How SA’s Top Sportswomen Are Staying In Shape During Lockdown

by | Apr 24, 2020 | Fitness, News

It’s easy to feel like the national lockdown has taken away so much in our lives, but maybe this is a perspective that needs to be shifted. Yes, we can’t go to the gym, or our favourite restaurants — heck, we can’t even take a quick jog around the block — but we can create these experiences for ourselves in our own homes.

Lockdown has forced us to look at different and innovative ways to do the things we’d normally do in the ‘outside world’ at home. This is especially true for exercise. Most of us have had to adapt to working out from home, and it hasn’t been easy for everyone. But we’re not in this alone – even sports stars have had to take on a completely different approach to their training methods and schedules.

Whether you want to elevate your at-home game or you’re just looking for ways to better manage yourself so you can be more consistent — who better to learn from than the pros?

We spoke to four of South Africa’s leading sportswomen to offer some insight into how they’ve been keeping fit and in shape during this time.

Meet the athletes

Sunette Viljoen:

Sunette is a multi-disciplinary sportswoman who’s represented South Africa in cricket and is a javelin thrower. She’s won two Commonwealth Games gold medals and an Olympic silver medal, among her other accomplishments.

Kirsten Macdonald (formerly McCann):

Kirsten, a professional rower, has competed twice in the Olympics and has a gold medal from the 2017 World Rowing Championships, among her other accomplishments.

Thembi Kgatlana:

Thembi is a footballer who’s a member of the national team (Banyana Banyana) and plays as a forward for Portuguese women’s football team Sport Lisboa e Benfica (she’s currently based in Lisbon, Portugal).

Gena Lofstrand:

Gena is a middle-distance runner who’s represented South Africa in the 800m at the 2017 World Championships, among her other accomplishments.

Let’s look at the seven lessons we can learn from how these four spectacular athletes have kept consistent, strong-willed and sane during the lockdown.

Set goals

We’ve all seen people tweeting about how they’re going to be walking out of lockdown with ‘hot’ bodies. If we did a survey, we’d probably find that this is most people’s dream post-lockdown gain. But a goal can be anything from improving your flexibility to building strong arms. All that matters is that you have one.

While Kirsten doesn’t have an immediate racing goal due to the postponement of the Olympic Games, she’s still working towards something.

“The long-term goal is now the Olympic qualifiers and my short-term goal has been readjusted to completing my training to the best of my ability every day,” She says.


Kirsten Macdonald

Gena reckons that setting goals is extremely important for morale and staying motivated.

“Setting goals for yourself, however small, really keeps you feeling productive and positive,” she says. “Although my training goals look a little different to a few weeks ago, it’s still nice to have a plan set out.”

Create a routine

Most of the athletes are on some sort of programme from either their coach, club or brand partners; this has created a routine where they know what muscle-group/types of exercise they are doing each day and the times they work out.

“I love a routine because it helps me stay productive,” Thembi says.

READ MORE: These Amazing Sporting Moments Prove That Female Athletes Are Totally Badass

Kirsten works out about two to three times a day and says her morning sessions (which she does via Zoom with her teammates) are a lot more controlled and her session(s) later in the day are a lot more flexible.

“My morning sessions are very structured and closely monitored because they have specific goals and outcomes, which are monitored by our coach and physiologist, whereas the afternoon session has a prescribed intensity and duration, but the mode of exercise allows for variety,” Kirsten says.

If you have equipment, use it

While bodyweight training has been all the rage since the lockdown (because home), if you have some equipment, try to incorporate it in your workouts for more variety. Even if you only have a set of two dumbbells or a resistance band you haven’t even looked at in the past year — get it out, dust it off and have it join you on the mat.

The athletes were fortunate enough to have equipment (relevant to their respective sports categories) dropped off for them during the lockdown period.

Adapt creatively 

If there was ever a time to adjust your workouts so they work in a home setting and to be creative in how you do them — that time is now.

“My running sessions have turned into sessions on a stationary bike; I do a lot more bodyweight work and improvise where I can with resistance bands, a weighted backpack and partner exercises. I’ve had to be very creative,” Gena says.

Gena Lofstrand

A(m)pp it up

Remember the days when you’d walk into a gym, stare at all the sections and silently say to yourself: “I have no idea where to start.” While there are tons of YouTube workouts (check out the Women’s Health SA YouTube channel here), personal trainer IG lives and Zoom instructor sessions online – using an app to help you either set up a plan, show you how to do certain movements or just offer a motivational voice to help you through a workout is definitely something to consider.

Here are some recommendations from Sunette, Thembi and Gena:

  • Sunette: The F45 Training app: “I do gravity-based workouts on this app and I only need a small space to do most of the workouts – I enjoy it a lot!”
  • Thembi: Nike Training App: “At the moment I’m keeping strictly to our team’s programme, but I highly recommend the Nike Training App!”
  • Gena: PUMATRAC: “I’ve started using PUMATRAC and I love it! I often do the core/upper-body work and fits into my training schedule perfectly.”

READ MORE: 5 Fitness Apps That Will Help You Get Your Sweat On At Home

Spice up your workouts

Weight loss = cardio; muscle/strength building = strength training, right? Yes. Always interesting doing just one? Maybe not. While you should focus more on the one most relevant for your goals, it’s important to mix things up and get the best of all worlds.

“My morning sessions mostly consist of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and then later I’ll either do a CrossFit workout or some workouts from my favourite app,” Sunette says. “Don’t fall into the same regime every day — it’s important to spice things up. You will fall into a hole (of boredom) doing the same thing over and over.”

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A post shared by Sunette Viljoen Official (@viljoensunette) on

Kirsten agrees, and her routine reflects the diversity in her workouts.

“We have three very hard sessions a week to work on some physiological metrics,” Kirsten explains. “The other sessions are more for building our big endurance base, as well as weights to develop and maintain our strength. We’ve also incorporated yoga into our programme to improve core strength and flexibility.”

Step out of your comfort zone

We have more time to ourselves than we’ve ever had before. And while the circumstances are not so great, the opportunity that the lockdown has given us to step out of our comfort zones is.

“At some point, the COVID-19 crisis will come to an end, but will you be a be a better version of yourself as soon as that’s the case?” Thembi says. “Use this time to challenge yourself to do some of the hard things and see how far out of your comfort zone you can step. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.”

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A post shared by Thembi Junior Kgatlana (@kgatlanathe1st) on

Sunette, speaking along very similar lines as Thembi, says that at the end of this you want to be able to take a step back, appreciate how consistent you were, and bathe in the rewards of that consistency.

Don’t forget to look after your mental wellbeing

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and shouldn’t be neglected, especially when you’re slap-bang in the middle of a global pandemic.

Spirituality, reading and games have helped Thembi maintain her mental wellbeing.

“I spend time reading the Bible and doing my devotions during the day,” she says. “I also spend time playing FIFA20 online with my friends from South Africa and I love building Lego!”

For Sunette, her training has doubled up as her source of sanity in this time.

“I’m training a bit more than usual now during lockdown because the training is helping me psychologically to get through this time. Training has kept me sane!” she says.

Gena has been spending time looking at food inspo on Pinterest and testing out new recipes.

“I’ve also had a lot of fun practicing my make-up skills, trying out new looks and learning new techniques,” she says.

And Kirsten has also been spending some extra time in the kitchen.

“I love to cook and bake, so I’m getting to do that a lot — this is something I don’t always have time for when we are not home,” she says. “I’ve also been reading a lot to take my mind off of the intensity of training.”

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