keep our athletes safe.
We can still successfully train athletes outside of the weight room, but we’ll have to make a few changes to our programming to accommodate the move to other spaces. Here are a few ways you can leverage other available spaces to continue helping your athletes improve.
- Utilize the gymnasium, football fields, tracks, hallways, and other large, available spaces.
- Invest in or utilize existing equipment that is safe to use in other spaces and can still provide the desired stimulus.
- Heavy sandbags are a suitable replacement for plates and bars. Athletes can still work on squats, deadlifts, and triple-extension with cleans and over-the-shoulders.
- Weight sleds either indoors or outdoors are excellent options for developing the quadriceps with low pushes and hamstrings with upright drags.
- Strongman equipment offers a variety of options for developing strength that is both versatile and transferrable to the playing field. Loaded carries, tire flips, loaded throws, etc. are all excellent options for athletic development.
- Use equipment with mobile storage, or equipment that can easily be added to a universal storage option for transport throughout your facility.
3. Athletes Will Not be Able to Share Equipment
The typical weight room features rotations of 2-4 athletes all repeatedly touching the same equipment in short succession. Since it’s not reasonable to expect athletes to wipe or spray down their equipment after each set in these rotations, strength coaches will have to alter their programming and move away from rotations to keep athletes safe.
Instead of having all athletes working through the same piece of your programming, partition athletes into groups that complete each facet of your programming at different stages. Here’s a fictional example of how programming was facilitated pre-COVID-19 and how it will have to be facilitated now. In the “Old Programming,” the entire group would move through each part of the programming at the same time in groups.
In the “New Programming,” athletes will be separated into three or more groups. Coaches should demonstrate all exercises before sessions start so that they’re not having to run around the weight room like mad demonstrating each exercise every time a new group starts.
Alternatively coaches could simply stagger group start times every 15-20 minutes. This is likely not possible to facilitate in many cases if you have a fixed amount of time to work with all athletes. However if you’re working with athletes before or after school, staggered starts could be a good option.
Although programming like this would take longer to facilitate and be much more challenging to do exercise demos for, it will help keep athletes distanced. I would suggest leveraging social media or youtube to share exercise demos for the day in advance so that athletes and students come prepared to execute movements having already reviewed your points of performance.
4. Athletes and Clients Will Need to be Educated on How to Properly Clean Equipment
It goes without saying that athletes will be tasked with disinfecting equipment both during and after training sessions. Additionally, coaches will have to be vigilant in holding athletes accountable for cleaning their equipment after and between uses. If you’re making the scheduling and programming changes discussed earlier, you should have the structure necessary to allow each student to disinfect their equipment before another student touches it. However, there are a few things to consider when creating a plan for disinfecting equipment.
- Note that cleaning and disinfecting are two different things. Both should be used to keep your weight rooms safe.
- Make sure you have a disinfecting solution that kills human coronaviruses. Reference this list from the EPA to identify common products that will work.
- Pick a disinfecting solution that needs very little contact time to be effective. You don’t have 10 minutes for the equipment to sit idle while the cleaner kills viruses and bacteria. Ideally pick a cleaner that takes less than 2 minutes of contact time to kill.
- Try to make disinfecting supplies as available as possible in your facility. The more disinfecting agents you have available in the vicinity of your athletes, the more likely the procedures you implement will be followed.
- Make sure users are cleaning the entirety of the equipment they’re using (within reason). Not just where their hands touched the bar.
5. Equipment May Have to be Moved Within the Weight Room
No one likes moving equipment but, to allow athletes to remain as distanced as possible, it will almost certainly be necessary to move equipment around in your weight room. For some coaches this may be a minor inconvenience as they may have a modular space with a low amount of “stations” per sq. ft. Those facilities are not the norm however, since most weight rooms I’ve been in aim to cram as much equipment as can be safely fit within the given space.
Most coaches created their weight room with safety protocols that ensure physical contact while using equipment is not possible. That won’t cut it with a virus that can be transmitted via airborne droplets. Now I’m not a virologist and I don’t work for the CDC, so be sure to do your own homework and don’t take this as gospel. I am simply saying that I personally will be moving equipment in our space to allow athletes to remain six feet apart at all times. I’ll also allow for them to have their own equipment for all sets prior to cleaning and handing off to another athlete.
I operate in a pretty small facility and handle anywhere from 15-25 athletes at a time. Here’s a before and after of what my facility will look like with the changes I’m enacting.
Again, I don’t have a large facility, so my changes were relatively simple compared to what many will experience. We’re also limited in that we use a pull-up rig instead of power racks which can be spaced appropriately to accommodate 6ft of distance between athletes. That aside, here are the benefits of our “new” space:
- Athletes in parts of programming that need to use dumbbells and medicine balls won’t need to go near athletes in the rack stations to get equipment.
- Dumbbell and med ball exercises can be performed in our dryland area with appropriate spacing.
- TRX/Pullup bar-based exercises can be performed away from the rack stations. We want to purchase a new pullup bar system to facilitate.
- We’re looking to purchase additional flat benches to accommodate athletes outside of our racks in our dryland space.
All in all, this new layout is a compromise as we won’t be able to utilize our turf/dryland area like we typically would. However, we’ll all need to make concessions to ensure the safety of our athletes. Get creative with your space and feel free to leverage your Gopher Performance resources to help you ideate within the constraints of your space!
6. Strength Coaches Will Have to Leverage Sport Coaches and Other Assistants More Than Ever
Coach Ryan Johnson is fond of saying that strength coaches need to be air-traffic controllers. One of the primary objectives we face is shuttling athletes from different teams or classes in and out of different facets of their programming quickly and effectively. In the past, we’ve had the luxury of being able to keep those athletes contained in a single space where we can facilitate our programming. Unfortunately, we likely will no longer have that luxury.
If you don’t have the luxury of assistants, and you haven’t spent time forging relationships with your sport coaches, now is the time to start. We will need all hands on deck to help facilitate programming, particularly now that we’ll need to leverage multiple training spaces (weight room, gymnasium, football fields, hallways) simultaneously. We cannot be in two places at once, so we’ll have to take action to enlist the help of other coaches:
- Reach out to ALL sport coaches whose athletes participate in your strength training sessions before or after school. Tell them that you NEED their help to facilitate your programming and keep their athletes safe.
- Invested coaches are those that believe in the work you’re doing. You may have to spend some time talking with them about what you’re trying to achieve, and how that will benefit them in their given sport.
- You will benefit from getting their feedback on what they’d like to see the athletes improve on physically. You can’t afford to be a stick in the mud and believe that you know more than the sport coach about what their athletes need. You need their help, and that means compromising.
- Work with coaches to create a new schedule that allows all teams to participate in weight training with the assistance of their sport coaches for what can be facilitated outside of the weight room.
Of course, you won’t get 100% buy-in from sport coaches, but this could be a formative experience in gaining buy-in from teams that otherwise may not be inclined to participate in the weight room. Turn those lemons into lemonade and unite your program!
Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best
I genuinely hope that many of these measures are simply not necessary by the time we begin working in our facilities again. However, I do think it would be irresponsible not to consider what may be necessary. Despite the challenges we may face in working with our athletes in the future, we’re not in this alone! Enlist the help of colleagues in the industry to collectively discuss options for keeping athletes distanced and safe. Additionally, Gopher Performance is happy to work with coaches looking to make their facilities more functional – giving them more options for training outside of the weight room and for distancing athletes within.
Thank you for tuning into the COVID-19 Contingency Series. I hope you’ve found value in the content provided here, and that it’s helped or will help smooth our transition from working remotely to returning to our facilities.
Alex Peterson CSCS, USAW, TSAC-F is the Brand Manager for Gopher Performance and a lifelong strength coach. With a decade’s experience helping athletes of all ages improve their physical preparedness Alex has a deep understanding of what coaches and trainers need to be successful. He enjoys leveraging his experience in the trenches to develop innovative products and provide useful content that meets the unique needs of strength coaches in all capacities. Some of his favorite products that he’s developed have been the VariBlocks Foam Pulling Blocks, ReadyArmor Weight Vests, Varisafe Indoor Weight Sleds, and the AlterForce Sandbags.