College and high school associations are in the process of re-opening weight rooms; in fact, the NCAA will vote later today on whether it will allow schools to bring players back on campus possibly as soon as June 1.
Ohio State will bring its players back to campus June 8, which is the same day Texas high schools can open their weight rooms for limited strength and conditioning workouts. Anticipating similar actions by other state associations, the National Federation of High School Associations has released a set of guidelines schools should follow when they inevitably re-open their weight rooms.
The timing is interesting, as the CDC has published findings from a study in South Korea that associated high-intensity workouts conducted in closed spaces with a spread of the coronavirus. From the study:
Characteristics that might have led to transmission from the instructors in Cheonan include large class sizes, small spaces, and intensity of the workouts. The moist, warm atmosphere in a sports facility coupled with turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise can cause more dense transmission of isolated droplets.
The study found that Latin dance classes, for example, led to a spread in the virus while yoga and Pilates classes conducted in the same studio did not lead to infections, indicating the type of workout is perhaps important in whether or not the virus spreads.
If a dance class can lead to transmission, then a clean or a squat motion certainly could.
"The moist, warm atmosphere coupled with turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise can cause more dense transmission of droplets," researchers concluded.
This is not to say colleges and high schools should not open their weight rooms, but coaches supervising workouts should be extremely cognizant of how their weight rooms are arranged and how their workouts are set up.
In general, the more outdoor work you can do, the better. When indoors, reduce and spread equipment so that guys doing bench press aren't "downwind" from the hang cleaners. In fact, the NFHS advises that all lifts that require a spotter should be avoided in Phase 1 of re-opening.
Texas head coach Tom Herman told me earlier this week the Longhorns have made preparations to re-open their weight room by reducing group sizes to 8-to-10 athletes and cutting their weight room in half.
"We’ve already planned, June 1, if they allow us to do it, we’ll split the weight room in half, kind of have a Weight Room A, Weight Room B," Herman said. "When guys are working out in Weight Room A we can sanitize Weight Room B and vice versa. We’ll have 8-10 lift groups of eight kids or more. That just makes sense to me, right? They’re going to find a weight room to work out in if they’re in a state that public weight room and workout facilities are opening, so why not let it be ours, under our supervision with our resources dedicated to the sanitization of said equipment and space."
Sanitizing equipment is certainly important, but the lesson from South Korea is that understanding the actual, human mechanics of heavy breathing during an intense workout can be just as critical to keeping the virus at bay.