With schools closed since March in Minnesota, weight rooms and athletic facilities have been closed as well. It’s been a long wait, and people are ready to return to training in a real weight room. I’m getting bombarded by questions from about our summer program, like when it’s going to start, and whether we are going to change anything. The details are up in the air, but things will certainly be different.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recently ceased the stay at home order, allowing businesses to slowly and gradually return to normal. However, nothing has been established yet as far as school buildings reopening or policies regarding sports. When we get more information on that, the Department of Education will establish some guidelines along with the Minnesota State High School League, and from there it will go to individual school districts.

When we do eventually transition back to school gyms and weight rooms, things will look differently. Although how much will change is still uncertain. Here are some things that I think could change for us in the weight room at Farmington High School.

Screening

Firstly, we will need to establish a COVID-19 screening at the start of every workout session. Every athlete will need to answer the COVID-19 screening questions right when they get to school. This will most likely be done via a Google Form and will include the standard screening questions:

  1. Do you have any of the following?
    • Fever
    • Shortness of breath (not severe)
    • Cough
    • Chills
    • Repeated shaking with chills
    • Muscle pain
    • Headache
    • Sore throat
    • New loss of taste or smell
  2. Are you ill, or living with someone who is ill, or caring for someone who is ill?
  3. In the two weeks before you felt sick, did you:
    • Have contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?
    • Live in or visit a place where COVID-19 is spreading?

We will also check athletes’ body temperatures prior to each day’s workout session. This data will be logged and recorded so that there is a record kept for every participant.

Cleaning

Our students do a fantastic job of cleaning up after themselves and putting away weight room equipment when they are done using it. Each student is assigned a clean-up spot that they are responsible for checking at the end of each class period. We always emphasize weight room etiquette and returning equipment to storage. If everyone does that, there shouldn’t be anything to do at their clean-up location. A more thorough cleaning will now have to be included in that routine.

However, now we will have to include a more thorough procedure in that routine, including regular disinfecting and sanitizing of equipment. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but at the very least, equipment will have to be disinfected at the end of the class period or training session. Wiping everything down between each use/set might be recommended, but I don’t see that as being very feasible.

If I have a group of three athletes sharing one squat rack and we have six sets planned, that’s 18 times that the bar would get wiped down at just that one station. That would be very time consuming but also very expensive. We would be using a tremendous amount of disinfectant doing this.

Maybe wiping everything down at the station once each group is finishing before moving to the next station would be more realistic. Using hand sanitizer on the way into the room will also help by starting with clean hands as well. I know there are spray systems available that you can use to quickly spray down and disinfect entire rooms so those may become more commonplace in weight rooms and gyms.

The other question is whether sharing equipment will even be allowed. If we are unable to share equipment when first starting up, it will dramatically change the scope of what we are able to do for workouts.

Group Sizes

While it’s clear that we will have to place limits on the number of people who can train together, they are not yet well-defined. I’ve heard of several different scenarios like limiting group size to 10 people, or to 30 people, or allowing each person 100 square feet of space. For us and our summer program, this will change things dramatically.

We have several very large sessions that will now have to be broken down into smaller groups. Ten in a group would make things very difficult for us. Twenty-five in a group will be hard but possible. And then the next question becomes whether these are the guidelines for weight rooms and gyms, are the same for groups training outside as well, or is that a different situation with different guidelines?  

The ability to share equipment—or not—will also impact groups sizes. If we can’t share equipment, then we can’t have multiple athletes training at the same time. And because of social distancing guidelines, spotters will not be a possibility either which leads me to believe we will not be starting with lifting partners, and it will be individuals at their designated training stations.

Return to Training – Workout Considerations

The biggest concern from a coaching standpoint is how to closely monitor athletes during those initial workouts while gradually easing back into the training routine. Jumping back in quickly and trying to make up for lost time is not going to work and could be detrimental to athletes, their long-term progress, and their short-term health. Allowing injuries due to high training intensity and volume should be avoided at all costs.

In general, with strength training, I am planning on starting our first week at about 50% for intensity and volume, and with longer rest periods. Week two will increase to 65-70%, and week three will be 75-80% if it is going well up to that point. Speed training will also be a gradual process, with lower volumes and intensities for the first few weeks before getting up to top-speed sprints.

So Now What?

The bottom line at this point is that we just don’t know enough right now about how things will be. The health and safety of our athletes and coaches must be the primary concern, and that will diverge from how things have been done traditionally. Situations and procedures most likely will change depending on what happens in other states and well as in local communities. We’re all just trying to figure this out and are hoping for the best.

COVID-19 Resources:

NFHS Guidance For Opening High School Athletics and Activities

NSCA Infographic of COVID-19 Safe Return For Athletes

ACSM Website – COVID-19 Reopening and Return To Play Resources

CDC – Youth Programs and Camps During The COVID-19 Pandemic