WBB Strength & Conditioning during a pandemic: “There is very little to stop us”


TORCH PHOTO / Brenden Willisch

Athletes at St. John’s University are adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic in every aspect of their daily lives. For the Women’s Basketball team, this means going into Strength and Conditioning sessions with Coach Al Caronia with new precautions to follow.

Caronia has been in the business for over 30 years, working at the University of Texas-Arlington, Clemson University, Springfield College and now, St. John’s. In that time, he has earned a number of certifications, including those with distinction by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist — and the list goes on. His experience in the field never prepared him for some of the challenges he is currently facing during the pandemic. 

“Our workouts are challenging because we only allow for a minimal rest period between sets and exercises,” Caronia said in an email interview with the Torch, highlighting the difficulties that the athletes face with now having to wear a mask during practices. 

Caronia said the workout sessions themselves have not changed very much from before the pandemic. He said that the athletes still train with free weights, bands and cable machines. The only difference is that there is now a mask mandate  for players and coaches  during all workouts.

“The workloads haven’t changed,” Caronia said, “nor our ability to train the student-athletes the way we need to train them.”

However, he said coaches face their biggest challenge in providing a proper fueling station. Despite this, Caronia said that the sports nutritionist still meets with the Strength and Conditioning team to provide proper nutritional advice to help the teams recover from their workouts.

In terms of cleaning the equipment, Caronia said that anything that has been touched in the weight room must be wiped down with a disinfectant wipe. Due to social distancing rules and the small space that the team has, Caronia has limited the number of players allowed in the weight room to four per workout. On top of these precautions, he said that everyone must take part in COVID-19 testing on a regular basis. 

No one was prepared nor ready to face these challenges, yet the Women’s Basketball program seems to have adjusted to the ‘new normal’ quickly.  

“We have found a way to improvise, adapt and overcome this obstacle,” Caronia said.  “The team is making strides in improvements of their fitness pre-pandemic as well as during the pandemic.”

As for the future of Strength and Conditioning, Caronia said he doesn’t see much else changing outside of wearing a mask at all times. He said that the weight room has always been kept clean by wiping down the machines and equipment after every workout. 

With the current state of uncertainty beginning to grow, no matter what may come his way, Caronia is prepared and remaining optimistic through this pandemic. 

“Even though there are rules in place they are by no means limitations to us,” he said.