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How Athletes Train During a Pandemic

Palmer White | JANUARY 11, 2021

When COVID-19 forced the postponement and cancellation of sports and school, fitness professional Sarah Samad wondered how athletes could keep-up their physical activity. The Montgomery High School graduate, who is now a professional athlete trainer, creates pop-up gyms in Montgomery parks for local athletes.

Montgomery Fitness Trainer Sarah Samad

The rise of the pandemic, and a major knee surgery, brought Samad back home from Washington D.C. in spring. She bought her fitness company, Atlas Strength & Conditioning, along with her. Samad graduated from Montgomery High School (MHS) in 2004. She was a member of the girls soccer team.

She then attended Virginia Tech for dietetics and exercise science, after which she studied strength and conditioning in graduate school. Samad has experience in Division I and II collegiate strength training, which inspired her to safely train local athletes. Her current focuses are private strength and conditioning training, and Olympic weightlifting training.

Samad has been conducting virtual training sessions for Montgomery-area student athletes, and is adamant about creating a more normal — yet safe — workout environment for her clients. She says the only way to do so is outdoors. Samad had purchased equipment for her own home gym, but she instead uses it to create popup gyms in Montgomery parks.

Montgomery High School senior and basketball player Matt Przekop doing cleans at Van Horne Park.

Samad’s first training group was the MHS boys basketball team, and she now also works with the boys baseball team, as well as public and private school students from Montgomery and Princeton. Her workouts are conditioning based — designed to build both strength and power. Her primary emphasis is on injury prevention.

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She promotes exercises that require the entire body as opposed to focusing on individual muscles or muscle groups. This strengthens the body as one unit in order to decrease injury susceptibility. For each session, Samad provides two 100-pound mats, a full set of weighted plates, barbells, kettlebells, and dumbbells — all of which she packs into the trunk of her car.

“My car looks hilarious,” she says. “You can see the back of it sitting way lower than it’s supposed to because it has all that weight in it all the time.”

Samad trains students at Van Horne Park, and sometimes in open garages as the weather gets colder. This requires more strict COVID-19 prevention measures, such as masks and smaller groups, but it still allows athletes to stay active, which is Samad’s ultimate goal.

MHS freshman lax player Matt D’Avino

Many athletes have not been able to practice their sport since the pandemic began. Samad felt it crucial to provide them with a means to train, especially since staying fit and in practice is important to protect their bodies from injuries. Exercise also maintains their mental and emotional well-being.


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