During all of the insanity going on in the world currently it can be very easy for people to forget about the things that were once important to them. And honestly, who could blame them? School systems that once relied entirely on classroom based learning have been forced to move to virtual or electronic based learning, millions of citizens that had complete job security less than a month ago are now jobless, and the sports world as we know it has collapsed. Unfortunately for us humans, time (which is man-made to begin with) does not stop for us every time things go wrong in our world. I'm here to tell you that as a former athlete and current basketball coach I know better than most if you really want to be the best at what you do, you cannot halt your progress just because the rest of the world is shutting down around you. The fact of the matter is that THIS TO SHALL PASS and the thing that is going to separate the best from the rest is whether you come out stronger on the other side or have to start over from square one. LET ME BE CLEAR, I am NOT here to tell you how seriously to take this pandemic. Your first responsibility is to do whatever your family needs you to do to survive. The purpose of this article is simply to give you a list of things that you should be doing in your spare time to make sure that when this pandemic eventually passes you are still at the top of your game. I am a former college football player with knowledge of strength and conditioning. I have a bachelors of science in physical education and health with a minor in kinesiology from Charleston Southern University. I have taught physical education from ages 4 all the way to 14 and I am a basketball coach. I am also a former personal trainer with experience creating health plans for individuals and groups. Most of the things in this article will apply to athletes however anybody can benefit from following these suggestions. So what should you be doing to make sure that your game doesn't get stale?
#1 "Core Strength"
All of the power in your body starts in your core. Not only will having a strong core improve your balance, but it will also increase your overall body strength. Your core is something that can be easily maintained in the comfort of your own home using many different exercises. I will however give you just two of the most effective exercises for improving/maintaining core strength while sitting at home.
Sit ups are easy to do in the comfort of your own home and are a great way to keep your core strength in tact. Much like the picture shown you can complete sit-ups by having another person sit on your feet or legs while you lay on your back and use your core strength to pull your upper body towards your legs. You can also complete sit-ups on your own by laying on your back with your knees bent and lifting your upper body towards your legs. Doing so without the help of another requires a bit more balance and core strength and as such it can be a bit more challenging. When performing the sit-up exercise be NOT to swing your arms for momentum. By keep your arms still and using your core strength only to pull your body up you will get a more complete workout. A great Idea for making sure to integrate these into your daily routine would be to plan for 10 sets of 10 sit-ups 5 days a week. That means completing 10 sit-ups in a row followed by a 1 minute break and then doing so again 9 more times for a total of 10 times. By doing your workout in this way you will manage to complete a total of 100 total reps of core and it will seem much easier because you broke the reps up into 10 at a time.
The next exercise that you should absolutely be doing at home in order to keep your core strength in tact is the simple but deadly plank. On the surface planks appear to so simple that they must be too good to be true. The reality however is that when it comes to challenging yet effective core exercises the plank is near the top of that list. If you want an hour to feel like a minute watch a good movie, if you want a minute to feel like an hour do a plank. Like the picture the plank is performed by holding up the weight of your body with your elbows while your body is parallel to the ground. Remember to keep your back flat and your bottom out of the air. Do not let your hips sink or your knees drop. The easiest way to imagine a perfect plank is to hold yourself in the upward push-up position and then move from your hands holding you up to your elbows holding you up. Make sure to use a phone or other device to count the seconds for you because attempting to count them yourself while holding the plank position will likely give you an inaccurate (and often short) reading. A great idea for integrating these into your daily routine would be to plan for 10 sets of 45 second planks 5 days a week. This means to hold yourself up in the plank position for 45 seconds followed by a 1-2 minute break and then doing so again 9 more times for a total of 10 times.
#2 "Muscular Strength"
Muscular Strength is important for athletes for a number of reasons. I will not spend time going into detail on the importance of muscular strength because as a serious athlete you should already understand why it is important for your particular sport. I will however state that the biggest issue that most athletes will fall victim to during this time at home is muscular atrophy. The easiest way to explain muscular atrophy is with a simple phrase, "if you don't use it you will lose it". While sitting around the house you are not using as much of your muscles as you would going to practice and games on a weekly basis. What happens is you go out to play again after sitting around for a month and realize that you aren't quite as Athletic as you were before the break. Luckily I am going to give you 2 simple exercises that you can complete in the comfort of your own home in order to keep up the muscular strength in multiple parts of your body.
The push-up is one of the best all around exercises for developing and maintaining upper body strength in the comfort of your own home. When doing push-ups you will work almost all of the muscles in your upper body and if you do them correctly you will work your core as well. Like the picture push-ups are performed by using your hands to push your body to and away from the ground repetitively. When performing push-ups be sure to get low enough by bending your elbows to a 90 degree angle. Just like with the plank exercise do not let your knees touch the ground, keep your hips pulled back to tighten up your core, and in addition be sure to keep your chest from touching the ground when going down. A great idea for integrating push-ups into your workout routine would be to perform 10 sets of 10 reps 3-4 days a week. That means performing 10 push-ups followed by a 2-4 minute break and doing so 9 more times for a total of 10 times. This is an easy way to knock out 100 push-ups without trying to do them all at one time. If you are a beginner and need some time to work up your upper body strength feel free to start out a little slower with 5 sets of 5 or whatever you see fit.
Body squats are a great way to build lower body muscular strength in the comfort of your own home. The squat will work out all of the muscles in your lower body and if you do them correctly they can even help your core strength as well. Like the picture (minus the weight bar of course) the body weight squat is performed by bending your knees and bringing your bottom down to a 90 degree angle and then standing back up straight. It can often help your balance to hold your hands out in front of you when performing a body weight squat. Much like the following GIF.
A few tips to remember when performing squats:
Don't go too fast: Notice the person in the GIF above is taking their time and not rushing up and down to where it becomes a bouncing motion. Faster does NOT equal better in this case.
Back straight: Often times people confuse bending their back with getting low enough. Looking up to the sky is a good way to help force your back to stay straight when performing squats so that you do not put extra pressure on it. Bend your knees NOT your back.
Heels flat: Be sure that you are not coming up on your toes when performing squats. Focus on keeping your heels flat on the ground.
Finally be sure to breathe and keep everything tight. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. A great idea for integrating this exercise into your routine would be to perform 10 sets of 10 squats 3-4 days per week. This means performing 10 squats followed by a 2-3 minute break and then doing so 9 more times for a total of 10 times. Just like with the push-up exercise if this appears to be too hard at first you can alter the amount that you are doing per set and even the number of sets themselves.
Cardiovascular exercise more commonly known as cardio is arguably the most important physical trait on this list. As a coach nothing is more frustrating then when your players get a break and come back out of shape. When you do not perform enough cardio exercise on a weekly basis for your heart to stay strong muscular atrophy happens much like with the rest of your muscles (the heart is a muscle after all), only when the heart gets weaker it must beat more times per minute to get the same amount of blood out as it did before which causes you to get winded more easily. While sparing you the rest of the science behind it please understand that it only takes 1-2 weeks for this to happen and athletes that do not take steps to stay in shape WILL fall behind the rest. I will give you 2 simple exercises that you can perform in the comfort of your own home (or in this case at least outside on the grass) in order to help keep up your cardiovascular endurance. These will NOT give you the same effect as if you just went out for a jog however with that not being an option for most people currently these will keep you from starting completely over when this is all over.
"Cardio Jumping jacks"
Jumping jacks are another simple yet deadly exercise that if done correctly (and with a certain amount of intensity) have the potential to give your heart a great workout. If done correctly your calf muscles and ankles will also get a good burn. As shown in the picture (although not quite as slow) jumping jacks are performed in the following way: Start standing straight up with your hands by your side and jump to a position where your arms are up in the air and your feet spread. Finally return to the initial position and then continue to repeat those steps rapidly without stopping for a period of time. An even easier way to explain this is the way that I used to teach my kindergarten physical education students. Have your body make an I then have your body make an X. Simple right? Be sure to stay on the balls of your feet and NOT your heels and that's it. Simple right? On the one hand jumping jacks are one of the easiest exercises to perform. On the other hand doing jumping jacks for cardio can be one of the most challenging task if you do not work your way up. A great idea for adding this exercise into your routine as a substitute for cardio would be to do 10 sets of 45 second jumping jacks 4-5 days per week. That means to perform jumping jacks non-stop for 45 seconds followed by a 1-2 minute break and then doing the same thing again 9 more times for a total of 10 times. When first starting out doing so for 45 seconds may be a bit challenging so if need be start with sets of 30 seconds and a longer rest time however do not do less than 7 sets if you want the full effect. This is a great way to get your heart rate jumping in a very short amount of time. Likewise if it is too easy don't be afraid to make your sets long than 1 or even two minutes straight. It is important that once you start a set you push through and do not stop until the timer is done.
Another great way to get cardio exercise at home is shadow boxing. The only real tip that you need to know for this exercise is that your punches need to be full punches using the entire length of your arms. You simply perform combinations of jabs (quick choppy punches) with crosses (powerful full body punches) on the air pretending to punch an imaginary target. I will not go into the detail of how to throw correct punches however you can find many YouTube videos that will explain if you are interested in learning. A great idea for adding this exercise into your routine would be to perform 10 sets of 1 minute shadow boxing. That means shadow boxing for 1 minute straight followed by a 1-2 minute break and then doing the same thing again 9 more times for a total of 10 times. You will be absolutely amazed at how winded you will get fighting an imaginary target. The key is to go hard for the entire minute without letting up.
#4 "Study Study Study"
While focusing so much on your physical attributes it can be easy to overlook your mental. Learning about your sport it just as important if not more important than improving your skills and physical attributes. In order to make sure that you do not come out of this break rusty you must be a student of the game each and everyday. There is always something new that you can learn. For basketball improve your court IQ and knowledge of the game. For football you could study your position in depth and even the opposite position so that you can be ready for their moves. The list goes on and on depending on your sport. Take just a little time each day to study your sport whether it be watching a YouTube video, reading an article, or even learning about the mindset of somebody famous in your sport to see how they became the person that they are/were.
"Finally, plan plan plan"
The last thing that you need to do is plan. Set a schedule each week or even each day so that you make sure each of these things gets done. For example: if you have made up your mind that every morning you will wake up at 8am eat breakfast and immediately do your workout then shower and do your school work, then take a break and later study your sport, it will be a lot easier to follow through then if you just say "ok I will try and do everything today". Work hard and stay safe!