Chris Doyle adapting Iowa football’s workouts during COVID-19

Players are scattered across the country, but Doyle is keeping them ready for whenever the season can start.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa Strength and Conditioning coach Chris Doyle coaches during warm up drills before the game against Illinois on Saturday, November 23, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 19-10.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

Going to work in the morning, seeing dozens of student-athletes coming in early to compete, being in the weight room — Chris Doyle misses all of it.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has put a hold on organized team activities, Doyle, who is in his 22nd year as the strength and conditioning coach for the Iowa football program, has been forced to adapt.

Hawkeye football players are scattered across the country right now with varying levels of equipment to help them stay in shape. It’s Doyle’s job — his challenge really — during this uncertain time to keep the team ready for whenever it can meet in person again.

“There’s absolutely no way to duplicate what we do,” Doyle said. “When you talk about 30 guys, toes on the line, tempo, equipment — they can’t duplicate that. It’s our job to close the gap and make this time as productive as we possibly can with what we have.”

Doyle said on a video conference Thursday that the team finished its eight-week winter program the morning of March 13, right before spring break. The Big Ten Conference then announced a suspension of all team activities later that day due to coronavirus.

As the situation continued to progress, an additional week of spring break was added before the University of Iowa eventually decided to shut down campus for the remainder of the semester.

“There were four things we really wanted to make sure that we secured in that initial phase of COVID-19,” Doyle said. “Be safe, follow the guidelines of the experts. We all have responsibility for social distancing.

“As far as being a successful student athlete, one was just to get into a routine. Two was academics, make sure we do a good job adjusting to remote learning so we don’t do anything that would interfere with our eligibility moving forward or interfere with the fall. The third was training, and the fourth was nutrition.”

Since the team was going to be separated, Doyle knew that communication and getting everybody into a routine would be critical. Zoom meetings have become a regular form of communication for Doyle and the rest of the football team, with meetings taking place weekly in most cases.

In the time since Iowa players have been at home, Doyle has supplied them with different workouts. Doyle said he had four base workouts depending on an athlete’s availability to equipment that were then molded around a specific individual.

These workouts range from working out in a high school weight room, to lifting in a home gym, to only using a dumbbell or kettle-bell. Doyle also created body weight workouts for any athletes who did not have access to equipment.

The strength workouts are paired with the running and jumping that any player can do no matter their location. At this point, Doyle said every athlete on the team has acquired a way to use some sort of equipment.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz previously said the current situation reminded him of a time when there were no required summer workouts and players were working from home anyway. Doyle said he sees the similarities, too. He’s sending athletes a card with a workout on it and calling each athlete instead of seeing them in person.

He’s also sending athletes a shopping list.

“We don’t usually talk about shopping lists anymore,” Doyle said. “We provide the food, they go upstairs to the All-American room, and they eat great meals. Now, it’s about how you fill your fridge, how you make your meals. We started into some cooking instruction with the guys, showing them how to make a simple meal, because they don’t cook.”

The timeline is still uncertain in regard to the upcoming college football season. There’s no official word for when teams could start to meet in person again. When that is a possibility, Doyle said it will be a team effort between the coaches, strength staff, and sports medicine staff to prioritize the safety of the athletes moving into the season.

Until then, Doyle is going to keep his team ready until it can swarm into Kinnick once again.

“Everybody in college football is experiencing the exact same challenges,” Doyle said. “We have to do it better than everybody else. Stress and adversity tends to break the weak and strengthen the strong. So it’s our job to create an advantage for Iowa football.”

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