Physical conditioning consists of exercise frequently included in sports and fitness regimens to improve an athlete’s performance. Stop Sports Injuries lists conditioning activities as concerning “power, strength, speed, balance, agility, coordination, and endurance.” Conditioning plays a monumental role in injury prevention, improving flexibility and strengthening muscles and ligaments. Conditioning is most frequently practiced in sports like baseball, tennis, soccer, running, and swimming.
Before COVID-19 and quarantine, athletes would condition at an external location, like a gym or a conditioning center, or where they practice their sport, most likely once or twice per week. Athletes would participate in many different series of exercises and would be closely monitored by their physical conditioning trainer. Any equipment required for a certain exercise would be provided by their physical trainer for the conditioning session or possibly by the building they practice in. COVID-19 regulations have changed nearly all of these aspects of conditioning.
One of the most prevalent changes that quarantine caused was the inability to condition in person with a physical trainer. Many athletes now condition over Zoom and must complete their exercises at home, which, although manageable, has caused a number of problems to arise. Zoom makes it harder for physical trainers to connect with athletes, especially their ability to properly coach their athletes.
“What’s made it harder is just my ability to be able to see everyone the way I want to see them.” says Healthy Baller physical trainer Lee Sommers. “In some cases, some of [the athletes] will go off screen or kind of hide themselves off the screen because they don’t wanna be coached or queued on things, or told they’re doing things wrong, or they’ll just turn off their screens all together.”
However, working out over Zoom proves not to be the most challenging part of at-home conditioning. Many athletes don’t own the equipment needed to complete all of the conditioning exercises they would do if they were conditioning in person. At the beginning of quarantine, some recreational centers allowed athletes to borrow equipment for at-home conditioning, but their resources were limited and not everyone was able to access the equipment. Also, not every athlete is able to afford the entire array of conditioning equipment. The solution that physical trainers created is offering alternative exercises that can accomplish the same thing.
“I think a big challenge is not having all the equipment that we would have access to if we were in person,” says Sommers. “We have to be a little bit more creative because we don’t have as much to deal with as far as resources [go].”
“Some people don’t have all the equipment to do all of the exercises, so they get set back and have to substitute it with a different exercise,” says junior Katie Cardenas. “You can feel kind of embarrassed or left out because of it.”
Not everything has become more difficult because of at-home conditioning. Because Zoom makes it more difficult to talk to your peers during lessons, it’s much easier to deliver instructions to athletes without needing to gather their attention. This is especially evident for younger athletes who have more difficulty focusing while conditioning. Without the distractions of others, some athletes are able to accomplish more in their workout than they would if it were to occur in person.
“Especially with the younger groups, there’s less messing around in between sets, less socializing,” says Sommers. “I don’t have to deal with some of the behavioral stuff. Sometimes we even finish 5 or 10 minutes early.”
A notable effect of at-home conditioning is the decrease in most athlete’s attendance. Without meeting with a trainer in person, many feel that conditioning through Zoom is more of a nuisance than helpful, wasting their time. Others think conditioning isn’t as necessary as it was previously because COVID-19 restrictions cut down on their practice time.
“Something has fallen off a little bit as far as the strength and conditioning [goes],” says Sommers. “There are some kids who are falling through the cracks as far as what they were doing versus what they’re doing now. They don’t have as much access to what they had access to before.”
Overall, at-home conditioning has dampened most athlete’s views of conditioning. Some can go as far as to say that they hate it now. When asked, a majority of athletes said they preferred conditioning in person without much hesitation.
“Being at the gym is more helpful because I hate asking questions, so if Lee’s there, personally not everyone has to hear me ask the question,” says Cardenas. “When he shows the exercise [in person] you can see it more and ask more questions so you don’t feel like you’re wasting everyone’s time.”
Although virtual conditioning has been difficult to adjust to, it has allowed athletes to continue a part of their normal athletic routine that they would otherwise not have access to. Athletes are able to maintain or rebuild some of their strength and get in more training hours, which are much more difficult to come by now. Despite its flaws, at-home conditioning is an opportunity athletes can be thankful for and take advantage of for as long as it persists.
“Exercising in front of a screen is awkward at first, because nobody has done it before, but after awhile you get used to it.” says Cardenas.
“All in all, I think that Zoom and virtual training has been kind of a godsend, all things considered,” says Sommers. “It was not something that I was doing before this, and now it’s probably 50% of my sessions a week. It’s not something I wanna continue when we come out of this, but it has been a blessing that we’ve been able to stay in contact and stay in touch and continue to program even though we can’t be with each other all the time.”