With much of the professional sporting world in lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak, athletes are having to keep themselves as fit as they can remotely, with fixture calendars and schedules continuing to remain uncertain.

We spoke to Manchester United footballer and fullback Lotta Ökvist about exercising at home, her eating habits and keeping in virtual touch with her teammates during the pandemic.

Lotta, who made her full international debut for Sweden in March this year in a 2-1 defeat to Denmark in the 2020 Algarve Cup, managed to return to her home town of Pitea before English borders were shut in wake of COVID-19. 

While there is concern about coronavirus in northern Sweden, day-to-day life hasn’t changed too much. Even as an elite athlete, however, it’s important that Lotta takes extra precautions; besides the general risks that the virus poses to everyone, falling ill with COVID-19 would potentially jeopardise her ability to train and keep herself in peak condition. 

What do you need as a professional footballer to stay fit at home?

Lotta: 'I personally have weights at home, which are slightly lighter than the weights I would typically use, but they are perfectly adequate for maintaining my fitness levels. I do various drills outdoors at home with a football, too.'

If you could recommend three items of equipment, what would they be?

Lotta: 'A combination of dumbbells, of a suitable weight, and a TRX suspension trainer, which is an elasticated pair of straps that you can attach to doors in your home, for example, will allow you to perform many exercises and strengthen right across the body.'

What specific strength exercises would you recommend?

Lotta: 'There are three exercises that I would recommend in particular:

  • Dumbbell reps - from a standing position or kneeling down
  • Folding knife - sit ups on a mat, with a football placed between your knees
  • Step-ups - stepping up and down on a chair, one leg at a time, performing repetitions.'

What types of fitness training would you recommend?

Lotta: 'I think people should take the opportunity to head outdoors for a walk locally, or go for a run, every day. Fresh air or a change of scene is important for all of us, not least for our mental health, during times like these. 

For people who would prefer to remain indoors, however, there are many intensive exercises that you can perform. At Manchester United, we utilise an intense workout that you can put into action anywhere, at any time, and I guarantee that it will have you sweating within half an hour!

The workout is broken down into sections: you perform 4 exercises for 55 seconds each, with a further 5 seconds allocated for switching from one exercise to the next. Repeat this 5 times, with a 2 minute rest between repetitions.

The four exercises that make up the workout are:

  • Burpees - throw yourself down as if you were doing a push-up, and then push away back on to your feet
  • High knees on the spot - raise your knees as high as you can
  • Mountain climber - as if you were a sprinter on a track, getting into position before the starting gun. Push each leg forwards and backwards alternately
  • Squat jumps - squat down to around 70 degrees with each jump, rather than all the way down to 90 degrees

You can adjust the number of sets that you perform or the length of time between each exercise to suit you best.'

Do you ever find it difficult to motivate yourself at home?

Lotta: 'Yes, it can be tough sometimes! I much prefer getting up in the morning and practising with the team than training on my own in Sweden in freezing cold temperatures! We have received our own individual training programmes from the club, however, which makes things easier, as there are clear guidelines on what to do each day. 

We also motivate each other in the squad by sharing how our training is going in our virtual group chat. This really helps to push us. Training with my boyfriend also helps to make the process more fun whilst in self-isolation. 

My advice to anyone on the motivation front would be to plan your exercise every day. Write down what your daily goals are, and specific times at which you’ll perform those exercises.'

How often do you cook at home?

Lotta: 'I usually just cook dinner at home, as we get breakfast and lunch at the gym. At the minute though, because of coronavirus and due to being back in Pitea, I’m cooking more often than I would normally.'

Have your eating habits changed at all whilst in self-isolation?

Lotta: 'No. Because I’m still training as I would usually, my eating habits have stayed the same.' 

Do you have any diet tips for people who are working from home?

Lotta: 'Again, I would say that good planning is the key here. It’s still important to eat your meals as you would normally, so take regular meals, but if you find that you’re less active at the moment, I’d recommend lighter meals, such as salads and omelettes. Smoothies too. 

If you’re looking to avoid going to supermarkets where you can, canned foods such as lentils, beans and peas are great, as they have a lot of nutritional value.'

What inspires you to eat well?

Lotta: 'I’ve always enjoyed cooking healthy and fresh food, but it can be very easy to fall into a comfort zone with it, and not try new things. We run a competition amongst ourselves in the squad - who can cook the tastiest meal that represents a specific country - and this helps me to branch out in the kitchen. Everyone has one week to prepare the meal, and someone judges the results at the end. Our last challenge was to cook a Spanish meal, and Juan Mata picked the winner!'

How do you stay in touch with your teammates?

Lotta: 'I have digital meetings with them twice a week, and there’s a weekly challenge, which may involve performing different tricks with a football or toilet rolls. I also partake in a mental exercise each week with the club’s sports psychologist, as well as the cooking competition.'

Are your meetings one-to-one or in groups?

Lotta: 'The meetings are group sessions, but we also have one-to-one contact with each other. Every member of the team has a ‘sponsor person’ - someone who checks in with them specifically to see how they’re doing.'

Have you found that these points of contact have helped?

Lotta: 'Yes. Especially mentally. For me, it’s important that we stay in touch and remain connected to one another, even though there is considerable distance between us. Just getting updates from each other in itself is great, and the competitions keep me striving to win.'

Are there any other team activities that you do online?

Lotta: 'We don’t do group exercises together as such, but our coaches help to keep our spirits up by sending us fun videos and pictures, as well as different types of exercises that we can do. It’s interesting to look at everyone’s home gym setups and the ingenious solutions they have!'

How do you relax at home?

Lotta: 'I struggle to sit still, but I do try to watch a few episodes of a TV series every day. I prefer to be somewhat active, though, and enjoy cooking and baking. Our sports psychologist has also recommended various meditation exercises and yoga, so I’ve been getting stuck into those too. 

People say that reading is really beneficial, so I should also make more time for that!'

(This article is translated from Swedish. You can read the original interview here.)