By: Julie Laugel and Mack Drake
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing to keep local gyms in the Phoenix area closed for business, athletes across the valley have come face-to-face with a unique problem.
How do you stay in peak shape and retain strength without the use of weights and other convenient cardio equipment, especially in the hostile Arizona heat?
After previously holding workouts five days a week in the CrossFit gyms during the season, the closing of gyms has forced Grand Canyon University Club CrossFit members to find other, creative ways to stay in shape.
For Grand Canyon University Powerlifting, the damage has been particularly devastating. The inability to train with weights has zapped strength levels and forced the team to consider new methods of training.
Both teams have had to work out their own unique solutions to this challenge during quarantine. Here’s a look at how both teams have handled their exercise regimens in the wake of the coronavirus.
Although CrossFit generally trains with weights, GCU Club CrossFit Head Coach Carter Senechal admits that it is not necessary and doesn’t prevent the team from being able to train effectively.
“The idea of CrossFit is that you’re doing functional movements, which could be anything that would make life easier, such as if you’re moving some friends out of an apartment and have to carry a couch,” said Senechal. “If you don’t have the equipment that you’re used to using in CrossFit, that’s all the better because you can just practice using other items. You can basically perform CrossFit with anything.”
Like many gym-goers have had to do, members have turned to at-home bodyweight workouts, using miscellaneous items around the house for any added weight. Key exercises for CrossFit include bodyweight squats, pushups and running, which has the added obstacle of the Arizona summer heat. Other core exercises include Olympic weightlifting movements, such as the snatch, hang clean and push jerk, deadlifting and gymnastics, although the versatility of the sport allows members to do virtually any type of exercises for training.
One resource that members have utilized are online Zoom CrossFit classes from a local off-campus gym, CrossFit Uru. Along with classes from CrossFit Uru, there are many other online outlets to find CrossFit workouts to complete outside of the gym.
Since the sport is unique in that they can train in numerous ways, Senechal encourages the GCU Club CrossFit team to continue to find ways to stay active until gyms open back up again and for the remainder of the summer break. Following the pandemic and summer break, Senechal presumes that it could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a month to get everyone back up to their peak performance once practices resume.
While CrossFitters can effectively utilize lightweight items and various bodyweight exercises in their routine, powerlifters – who lift significantly heavy loads in low rep ranges – have had no choice but to take some blows to their strength levels during quarantine.
“Without the use of additional weight, it is impossible for someone to maintain, let alone progress, in powerlifting,” said GCU Powerlifting Head Coach Alex Cox. “That said, because powerlifting focuses on three main lifts that can be done with various other heavy objects, it is hypothetically possible to maintain or progress if you supplement the standard barbells and weight plates with other heavy objects.”
Cox said some members of the team created pseudo-home gyms that have allowed for maximum strength retention. Others have been forced to rely on explosive variations of typical bodyweight movements, like clap pushups, jump squats, Bulgarian split squats, lunges, dips, pull-ups, burpees, planks and hip thrusts, to name a few.
“Bodyweight training and bodyweight control are great for the average person, but they aren’t optimal for powerlifters,” Cox said. “Some of our athletes have switched to bands and other bodyweight exercises to at least try to stay active. But, because bodyweight and banded workouts alone will not help you progress in powerlifting, some people have opted to just completely wait it out until gyms reopen.”
Powerlifters are generally focused on three key lifts, including the bench press, squat and deadlift. As the team awaits the reopening of gyms, perfecting correct form on these core exercises has been the subject of numerous Zoom meetings and group texts.
Once gyms do eventually reopen, Cox estimates the depletion of strength reservoirs to take around 2-3 months to recapture.
“The first month back would focus on getting every muscle group back to familiarity with working out,” Cox said. “We will then gradually add a strength program with weights based at about 90 percent of the person’s prior maximum weight lifted before the virus. This would likely get everybody’s prior strength back in about three months or so.”I
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