World Triathlon Coaching and Training Guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic period

4. Coaching implications of the COVID-19 period

4.2. Training in a home environment

Training sessions that might put athletes into close proximity or would require visiting public facilities or using shared equipment (such as weights, dumbbells, etc.) shall be cancelled. Pools, gyms, public training parks are not considered as safe training environments during the COVID-19 outbreak. Home training is the preferred option during the outbreak.

As we have already seen in many countries, an often-introduced authority measure in controlling the disease is quarantine or lock-down, where citizens are only allowed to leave their homes for their basic needs, like shopping for food or visiting a doctor.

Coaches need to help their athletes to understand and accept such a situation. Not complying to the extraordinary regulations of a lock-down puts at risk the health of wider communities. Consequences for not complying individuals could be considered a criminal act.

Under these circumstances home training becomes very important for multiple reasons:

  • it takes over the already mentioned role of general health maintenance;
  • brings activity into everyday life that could otherwise easily become monotonous after a while;
  • is something to allocate time to, therefore helps to establish a daily routine and schedule;
  • helps to ease frustrations;
  • could become a family activity which is fun and enjoyable.

Coaches can now plan home sessions that are doable considering the levels and capabilities of their athletes and the equipment which is available for them. These sessions can (and must be) individualised, as some may for example not have home trainers, many will not be able to run on treadmills, and in general athletes have different training equipment at home. Also, advanced exercises are not to be prescribed to less fit / skilful athletes.

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Coaches need to think responsibly about the risk assessment of their training sessions as any accident or crash would put extra load on the already busy healthcare system which must channel all its resources to fight the pandemic.

Additionally, an athlete training alone who has a serious accident may not be discovered for some time.

Equipment, drills and tasks therefore need to be selected with extra precaution.

We need to pay attention to the requirements of training indoors. Sweating is limited compared to outdoors therefore ventilation and increased flow of air might be necessary. Sweat rates will most probably still be different, so hydration is also something to address. Again, this is a good opportunity to educate athletes.

In terms of endurance workouts, the options in a home quarantine are limited to the following:

  • Treadmill run sessions for the few athletes who have treadmills at home.
  • Home trainer bike sessions.
  • Rowing machine sessions again for the ones who have such equipment.

It is still possible to incorporate some higher intensity workouts (threshold sessions, VO2max repeats, even some speed work) using the above-mentioned equipment and in line with the adjusted workload. Coaches need to make sure to prescribe higher intensities only if the workouts can be executed safely with the gear available.

Icon image showing 3 people using 3 different strength equipment machines

Figure 3 - Illustration source: Resistance Training for Health,
American College of Sports Medicine.

Strength training offers wider options. Exercises range from own-body-weight exercises to the utilisation of various home training equipment (resistance bands, weights, pull-up bars, etc.). Sessions can cover:

  • core strength, stability and balance;
  • strength maintenance;
  • power;
  • and even maximum strength. 

Power and maximum strength exercises shall be prescribed only if proper equipment is available for their execution. Bear in mind that many maximum strength exercises require some assistance for the safe execution, therefore avoid these if the athlete trains solo.

Always bear in mind, that the proper execution of strength exercises is key. If the athlete practices any of these in an improper way, results can be easily harmful. A coach’s task now is to prescribe only exercises which the athlete is capable of executing properly on his/her own. Advanced, more difficult or complex exercises shall be given only to athletes, who are used to performing these and know the key points of proper execution.

It might also be possible to incorporate some drills into home training and address technique development. We can also look at the current situation as an opportunity to continue working on flaws. Shall there be adequate space for the safe execution indoors (or maybe in a garden), running drills are the most obvious examples. Agility ladders, small hurdles and cones (or objects similar to these) can be utilised for a fun and enjoyable session.

Dryland swimming drills are also something to consider. Various resistance cord exercises are the obvious choice, but more advanced athletes who are already familiar with this can also practice swim mechanics.

In terms of cycling technique, free-roller exercises that incorporate dynamic balancing are always useful. Cadence and single leg drills can be performed on any roller or trainer.

Again, all the previously mentioned technique sessions need to be individualised according to the level of the athletes and their areas of development. Coaches can recall the memories of previous sessions or watch videos of these to identify the exercises that they suggest to individuals.

In a lock-down scenario technology becomes very important for various other reasons as well:

  • Data from sport watches, smart trainers and treadmills can be monitored (as coaches already do this in more and more cases).
  • Various platforms (such as Trainingpeaks, Bereda or Finalsurge) provide opportunities for follow-up and communication. The coaching practice already applied for busy age-groupers can now be extended for youth and junior athletes.
  • Exercises can be demonstrated using Youtube videos, other points of education can also be incorporated (rest and recovery, nutrition, hygiene, etc.).
  • If the coach can provide corrective advice and guidance using technology such as Zoom/Skype this could be a viable option for skills practice or incorporating new exercises. 

Virtual environments (the most popular being Zwift) also provide great opportunities to socialise, as athletes can get in touch during their workouts, are able to chat and communicate with each other, which is key in breaking solitude. Coaches therefore can set up virtual events for those, who have infrastructure to participate in these.

Without smart trainers and virtual environment access sessions of individuals can still be scheduled for the same time and calls / video calls can be used to connect the training group.

Image showing outlines of humans, doing strecthing exercises

Figure 4 - Illustration source: https://sportspecialists.ca/

Stretching and mobility exercises are often overlooked in the normal everyday rush, where facility bookings limit the length of training sessions or schedules are busy otherwise. A special home training environment where training volumes and intensities are cut back is the perfect opportunity to change habits related to this area. Key points for coaches and athletes to remember regarding stretching and mobility exercises are:

  • Warm up properly, ideally finish each training session with the stretching of muscle groups that had been worked on. Performing stretches / mobility exercises without preparing the muscles first actually might damage muscle fibres.
  • Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds.
  • Overstretching might result in joint instability and injury.
  • Bouncing while stretching / holding a position could also cause injury.
  • A feeling of tension is normal during the stretch / holding the position, but there shall be no pain - this could be a sign of injury or damage. Painful stretches / positions shall be aborted.

Image of a person using a foam massage roller

Figure 5 - Illustration source. http://backrelease.com

Self Myofascial Release (SMR) has become popular in the past few years and many athletes - young and adult - already use this method to relax contracted muscles. SMR exercises can be ideally performed at home, so coaches might want to reinforce their importance and encourage their athletes to make a habit of SMR related to their physical activities. As the lifestyle of those in a home quarantine will inevitably become more sedentary, SMR is the minimum that one can use regularly.

In response to the increased time spent sitting, coaches can encourage athletes to use unstable objects such as an appropriate size exercise ball to sit on to stimulate muscle activity of the core muscles and thus maintain good posture. In regions where children are ordered to take part in remote education - of which formal requirements are less strict than in a class - they can also use a balance cushion, stability disc, a balance board, a bosu, etc. to stand on for similar purposes as previously mentioned.