Columbus Crew gets creative with fitness during coronavirus outbreak

A month ago, the idea that there would be no soccer played at the end of March wasn’t really a thought. To think that Major League Soccer would stop play just three weeks into the season was a laughable concept. Then the coronavirus hit the United States and spread quickly and the sports, and life, Americans have come to expect had to change.

After the postponement of MLS play, first for 30 days and now until at least May 10, Columbus Crew SC personnel had to act fast. The league has already extended its training moratorium twice, currently through April 3, but the expectation is that MLS play will resume when it’s safe to do so and that meant the training staff had to get creative.

Head coach Caleb Porter outlined four simple things the Crew must do to be ready to play when the league does pick back up and one of those was remaining fit. For players and a staff who are used to coming to the training ground each day and being put through their paces, not being able to do so makes things challenging.

That is where the creativity of director of high performance Clive Brewer and his staff has come into play.

“One of the main priorities right now is to make sure that the players can pick up where they left off,” Porter said via teleconference on Tuesday. “We don’t know again what that will look like in terms of a runway into season, how long we’ll get with team training. Right now, we’re not able to do anything at our facility, individually or collectively. So we are working, and the performance staff, Clive Brewer, his staff, the coaches, every single day to make sure that the players do everything in their power to maintain their fitness.”

To do this, the players have an app on their phones where they can track and record their workouts. This allows Brewer, strength and conditioning coach Brook Hamilton and others to stay up to date on what the players are doing and hold them accountable for getting their fitness in.

If the team could practice as normal, this fitness would be a part of their daily training sessions, but since they cannot, the players must go a bit old school. Some players have access to in-home or in-apartment treadmills where they can run. Others have to take it outside — which is allowed under Ohio’s recently issued stay-at-home order — and run on the street, a track or in a park.

“We’re either on a treadmill or outside on a field, on the pavement, however you’ve got to get it done,” Columbus midfielder Darlington Nagbe said on a video teleconference on Thursday.

In addition, the players are attempting to keep up with their weight training as well. Given that they are used to having weights at the team facility, many don’t have the proper equipment at home and instead are using bodyweight exercises provided by Brewer and his staff. For some, the club is supplementing equipment for the players to use. These workouts also are recorded on the app.

Assistant strength and conditioning coach Kelly Roderick, who recently provided fans with some home workout ideas, is hosting yoga classes for the team to help keep them limber and in shape. The Crew is also keeping up with the players’ nutrition, something that is usually handled by the food they eat at the facility.

“We are giving them nutritional menus,” Porter said of the players. “We’re looking at the possibility of doing cooking classes. Again, Clive has been incredible in coming up with creative ways to keep the players fit and healthy.”

In an ideal situation, the Black & Gold wouldn’t have to deal with these challenges of working out from home and keeping track of players’ fitness, nutrition and health while also social distancing, but the coronavirus outbreak is anything but ideal. The Crew, however, have found ways to make it work so far.

“It is a strange situation, of course,” central defender Vito Wormgoor said. “You need to be smart. You need to take what is the smartest thing to do and what is the easiest way to do it. And especially with this distance between each other, sometimes you’ll run with a teammate but then you need to have the right distance in between. And also at home, you need to figure out what you can do and what’s able and how you will do it. It is quite difficult but it is possible.”

Around the country, people are making sacrifices and changing their daily lives in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Given that MLS has stopped operations on the playing side and told teams they can’t be at their facilities, the Crew players and coaches have had to stay home.

But the team’s plan is that training will resume in the near future and games will be played again in 2020, so the players and coaches are doing everything in their power to be ready to jump back into the season when they can.

“Everybody’s in this situation in the league,” Porter said, “and I’m very confident that when we pick back up with the team training or individual training at the facility or small group training, we’ll see what that looks like, that we’ll be in as good a position or better than anybody in the league with what we’re doing from a sports science and performance standpoint.”


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