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Staying in shape during a pandemic
eli cranor
Syndicated sports columnist Eli Cranor

Dear Athletic Support: With school closed, my son is itching to get back in the weight room. He’s been running around the neighborhood, but we don’t have any dumbbells or weights he can use for strength training. Do you have any home workouts we can do with minimal equipment? — Weighting Dad


Dear Weighting:  Strength gains can be lost in as little as two to three weeks of inactivity. So, your son is absolutely right — he needs to be working out. Luckily, even without a home gym, there are many different exercises your son can be doing to stay in shape. 

Most high-school-aged boys are overly concerned with bulking up their upper body. They want the bulging pectorals and biceps of a body builder. The problem here is those muscle groups don’t translate well to the field. 

So let’s start with the lower body. Regardless of the sport, an athlete’s hips are very important and oftentimes neglected. As a culture, we’ve grown accustomed to sitting for the better part of our waking hours. Whether kids are sitting in a desk at school or on the sofa playing video games, our youth are very good at being sedentary. As a consequence, we are a nation of stiff hips. 

The answer to this growing problem is the squat.

We called them “prison squats” back when I was coaching and playing. The exercise is simple: your son just needs to squat down like a catcher behind Homeplate. His backside should drop down past his knees and his heels must stay planted on the ground. If your son’s heels are coming up, or he’s having trouble sinking his bottom down far enough, then this means he needs some serious work on his hip flexibility. 

The good news? Hips are like any other part of the body; they can be stretched and flexibility can be gained. Your son can even watch TV while sitting in the squat position. I used to have my players stay seated in a squat while I addressed them at the end of a workout or a practice. 

For some of my players this exercise was so painful they couldn’t pay attention to what I was saying. Your son should start with short time intervals and work his way up. By the time school is back in session, he’ll be a squat master with super flexible hips!

In terms of actual strength gains, pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups are all great ways to stay in shape. He’ll have to be creative if he wants to do the sort of free-weight exercises he’s used to. For bench, he could try sliding under his bed and pressing it up from the floor. If he needs extra weight, have a sibling lie on the bed. Just be careful. If he’s dying to do some curls, try stuffing a pillowcase with books. After his workout is over, maybe he could do some real heavy lifting and read one of the books! 

During this break, I hope all young athletes are remembering to keep their brains in shape and not just their bodies. Here’s a list of some of my favorite sports-themed books:


• Crash – Jerry Spinelli (football for younger readers)

• The Natural – Bernard Malamud (baseball for college-level)

• The Professional – W.C. Heinz (boxing)

• Swing Your Sword – Mike Leach (nonfiction)

• The Essential Smart Football – Chris Brown (nonfiction)

• Sacred Hoops – Phil Jackson (nonfiction)

• The Prophet – Michael Koryta (football thriller)


If you do end up ordering one of these books, please consider placing your order through an independent bookstore. Like many small businesses across our country, bookstores are fighting to keep their doors open during these unprecedented times. A purchase of any amount will help, even if the book just ends up stuffed in a pillowcase!


Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to or visit 

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