Fit­ness pros get cre­ative to keep ath­letes in shape

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - By Kyle Franko kfranko@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @kj_franko on Twit­ter

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.

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