Fitness pros get creative to keep athletes in shape
PRINCETON » The sun has only started to rise on a cool early fall morning and Sarah Samad is packing hundreds of pounds of weight-lifting equipment into the back of her SUV so she can drive to a local park and go to work for the day.
It’s unusual, but isn’t everything in 2020?
Samad, like almost all of her peers in the fitness industry, is facing a particular set of challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic that is still impacting her work six month later.
“We all kind of had to improvise,” said Samad, a former Division I strength and conditioning coach who now works in the private fitness sector.
A Montgomery High grad who studied exercise science at Virginia Tech, Samad recently moved back home to New Jersey from Washington D.C., bringing her fitness company Atlas Strength & Conditioning — named after her dog who also serves as the mascot — along with her. However, in the midst of a global pandemic that has forced gyms, fitness centers and school weight rooms to close, operating a business that requires people to be active has its challenges.
“In the beginning of quarantine, I was just (training clients virtually), and then I started to think about the situation and how everything is still closed,” Samad said. “What are these kids doing? They can come play basketball outside, but what about
their strength and conditioning because they’re not doing anything right now.”
Samad began brainstorming ways to help up-and-coming athletes remain fit during the longest layoff between seasons they’ve ever experienced. With the help of her boyfriend Brett MacConnell, an assistant coach for the Princeton University men’s basketball team, she was able to connect with local coaches in Princeton and offer an 8-week program that runs through the fall for interested athletes.
“I had no source of lifting unless it was through body weight stuff in my basement,” said Gibson Linnehan, a senior boys lacrosse player at Princeton Day School who
is committed to Providence College. “Coming here is definitely a boost. I’m looking to add weight and keep training during quarantine because there’s not much you can do. I used to go into the gym and just workout aimlessly and she’s helping me figure out what muscles I can really stretch and build tension to in order to build that muscle because I never really knew I could do that.”
On this morning at Van Horne Park, Linnehan and Princeton High junior Will Doran, another lacrosse player, go through a workout which includes deadlifts. Samad has dumbbells, kettlebells, plates and a pair of 100-pound horse stall mats placed near the baseline of an outdoor basketball court as she puts the boys through their paces.
“As athletes, we’re used to lifting because we know that’s part of the game,” Doran said, “but to come out here and lift with purpose and know exactly what you’re hitting and why, it’s important to do this whether it be injury prevention or building strength.”
“I love working with the younger athletes, too,” Samad said. “One of my pet peeves when I was working collegiate was getting athletes coming in who had experience lifting, but they didn’t have a good coach working with them. It’s easier to take somebody who has a clean slate and teach them to do something correctly. It’s hard to take somebody who has built bad habits and try to change them.”
Both Linnehan and Doran are glad to be active after missing out on the spring season.
“It was a definitely a huge hit in the spring when everything was shut down and there were no options,” Doran said. “Over the summer, in terms of outdoors activities, that loosened up and we were able to get some tournaments in on the club circuit. Something like weight lifting is hard to come by with the proper equipment and proper coaching.” That’s how Samad can help. “I’ve always been into fitness and athletics,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to work with athletes and helping their performance.”
Strength and conditioning coach Sarah Samad, right, watches as Princeton High juniorWill Doran, left, liftsweight during a session at Van Horne Park in Princeton on Thursday morning. Samad has been working with local high school athletes to help them prepare for a season in which they don’t have access to local fitness centers or school facilities because of the Covid-19pandemic.
Gibson Linnehan, a senior at Princeton Day School, lifts weight during a workout at Van Horne Park in Princeton on Thursday morning. Linnehan, who is committed to play lacrosse at Providence College, has had to find alternate ways of training since fitness centers and school facilities have been shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.