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Advice From A Strength And Conditioning Coach On What Athletes Should Focus On While On Lockdown

By Karen Price | April 29, 2020, 5:50 p.m. (ET)

A photo inside Sports Center 1 at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center on May 15, 2013 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


Athletes may not be able to train the way they would like right now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work out and stay fit.

It also doesn’t mean that all the work they put in before training facilities nationwide began shutting down because of the current pandemic will be gone by the time they do get back to their sports.

That was the message behind this week’s “Expert Connection” episode on the Panam Sports Channel featuring Dr. Jo Brown, a physiotherapist who has worked with elite athletes from Australia and Jamaica, and United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee strength and conditioning coach Brandon Siakel. 

Siakel addressed a number of concerns throughout the session, which will be available at panamsportschannel.org, to help assure athletes that even though for most this is an unplanned “detraining” time, they will be able to maintain and rebuild.

Here are some of the highlights of the insight the two experts shared:

Keep Up The Cardio
Cardiovascular fitness is usually the first thing to decline in detraining, Brown said, with about a 6 percent loss after doing nothing for two weeks, so athletes should do what they can to maintain that fitness. Even if it’s running laps on the stairs or doing burpees or mountain climbers, or another creative way to get the heart rate up, it’s important to keep cardiovascular exercise going in order to maintain current fitness levels.

Strength Stays Around
When it comes to strength and power, Siakel said, research shows athletes can maintain those aspects of their fitness for 20 to 35 days, strength more on the latter end and power on the shorter end if athletes aren’t working out at all.

Intensity, Intensity, Intensity
For maintaining, Siakel said, if you look at the three main variables of training — volume, intensity and frequency — the key variable you want to emphasize is intensity. Even if you reduce volume or frequency, the intensity of what you’re trying to maintain is the key component. For instance, he said, an athlete who was doing 10 two-minute intervals at 85 percent maximum heart rate can reduce that to five two-minute intervals at 85 percent and still maintain that fitness level.

You Won’t Lose Your Skills
For athletes concerned about losing their skills, Brown said, there’s also good news in that once we’ve learned a skill we really don’t lose it or forget it. Since elite athletes are experts in their sports, the neurological connections and patterns formed from practice are embedded into procedural memory that’s not going to be lost anytime soon.

Increase Workloads By No More Than 10 Percent
Athletes also shouldn’t go to the other extreme, Siakel said, when it comes to progression and start doing too much. From week to week, athletes shouldn’t be increasing their workloads more than 10 percent. He recommends writing down what you’re doing and recording how your body responds two days after in terms of soreness and fatigue, and if things are going well do the math and increase those reps or that workload by 10 percent in order to progress safely.

Try A Daily Questionnaire
One consideration might be to put together a simply daily questionnaire, Siakel said, with questions such as: How sore am I? How fatigued am I? What’s my motivation today to train? How was my sleep? This will help keep track of what’s happening with an athlete’s body and help share needed information with his or her coaches and performance team.

Don’t Forget Stability Work
Another focus should be on stability work, Siakel said. It’s easy to get into the main movements of squats or lunges or step-ups or jumps, but athletes should continue to be conscious of their core training, foot and ankle work, wrist work for gymnasts, etc.

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Take Your Recovery Days
Don’t forget about planned recovery days either, he said. Just as in regular training it’s important to plan a week of volume reduction at the end of a month while still keeping the intensity high so it can be a springboard into the next month.

Quality Over Quantity
Finally, quality is more important than quantity. We can get creative with finding ways to exercise with what we have around the house or in the yard, he said, but don’t forget to focus on alignment, mechanics, efficiency and other measures of quality instead of just numbers.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.