Learning from the pandemic

It’s now been a year since the pandemic started and lockdowns started around the world. The impact has been massive for everyone. And while I think we all wish we didn’t have to go through the experience, there is a thing or two we can learn from the past year.

Finding positives in a negative experience

There have been some amazing performances over the last year. Most people say these have happened in spite of the pandemic, but I would argue that many happened because of the pandemic. Especially in individual sports like track and field, the pandemic gave athletes more time to focus on training. Take someone like Ryan Crouser, who recently broke the world indoor shot put record. The pandemic definitely impacted his training infrastructure, but he could still lift in his home gym and find a place to throw. As he told the New York Times, he could actually do that more than normal as he didn’t have to travel and compete as much. His foundational workouts went from being six weeks long to six months long.

The amateur athlete forced to do prisoner squats in the living room faced a very different pandemic. But even in that cohort I’ve seen first hand some amazing breakthroughs. And last weekend I also shared my experiences training since the pandemic. As an aging athlete with a scattershot of goals, I still found a way to make a lot of progress through some difficult times.

When we step back and look at all the athletes across a variety of situations, some general themes emerge. Recently I tried to pull that all together in a webinar for European Athletics. In our most recent HMMR Classroom Video Lesson, I expand even further and outline six key lessons coaches can learn from the pandemic. Below is an outline of each point. Members can watch the full video for even more details, including practical examples of how that can shape our programming going forward.

6 lessons from the pandemic

Lesson 1: talent is also mental. The pandemic showed us how much of a difference maker mindset is when the times get tough. Did athletes seek solutions, or bring excuses? Most talent identification programs never ask these questions or look at how coaches can develop the right mindset in athletes.

Lesson 2: the value of variation. We often get set in our ways even though we all know how important variation is. Year after year starts to look the same until something like the pandemic forces us to change. No wonder a little new stimulus lead to some great results in some athletes.

Lesson 3: redefine load. Load isn’t just how much weight we put on the bar. The pandemic showed us many ways we can creatively find overload in training without a barbell or access to a weight room. These are methods we should take forward to remind us how much load we can get outside the weight room.

Lesson 4: move from periodization to planning. Detailed long-term sequentially periodized plans might look good on paper, but we all had to throw them out last year. Having a strong and flexible planning process is even more valuable. Processes need to fall back on the 4 Ps: philosophy, priorities, practicality, and preparation.

Lesson 5: time off won’t kill you. As an athlete I was allergic to time off. As soon as the offseason started I was ready to get back to training for fear or losing form or strength. Yet over and over we saw athletes not skip a beat after the lockdown. I think we can all get over that fear now and also acknowledge how lacking much of the research on detraining is.

Lesson 6: return to play. The easiest way to get injured is to try and make up for lost time after a forced break. Recognize what you couldn’t train, and make a sensible plan that reintroduces it while slowly raising volume and intensity together in the first weeks.

» Learn more: watch our full video lesson for more details on what we can learn from the pandemic and how it can help take our training to the next level.