NHL strength coaches give tips on staying fit in self-isolation

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Matt Nichol doesn’t really present like a person who has a problem with self-starting. But Nichol’s toned body belies the fact he, like so many of us, is still capable of making the wrong decision when it comes to working out — especially under the unique circumstances we all find ourselves in.

“I live so much of my life in a very regimented routine,” says the founding partner of BioSteel Sports Supplements. “Whether I’m training athletes at my gym or consulting, I’m usually busy all day long with a bunch of places I have to be at very specific times. So right now — when I can go to bed when I want and I can sleep in as late as I want — I could tell myself, ‘I’ll do my workout later.’ Personally, I know that I’m an inherently lazy procrastinator, so I have to kind of set up that full schedule for myself.”

People like Nichol and St. Louis Blues strength and conditioning coach Eric Renaghan are usually occupied working with those whose profession demands they be in peak form. Later this week, Sportsnet.ca will publish a piece about how those athletes are staying strong without access to their typical training equipment. In the meantime, both Nichol and Renaghan offered some advice on what those of us who usually cheer for those pros can do to clear a much lower bar. For Nichol, Step 1 is avoiding that “I’ll do it later” mindset and making sure you prioritize some form of exercise early in the day.

“I just make a point of getting to bed on time, getting up on time and doing my exercise right away — that way at least I get it done,” he says.

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Our current situation, where COVID-19 has forced so many people to work from home or not at all, could even present a chance to kickstart some good behavior.

“People who are very busy often find it tough to balance that work/life scenario,” says Renaghan. “This is an opportunity to add in the window for self-care. My goal is to get [my entire family] active. The kids are downstairs playing [Nintendo Wii] or doing yoga with my wife, so we’re trying to make it an experience we can all try to engage in.”

Nichol — who used to work as a trainer with the Toronto Maple Leafs — notes that his gym is so small it used to be a storage closet in an arena. He’s used to making the most of his space and stressed that by no means do you need a sprawling setup to get the blood pumping and muscles twitching.

“I believe that if you have [any] space and creativity, you can accomplish anything you want with training,” he says. “It’s been an opportunity for me to try a bunch of different stuff that I hadn’t done before. I’ve done more yoga in the last week than I have in a while and I’m exploring new, different bodyweight exercises. It’s probably going to make me a better coach and a better trainer.”

Among the simple things Renaghan suggests is opening the fridge and grabbing a milk jug for some added squat weight or even picking up one of those squirrely kids you have and holding them while you do some lunges. Beyond that, both Nichol and Renaghan stressed that wellness needs to be a more rounded experience than dropping down and doing 20 pushups. Mental health often goes hand-in-hand with activity and while we’re all required to keep some space these days, do everything you can to get some fresh air.

“I think it’s really important for people to get outside,” says Nichol, while acknowledging the crucial need to social distance. “Whether you choose to do your exercise outside or not — some people are not into jogging or they’re not into outdoor fitness activity — that’s fine. But I think it’s really important for people to get outside. If you live in a condo, go stand on the balcony; if you can get outside that’s hugely important for health.”

Renaghan is taking part in a webinar initiative called “Coaches versus COVID-19,” which will see pro trainers like himself instructing anyone interested on techniques to stay in top shape or start to try and get there. The series, hosted by a handful of groups and people, runs April 3 and 4 and while there’s no sign-up fee, donations are being accepted to help those in the service industry who’ve lost their money-making means. Even on an everyday basis, our ability to connect online has the power to create some positive energy as both athletes and Average Jane’s and Joe’s alike take to social media with their domestic routines.

“There’s a ton of people putting home workouts on Instagram and Twitter,” says Renaghan, who also stressed the heightened importance of watching calories and healthy eating right now. “People can go on there and see all the different ideas and I think there are so many resources to just say like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think about doing pushups and doing 10 sets of 10; I always do three sets of five.’ There’s tons of stuff out there right now that’s going to be useful.”

It may even provide a little much-needed levity. Nichol certainly chuckled while theorizing what might be caught on video when bathroom pullups or kitchen chair lifts go wrong.

“I mean, I think there’s probably going to be some pretty good gym fail videos that come out of this when people start destroying furniture doing exercises,” he says with a laugh.

With files from Sportsnet’s Mike Shulman.

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