COVID-19 Contingency Series Pt I: 6 Uncommon Training Ideas for Remote Athletes

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Everyone and their brother is trying to tell coaches how to program remotely for their athletes now that weight rooms and training facilities either are already, or will soon be off limits in all states. Much of the programming I’ve seen shared focuses on bodyweight training for obvious reasons. Coaches are comfortable resorting to bodyweight training because there’s no guarantee that athletes at home have access to any equipment, let alone the same equipment that would allow for a uniform program to be followed. While there’s nothing wrong with bodyweight training, things get stale fairly quickly. 

Furthermore, coaches are facing a novel challenge in finding ways to keep their athletes engaged. Having been thrown out of their structured routines, coaches and athletes are struggling to facilitate programming, and hold each other accountable. The following six ideas have been field-tested to improve your athletes’ performance and engagement in this time outside of the weight room.  

1. Get Legitimate Equipment In The Hands Of Your Athletes

Gopher Performance Remote Packs for Remote Athletes
Training packs from Gopher Performance provide everything needed for remote training.

Many coaches haven’t even considered the idea of getting equipment in the hands of their athletes or students as at face value the idea seems cost-prohibitive. Many coaches don’t even have access to their budgets right now, or they’ve been forced to shut down their facilities. For obvious reasons they’re not interested in purchasing equipment right now.  

Equipment purchases don’t have to fall on the shoulders of the coaches or facility owners. If you can provide athletes, parents, and students with affordable equipment options, you’d be surprised at how much engagement you might receive. There are two unique options for getting legitimate equipment in your athletes’ hands: 

  • Leverage a pre-made equipment pack that’s easy to purchase, and affordable. Gopher Performance’s Remote Training Pack incorporates enough equipment for you to provide a robust, uncompromising training program to any of your athletes who have the pack, at a price that’s less than that of the gaming systems your athletes are spending all of their time on. 
  • Reach out to an equipment company and work with them to create your own equipment pack or packs that can be shared with athletes and parents. Gopher Performance for example will work with any coach or trainer looking to equip their athletes at an affordable cost. 

The idea is to create packs for maximum affordability AND versatility. If necessary, work with your Gopher Performance rep to create different pack tiers at different price points so there’s always a pack that folks can afford. If you have three packs, you can write three programs with each based upon the pack contents. 

2. Increase Your Athletes’ Speed, Agility, and Plyometric Training Volume

In normal circumstances, coaches typically are challenged to fit in stimulating amounts of plyometric, agility, and speed work. Particularly at the high school level, these training modalities are often not emphasized to the same degree as traditional strength training for three reasons: 

  • Strength is often seen as the greatest bottleneck to athletic performance, and consequently the greatest area of opportunity. 
  • Time constraints don’t allow for coaches to incorporate the volumes and rest periods necessary to do these types of training well. 
  • Athletes typically are getting stimulative loads of agility, plyometric, etc. training in their sports, rendering their attention in the weight room less necessary.  
Plyometrics can be performed anywhere without equipment.

Current circumstances being as they are, the power and speed training programs that typically are only implemented before the start of an athletic season are now quite timely. By facilitating the transmutation of strength and power qualities developed in the weight room to athletic attributescoaches will truly be turning lemons into lemonade. 

Additionally it’s crucial to ensure that athletes are continuing to be athletic in their time away from sports. Power, speed, and other athletic qualities and skills are significantly less sticky than strength and endurance. Without training, they will decay at a much faster rate than other physical attributes. 

Programming Considerations for Remote Speed, Agility, & Plyometric Training  

Since sport and traditional strength training volumes are significantly lower while athletes remain at-home, much more training volume can be allocated to cultivating athletic qualities. Obviously dialing-in exact loads, volumes, and frequencies should be a multifactorial process taking training age, biological age, experience with the movement and other factors into consideration. Generally speaking, I’ve found the following guidelines to be widely applicable: 

Be sure to push athletes to always give maximal intensity on athletic training drills.

Frequency: Two sessions per week is an appropriate floor regardless of age if the athlete is not participating in a sport. Up to four sessions could be appropriate in advanced athletes assuming the daily sessions are varied in their stressed motor patterns. 

Intensity: The sequence of priorities in athletic training should always be technique, intensity, volume. Intensity is only pushed if athletes can perform the exercise with appropriate technique. Volume is only pushed to the extent that the athlete can perform the exercise well at a given intensity.  I always suggest starting with exercises and intensities that are challenging but safe and achievable for the demographic and progressing from there. 

Volume: Similar to intensity, start with lesser volumes that are universally tolerable for your athletes and progress from there. With novice athletes I typically start with 3 exercises with 3-4 sets apiece with reps or distances that can be performed with intensity and appropriate technique. 

Rest: As always, full recovery between sets is mandatory! 

Pro-tip: if you’ve coached speed, plyometric, etc. training before, you know that it can be challenging to get full effort from your athletes when you are physically there, let alone when they’re by themselves!  See idea #4 for pointers on this. 

3. Incorporate Odd Objects That Athletes Can Commonly Find at Home

Let’s not sugarcoat reality, the lack of access to equipment is a severe disadvantage plaguing all strength coaches. However as the old adage dictates, necessity fuels innovation!  Rather than concede defeat and resort to bodyweight training to hold over athletes, encourage them to get creative with what they can find at home. Here’s a few examples of “equipment” your athletes have access to that they weren’t even aware could be used: 

  • Logs/Wood – Bars 
  • Beach or hand towels – fitness sliders, jam in a door for inverted rows 
  • Furniture – deadlifts/presses with couches, inverted rows on tables and chairs, etc. 
  • Tree Branches, unfinished basement trusses – pullup bars 
  • Water-filled gas tanks – anything you might need to load with dumbbells (carries, lunges, upright rows, etc.) 
  • Baby Carriers – like above 
  • Suitcases 
  • Their dog (actual example) 
  • Totes filled with heavy stuff (books preferably) 
  • Water-filled trash bins 

The key here is to get creativeEncourage athletes to video themselves and share their training with coaches and peers on social media. It’s more challenging to engage athletes using these objects since there’s not an accurate load assigned to them. Coaches will have to rely on social incentives like their friends and teammates’ attention and approval to motivate athletes. 

Additionally make sure to educate your athletes and let them know that the stimulus is the result of tension on the muscles. Tension can be created by anything with the appropriate loading and effort. They don’t need fancy equipment to improve, just tell them to watch any of the first four Rocky movies with all of their newfound free time and they’ll be out chasing chickens before you know it. 

4. Create Contests, Measure Everything, and Leverage Social Media in the Process

@farmingtonpower sharing their leader board

Here’s a bit of insight I’ll bet you didn’t know: athletes are competitive and respond best to challenges. When athletes aren’t surrounded by their coaches and friends, their incentive to give maximum effort drops dramatically. Without these motivators, it’s that much more critical to get creative and provide training that increases social engagement and competition. Here are a few ideas to try out: 

  • Whenever possible, make training measurable. Have athletes get out the stopwatches, tape measures, etc. and push them to record their reps, jumps, sprints, and drills. 
  • Have them video themselves. You’d be surprised how much harder athletes work when they get to watch themselves move. 
  • Give them targets. If you don’t typically provide rep targets, now’s the time to do so. If they’re jumping, have a brother/sister hold a broomstick in the air. If they’re sprinting, tell them what a fast time looks like. These methods will push them to see how close they can get to the “standard”. 
  • Share EVERYTHING on social media, and encourage your athletes to do the same.  
  • Provide daily challenges in your programs: AMRAP pushups, jumping lunges in 2 min, plank holds, etc. There are endless options.  
  • Create leaderboards. Many remote programming software options have built-in leaderboards, but if yours does not then create your own! Google Docs is a great option, or you can get fancy like @farmingtonpower. Our own Scott Meier is elite at engaging his athletes socially. (see right)

5. Provide Structure to Your Athletes’ Days

Athletes lead incredibly structured lives. Between classes, practice, lifting, homework, eating, and sleep; virtually every hour of their days is typically spoken for. Now that they’ve had that structure removed, it’s much more difficult to get them to train. With athletes at home, training has become a choice they have to make opposed to the next stop on their day’s journey. It’s our job as coaches to help provide structure to make training part of their day, not another decision they have to make. 

There are several steps coaches can take to provide more structure for their athletes: 

  • Educate them on the importance of structure in their days, even while they’re forced to stay at home. 
  • Get all athletes to train at the same time each day. 
  • Use tools like zoom meetings to conduct virtual training sessions. 
  • Outline what an optimal day should look like for your athletes. Be sure to still include the things they want to do like playing video games, watching Netflix, etc. so they don’t veto your plan outright! 
  • Touch base with your athletes daily. Create group texts within your teams or groups of students that can help hold each other accountable.

Although providing the structure student athletes are used to is virtually impossible, even a small semblance of structure should be enough to significantly improve engagement.

6. Lead By Example, Share Your Remote Training With Your Athletes 

This is the greatest area of opportunity, and an underrated tool for most coaches.  If you’re a coach that walks the walk, you’ve likely experienced the difference it makes in your players when they know that you can and are doing exactly what you’re asking them to do. You don’t have to be superman, and it’s okay if you have athletes that are stronger or more athletic than you. In fact for most of us that will be the case.  Yet that should not prevent us as coaches from joining our athletes in the trenches.  

It never hurts to remind your athletes that you can still do some things.

If you’re creating challenges for your athletes, share videos of you doing the challenges yourself. If you want the best engagement, get your day’s training done before your athletes, and call them out!  Athletes love it when their coaches “get on their level” and lock arms in the process of improving. If you’re a sideline coach that doesn’t exhibit the qualities you’re asking your athletes to cultivate, you’ll have an uphill battle in getting engagement and accountability. 

On Tap Next in the COVID Contingency Series

Thanks for checking out part I of our COVID Contingency Series. Stay tuned for part II where we’ll detail further options for getting equipment in the hands of your remote athletes, and Pt III where we’ll discuss tactics for handling the challenges coaches will face when they return to their facilities!

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