How Connor McDavid is helping to keep kids fit during coronavirus isolation

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

Connor McDavid held his fluffy bernedoodle, Lenny, as he did squats, taking an occasional paw to the face as the pooch aided in his weight training. Such are the challenges of trying to stay fit while homebound during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s tough. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the season. But we’re doing everything we can to stay ready,” the Edmonton Oilers star said.

It has been tough for younger athletes, too. School has been postponed, taking away recess and physical education. The same goes for youth sports games and practices. Finding an outlet for physical fitness can be challenging.

That is why McDavid and his trainer, former NHL forward Gary Roberts, decided to challenge young fans to remain fit while stuck indoors.

McDavid and Roberts are debuting a new workout video series this week, with episodes appearing on their social media platforms. The 15-minute workouts, pitched to young athletes, will feature four exercises that can be done at home, without any equipment needed. McDavid and Roberts are filming their segments separately, and they’ll be pieced together for each episode.

“It’s about teaching kids how to do a workout when they just have their bodies,” Roberts told ESPN.

The idea for the series came from Jeff Jackson, McDavid’s agent. Jackson has two children, ages 12 and 13, who recently asked him what kind of workout routines they could do while homebound. Jackson went to a whiteboard in his house and started brainstorming “four or five exercises for them because they’re getting really squirrely,” he said.

“I had the idea that Gary and Connor could put together a really simple weekly exercise thing designed for kids,” Jackson said. “Every mom and dad are going through what we’re going through. Kids are playing video games, or they’re driving their parents crazy. So maybe this is a half-hour of a kid’s day. Take their iPad, do the exercises.”

The training videos are expected to be available on the Instagram pages for McDavid and Gary Roberts High Performance Training. Jackson said there have been talks with Rogers about promoting the videos on its TV and digital platforms. NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said the league expects to promote the videos on its platforms as well. “We’re looking to amplify anything the players are doing right now,” Mayer said.

Roberts has gained a league-wide reputation for his grueling offseason workouts with NHL stars. He started training McDavid when the latter was a 15-year-old phenom, and his approach in this video series will be similar to his approach to working with young star athletes.

“I always believe in proper progressions for youth development,” Roberts said. “It’s important that you’re not skipping steps, so you can build a strong foundation for life. If you skip steps, you leave yourself open to injuries down the road. That’s how we programmed Connor.”

The first step in the process involves many of the exercises that will be featured in the videos.

“We always worry about form first and load second. All our younger programs are built around body-weight exercises,” Roberts said. “And believe me, these are hard: If you do an iso-hold split squat for 30 seconds, your legs are shaking. Static strength is good for young people. And then eventually you add load, like with a kettlebell or a weight vest.”

Roberts said the workout videos will incorporate interactive elements with young fans, including Q&A sessions and weekly challenges that will earn them prizes courtesy of Adidas, which sponsors McDavid and Roberts. That will give the young followers incentive to train while stuck at home. Roberts hopes that watching McDavid can also provide some inspiration.

“Connor’s a good sport,” Roberts said. “He wants to help young athletes. And not too many guys work like Connor works, so I told him to show intensity. Let the kids know that if they really do this stuff hard, it’ll really help them. That it’s not just trying to find something to do.”

Of course, doing an exercise video with a tireless athlete such as Connor McDavid has its benefits for Roberts, too.

“I made sure I did all the exercises I was supposed to do, and I gave all the hard ones to Connor,” he said with a laugh. “He’s the guy that has to stay game-ready.”

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