How did athletes feel about returning to gyms?

We caught up with gym members as Quebec fitness centers close again

On March 26, the perseverance of fitness enthusiasts was finally rewarded when gyms were given the green light to reopen in Quebec red zones. A little over a week later, people were already feeling the physical and mental benefits of training before the province announced gyms would close once more to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants on April 8.

We spoke to Brossard residents Sufyan Mirza and Dean Wu about their personal experiences at fitness institutions before the latest provincial announcement. They discussed the scene in their respective gyms and how their training experience changed since they last set foot in a gym.

The Concordian (TC): What gym do you train at right now? 

Sufyan Mirza (SM): Lately, I’ve been going to Bloc Shop, a bouldering centre in Montreal. I’ve been looking forward to getting back to climbing, but so far I’ve only had the chance to go twice.

Dean Wu (DW): Before gyms closed, I trained at World Gym, which is the newest gym in Brossard. I thought that place would be too busy, so for the last week and a half I’ve been going to my old gym, Buzzfit.

TC: How busy has it been? Is it more or less than you imagined?

SM: In terms of climbing, I don’t feel like much has changed. Bloc Shop has a reservation system where they always control the number of people in there. It feels like everyone is glad that the gym is finally open, and since we want to keep it that way, people have been following the rules with little to no complaints.

DW: It’s been pretty busy, but I honestly expected it to be worse. I think it depends on the gym, so I can only speak for Buzzfit. Before the pandemic, most people moved to World Gym, so the previously popular gyms were way less occupied.

TC: Had health protocols in gyms changed in any way? 

SM: Not much has changed because the previous system worked. Everybody comes in with their masks and sanitizes their hands regularly between sets. People try to keep distanced from each other, but sometimes that gets tricky when it’s really crowded.

DW: In general, protocols are similar to before but they’re stricter. They emphasize checking temperature and scanning cards now more than before. Also, masks are always required even when you are working out, which I’m not sure I agree with. From personal experience, I feel like I’m suffocating with the mask when I’m doing a heavy squat or anything that requires all my strength.

TC: How important has it been for you to have gyms back open? 

SM: Climbing has been my way of escaping from the buildup of stress from COVID-19, quarantine, schoolwork, and family drama. Obviously, I want to get back in shape and regrow my finger strength that I lost from the time off, but more than anything I just appreciate being there now more than I did before. I know there are still health risks involved, but I still plan on going regularly because it’s been essential for my mental sanity.

DW: I’m enjoying it a lot. I missed it more than I realized, and it makes me feel more energetic, and time passes faster. Before the pandemic, I used to pretty much just work and workout. Now, at least half of it is back.




Photo by Kit Mergaert


Curfew poses a new challenge for student athletes

Stingers athletes are continuing to face obstacles during the pandemic

Despite not playing this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Concordia Stingers athletes are still doing the best they can to stay active. At first, things weren’t that bad, as they could still gather in small groups at the gym or the Stinger Dome, while respecting health measures such as maintaining a two-metre distance between athletes.

However, since the implementation of red zone restrictions last fall, things got more complicated. Stingers coaches started to use Zoom as their main way of communicating with their teams. Workouts were still done in groups, but virtually. The best those Stingers could do was perhaps go out for a run with a teammate, while ensuring both run at an acceptable distance from each other. Stingers athletes’ backyards and neighbourhoods weren’t necessarily the perfect places to train, but it was better than nothing.

Now, with the implementation of the curfew prohibiting people to go out from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., the Stingers have to find even more creative ways to stay active. With the winter semester now underway, it also makes it harder for them to go out and get some fresh air.

Women’s rugby team Head Coach Jocelyn Barrieau said it’s often hard to work out alone, especially if you’re living under certain conditions, like in an apartment, with people above and below your training place.

“Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux builds us training programs to do from home,” Barrieau said. “So far, we’ve tried to keep it up to the beat physically and mentally. We’re trying to create online events for our team in order to do that.”

Breton-Lebreux is the Stingers’ strength and conditioning coordinator. She has a key role for some members of the Stingers team, but generally helps all Stingers teams in terms of training. Her role has probably never been as important as it is now.

Men’s basketball team player Louis-Vincent Gauvin said things will probably be harder now with the curfew. He said that even when red zone restrictions started, going out for a run wasn’t necessarily fun.

“Training from home isn’t always motivating, especially compared to [being] with your teammates,” Gauvin said. “I know Concordia lends stationary bikes, so I asked for one and now I’m doing some at home, along with my other exercises.”

Gauvin said players are still very well surrounded despite not meeting in person. He said they have access to personalized training plans, and that things not related to workouts, such as mental health support, are included and taken seriously.

On the same idea, Barrieau said that the advice she would give to student athletes, and to people in general, is to take advantage of the minutes you have between tasks to go out, or at least free your mind.

When you have the chance to get outside, even if it’s just 30 minutes between classes, do it,” Barrieau said. “Sometimes just going out for a few minutes, and getting some fresh air, doing yoga or whatever, can help. We encourage our players to send a little message text to a teammate during the day. Something positive can really make a difference in a day, especially with school.”


Graphic by Arianna Siviria


The impacts of social media on training

Social media is changing the way athletes approach their training

The permeation of social media into mainstream culture over the years has produced innovative opportunities that are unique to the 21st century.

In sports, this notion was perhaps best epitomized at the turn of the decade when internet personality Jake Paul’s second professional boxing bout against former National Basketball Association (NBA) guard and three-time Slam Dunk champion Nate Robinson served as the co-main event, on a fight card headlined by boxing legends Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson.

In September 2013, Paul gained attention and fame through posting videos on Vine, amassing over five million followers and two billion views on the app, which has since been discontinued. After Vine, Paul turned that fame into fortune by expanding his social media exposure across different internet platforms, and has since dabbled in acting, rapping, and boxing.

For better or worse, the influence and power that comes with social media fame is well documented. When it comes to fitness and health, however, social media has its merits and shortcomings that come hand-in-hand.

At its core, fitness models and online trainers will share their workouts and personal tips online to inspire their audiences. In doing so, influencers are also promoting their respective sports and encouraging others to follow them by accentuating their content for all skill levels. A multitude of people credit social media and its influencers as the catalyst to their unique and fruitful fitness experience.

The primary reason for social media’s evolution in society has always been its convenience. Not only is content and entertainment readily available, it is accessible at a moment’s notice, which bodes well for fitness enthusiasts. Inquiries about methodology, equipment, training routines, and more can be solved within minutes so long as one possesses a device with internet connection.

The fitness industry has wholly embraced social media as a powerful tool to advertise sports. In the past, aspiring athletes could attend training camps and classes that were incredibly insightful, but strictly scheduled, selective, and generally in-person. The concept exists today, but continues to struggle in catering to all demographics. Beginners who are genuinely passionate but self-conscious due to their skill level or body image, are most notably cast aside in these instances.

Nowadays, support groups can be accessed on social media for athletes of all expertise levels and circumstances. These online forums act as communities where members can share their experiences and feedback, post special stories, and make new friends.

Unlike a scheduled traditional class, workouts can typically be performed autonomously with resources and information being made available online. People are more willing than ever to experiment in activities well beyond their comfort zone with the removed fear of embarrassment and potential self-consciousness that comes with in-person gatherings.

However, information from social media must be absorbed with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, fitness influencers have a platform and audience that can overshadow the fact that they may not be professionals in their field. This often leads to the propagation of fitness guidelines that are largely subjective and misleading. A bodybuilder on Instagram might credit an overly extravagant exercise for developing his physique and claim it as an essential exercise for all beginners, but gloss over important intricacies that can make the activity dangerous if one is unaware.

In addition, while images and videos on these platforms are generally meant to inspire the masses, it can have an opposite effect on some individuals. Fitness on social media offers a constant comparison to others while the images conveyed are meticulously chosen in order to optimize appearance. As a result, most posts selectively highlight success and cast aside failure.

Anyone that has partaken in sports knows that failure is an important part of the process, but a beginner who is seeking approval and understanding may not realize that concept while browsing influencer feeds and subsequently lose enthusiasm for the sport.

The accessibility of online platforms can also negatively impact physical activity. The most efficient workouts are those in which the athlete is fully immersed in the activity and removed from distractions. When people take time out of a workout to update their socials or post online, it has an undesirable effect on the competence of the training regimen. Time that could be allocated to further improve technique, breathing, and mental fortitude is instead devoted to the web that adds up quickly over the course of a workout.

In short, social networks are captivating tools that are full of fitness resources. Understanding and avoiding the traps while being honest with oneself with regards to training will unlock the full potential of the modern-day encyclopedia.


Photo by Christine Beaudoin


Martial arts are back

Quebec allows the resumption of combat sports in gyms, with additional health measures.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial arts discipline that is considered a staple in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for its effectiveness and reliability in both grappling offence and defence. At its core, the practice involves controlling opponent posture in numerous wrestling situations, and utilizing leverage and momentum in order to minimize energy consumption.

The discipline enables high-level practitioners to neutralize much larger unskilled opponents. The best are able to turn a compromising situation into a submission (victory by way of surrender) by catching opponents in chokeholds or joint locks.

The combat sport requires constant application of techniques to instill learned concepts, and requires at least one sparring partner. As a result, public classes of up to 20 students were commonplace before the shutdown.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, martial arts gyms face unique challenges in reopening to the public. Unlike other activities that can be practiced independently, BJJ and grappling — by nature — does not adhere to social distancing protocol.

On Sept. 1, the Quebec government allowed combat sports gyms to reopen, so long as they follow public health standards. For passionate BJJ instructor and decades-long practitioner Vittia Thong, owner of the Jiu-Jitsu school Studio Momentum in Brossard, the announcement was a pleasant surprise.

When the announcement came out for weight lifting gyms to reopen earlier in the summer, the government [put] it in effect the week after,” Thong said. “I was shocked to learn that we could open the day after the announcement.”

On top of his love for BJJ, Thong is a trained kinesiologist and osteopath. During the gym’s shutdown, the facility was temporarily re-designed to better accommodate his clients seeking physical aid. Things now have to be rearranged again, a process which has already delayed the gym’s reopening by a week.

Despite the reopening announcement, there are a number of limitations that martial arts gyms must heed. Members in such clubs must train in organized bubbles of up to four people. Individuals within these bubbles train exclusively together, and cannot swap groupings without proper justification. Each member must sign a consent form acknowledging the health risks, and no more than 10 people can be in the facility at any given time.

Junior Education Minister Isabelle Charest made it clear in the announcement that reopening these institutions does not permit care-free behaviour, as combat sports are dangerous from a transmission standpoint.

Luckily, Studio Momentum’s premise is large enough to accommodate two bubbles while maintaining social distance under the latest government guidelines. Thong’s plan for the future involves expanding the gym to the studio next door for additional space that could be used for his clinical work or for BJJ classes.

I really want to expand but I think it’s most important now to be smart about the virus situation,” Thong said. “I’ve wanted to expand the business since last year, but you never know these days.”

Before the shutdown, members would attend classes on average twice a week. Thong has been working on a structure that would separate his students into bubbles that would have strict individual schedules. Each grouping will have two specific weekly time slots of classes.

Thong has also invested in training dummies that will serve as backup in the event of absences, or if a student is uncomfortable with being in close proximity to another person. While masks are highly encouraged, they can be omitted if everyone in a given bubble consents to doing so.

In theory, learning the discipline will remain the same, as the techniques and strategies taught are unaffected by these new training conditions; however, Thong believes that the biggest change will be felt in practice.

Students will build camaraderie within their own bubbles as they will continuously be training with the same partners. As a result, Thong envisions his students to pick up on each other’s habits and make the necessary adjustments. The education that comes with observing multiple people in larger varied groups will be eliminated, however.

“A student’s knowledge will expand as he or she will encounter more different experiences,” Thong said. “That’s why learning amongst 20 peers versus three is a big drop off, but we have no choice but to accept these conditions and live with the consequences.”

While the new procedures may represent a challenge at first, passionate martial artists will happily embrace this new hindered training reality after being away from their gyms for nearly six months.


Photo by Liam Sharp


Not taking a break over the winter

How Jocelyn Barrieau is training her women’s team all-year round

Four months since the Concordia Stingers women’s rugby team finished the 2018 Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season, the team has barely left the field.

Two weeks of rest were all the team needed at the end of last season. Stingers Head Coach Jocelyn Barrieau said that after closing their last campaign with a debrief and a few meetings, the team quickly returned to training.

“We started training again at the end of October,” Barrieau said. “After, we got into conditioning and weightlifting. I think next year we’ll be able to make a step forward with everything related to performances.”

The term “off-season” doesn’t reflect what happens between two RSEQ rugby seasons. The Stingers do much more than just practice, as they play games as well.

“We officially have three tournaments this year with the RSEQ,” Barrieau said. “There’s also a good chance a Canadian championship will be added in a weekend of March. These are tournaments that keep us in the community. These are just tools for us to use, and we keep them in our pockets for next year.”

Stingers forward Nancy Napolitano said off-season tournaments keep the team motivated. “We just had one tournament, and we have more coming [up]. There’s still a reason to keep pushing.”

The RSEQ started a pilot project for the winter season in 2018. Teams play rugby sevens, which is seven players per team, instead of the regular 15 players they play with in the fall. Despite this, the off-season can be as demanding as a regular season schedule.

“In the off-season, you’re working out probably harder,” said first-year forward Halee Preston. “Our practices are not any easier during the off-season. You’re not taking it easy in practice to not know what it’s like in a game.”

She added that the off-season is a big part of a team’s success and that, in order to perform well in games, you need to put in effort all year.

“If you’re not working in the off-season, your performances are likely not going to change next season,” Preston said. “We’re looking for a better outcome than last year, so we want to keep progressing forward.”

While new players can be recruited at any point in the year in the RSEQ, Barrieau said the Stingers welcomed 25 to 30 players for a recruitment day last month.

“We had players already at Concordia, or coming [to] Concordia who are joining the program,” Barrieau said. “We had people from secondary three to CÉGEP who came to visit the complex. It’s a continuing process, as we also have on-field development.”

Barrieau said that even if it can be challenging for a team to practice without having performance dates every week, it allows for opportunities to focus on different aspects of their game.

“We really work on our bases this winter,” Barrieau said. “We work on our decision-making, our tackles, and we look back at our defensive system.”

Barrieau said the Stingers hope to have a fast and exciting team for next season. She said her players enjoy this challenge, which makes it a fun experience.

“We had a season that we needed to build,” Barrieau said. “It won’t take a year, but two or three. However, the group of players we have and the energy we have [makes it] a fun process. They bring a lot, they love each other, and it’s really a pleasure to do this.”

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Concordia emergency response team (CERT) seeks to expand

CERT aims to train more students during first official Campus Safety Awareness Week

With Concordia’s first official Campus Safety Awareness Week approaching, university officials are hoping to expand the Concordia Emergency Response Team (CERT), a group of student volunteers who are trained to assist emergency responders and Concordia’s security staff  during evacuations and other emergencies.

Students will have the opportunity to complete free CERT training sessions during the Safety Awareness Week, which will run from Sept. 25 to 29.

Although the CERT has offered a number of training sessions throughout the academic year in the past, the Safety Awareness Week is a pilot project. If it’s successful, Rachel Nielsen, Concordia’s emergency preparedness officer, is hoping it will become an annual event.

“For students, being prepared for emergencies is not always on the top of their mind,” Nielsen said. “We’re hoping that [the Safety Awareness Week and CERT training] will make sure people are aware of some of the hazards they face and be alert.”

Typical responsibilities of CERT members during emergency situations include leading evacuees to designated emergency exits, assisting disabled students and staff and, when possible, verifying that certain floors or buildings have been completely evacuated. While the group currently has 103 members, there are no set shifts or work schedules, leaving it impossible to know which students will be available to respond in an emergency situation.

In the past, the responsibilities of CERT members have mainly included assisting during fire drills and occasional power outages. Last March, the group faced a unique challenge: assisting with the emergency evacuation of several downtown campus buildings after a racially-charged bomb threat. Alison Rowley, a CERT member, said the incident was an important reminder of why CERT’s services are so vital.

“I think a core aspect of being human is the fact that we help each other,” she said. “The reality is that an emergency can happen anywhere, anytime, and that’s why it’s so incredibly important that we be prepared.”

Before attending Concordia, Rowley worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in Boston, where she was present for a number of emergency situations. In Rowley’s experience as both an EMT and CERT member, one of the most important aspects of being an emergency responder is minimizing the panic and fear of those she is trying to help.

“As soon as people start panicking, things can get dangerous,” Rowley said. “Even though it can be scary, just do your best to remain as calm as possible.”

Being a member of the CERT comes with a certain set of risks, but Nielsen insisted there is good reasoning behind recruiting student volunteers. If CERT members are already on campus during an emergency, they can often respond to the situation before emergency services arrive. They also have a better knowledge of particular rooms and buildings on campus.

According to Nielsen, the team communicates using a computer safety app called Alertus, which can be used to send an emergency alert faster than an e-mail or text message.

After attending the three-hour CERT training session, students looking to join the team are required to receive CPR, first aid and fire prevention training within one year, as well as fire extinguisher training. According to Nielsen, students can receive these trainings on campus throughout the year through the Environmental Health and Safety department, and the $90 fee is waived for CERT members.

Additionally, Concordia has recently introduced a pilot project offering a financial incentive to potential CERT recruits: all members will receive a special identification card that will grant them a 10 per cent discount on all apparel and school supplies at campus bookstores.

Despite the risks, CERT members, including Rowley, are confident that joining the team is worthwhile and that CERT is a valuable tool to help ensure Concordia is as safe as possible.

“At the end of the day, CERT members aren’t firefighters or police officers that have been trained for years to help others—we’re just humans with an armband and a vest, and yet we can make such a big difference because we’ve been taught how to help,” Rowley said. “Being a part of CERT means you can help others, and there’s no better feeling than that.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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