EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of MLS Unites, a league-wide platform launched in partnership with the MLS Player Association that highlights the efforts of players, coaches, the clubs and the league during the COVID-19 pandemic, MLS will be featuring themed weeks across its platforms. This week's theme is Fitness and Wellness. Over the coming days, MLSsoccer.com will be showcasing content to provide inspiration for how to remain physically and mentally healthy while social distancing.
With Major League Soccer and most of the sports world at a standstill to focus on containing the COVID-19 pandemic, players and clubs are in limbo of how to stay fit and sharp.
MLS has a training moratorium through April 24, leaving players to workout on their own. Clubs are in regular contact with the players and are putting together specific workout packets, ensuring all the hard work throughout preseason won't be for naught.
"This is part of the reason why we spend so much time testing and assessing our athletes during the season, so when situations like this happen or an injury, we’re able to personalize and do it quickly," Philadelphia Union head of performance Garrison Draper told MLSsoccer.com last month.
“The most important thing is for the boys to maintain their ideal weight, which they know, and their fitness level," added FC Dallas assistant athletic performance coach Vander Salas.
It's far from normal circumstances, but the biggest objective is to maintain consistency, and part of that is keeping players on a semi-normal regular training regimen.
"The players whose strengths don’t change during the season are the players who stay the healthiest," Draper said. "That’s one of our big goals, it’s something we’re going to drive home that we need to continue with the consistency of our lifting and that work. It wouldn’t be anything different from a normal offseason program, but we’re just in limbo for how long we’ll be in this situation.”
Draper added that the players have been open with what gym equipment they have available to themselves, be it at their home, apartment complex or, in some cases, hotel. The players are given customized packets based in part per the equipment, including weighted exercises like squats, split squats, deadlifts.
Dallas, meanwhile, are utilizing more bodyweight exercises for maintaining strength.
“We’re doing a lot of functional exercises," Salas said. "They don’t have access to gyms, so they need to use their own body. We’re using drills with accelerations and plyometric. Actually, we’re filming videos every day in our backyard so they can see if we can do it, they can as well. If they don’t have cones, they can use shoes.”
Jump squats, lunges and box jumps are examples of plyometric workouts. These are things that can be done by anyone stuck at home during this time, professional athlete or not.
“Everything we’re doing, anybody can be doing it," Salas said. "I mean, maybe with less repetitions and more rest, but to be honest, everyone can do it because we’re using our own bodyweight. We’re using books in a backpack for resistance, anyone can be doing it.”
As for fitness, Dallas are doing acceleration drills, such as sprinting 10 meters back and forth for a specific number of sets with recovery. They also have exercises with a little more distance involved.
Similarly, the Union are focused on a term called cardiac output, accomplished with bikes, treadmills and ellipticals.
“[Cardiac output is] helping the heart pump as much blood per beat is essentially what we’re trying to do," Draper said. "It’s like sitting in the 120-140 BPM [beats per minute] range, just extending the time you’re doing it. A lot of our guys will end up work for that. Moderate intensity work for extended periods of time, like bouts of 30-40 minutes.”
As for ball touches, well, you can get those around the house. Dribbling around tight spaces, any household item works. One-touch passes back and forth off a cooler, is another tip Salas had for FCD, while the #StayatHomeChallenge is sweeping over social media.
"We trust the boys, they’ve been doing really good since all of this has been going, reaching out to me at all times," Salas said. "I have no doubt that whenever we come back, they’ll be good to go.”