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Spartan Racer Finds Alternative Training During Quarantine


To many, living through the COVID-19 pandemic has seemed like a watered-down version of what reality should be. The virus has brought everyday life practically to a standstill, with many of the usual aspects and activities deemed unsafe. 

This is particularly true for people focused on fitness.

For the first four months of the coronavirus, many outlets for exercising saw restrictions or limitations. Basketball courts sat rimless, gyms had closed their doors and, for children, the majority of summer camps were canceled.

With the traditional routes of exercise in question, fitness buffs were looking for ways to stay active. Emeric Harney was one of those people.

Before the pandemic, Harney, 33, was on top of his game, working out Monday through Friday at 6 a.m. weekly. As a personal trainer at Studio Lakeville in Lakeville, Conn., being in shape was part of his job.

But in addition to his occupation, Harney is also a fitness fanatic who has competed in more than 25 Spartan Races, a series of intense obstacle courses that combine speed with physical ability and strength.

Before the lockdown, Harney had planned to compete in a Spartan Race each month from March to November. With gyms closed across Connecticut and New York, he had to find new ways to effectively train — and new challenges with which to motivate himself.

 “One of the pieces of equipment I use is sandbags,”he said. “While I do use dumbbells and barbells and free weights and things like that, the sandbag is usually in two to three of my workouts a week.”

Without access to a full gym, he said, “I was able to pivot from using both free weights and sandbags and all my tools, to just creating workouts around my sandbags.”

Using 65- and 90-pound sandbags for strength training, Harney said he also started running outdoors, in places like Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent, Conn., for cardio workouts instead of running on a treadmill.

In late June, Studio Lakeville reopened in a limited fashion, allowing patrons to access the gym once again (with COVID-19 restrictions and safeguards in place). 

Harney wanted to get back to work as a personal trainer and also get back to his own training regimen.

“I had a mild amount of anxiety [about returning to a gym during the pandemic],” Harney said. “But not a lot.”

Since the gym reopened, Harney has returned to his role as a personal trainer, taking on eight clients a week for one-one-one sessions at Studio Lakeville, while also visiting clients who have opted to stay at home. 

“I think the heightened activity at the gym makes [the stay-at-home clients] uncomfortable to be there,” Harney said, “whereas they have confidence in how I conduct myself, and they feel confident I won’t bring COVID-19 into their homes.”

Encouraged by his clients, Harney also ran a training camp in Cannon Park in Lakeville (across the street from Studio Lakeville) for children between the ages of 13 and 17. Over four weeks starting in early July, the camp would meet twice a week and train with plyometrics and sprints, as well as playing safe games like water balloon dodgeball with biodegradable balloons.

“Being able to train clients, especially young children, on proper form and technique is super important,” Harney said. “I want to leave my clients — these kids — with the knowledge of how to live a healthy lifestyle in the long run.”

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