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Virtual Team Yoga? How the Chicago Fire are keeping fit while staying at home

The club’s new Director of Performance, Ben Donachie, is leading the way

Chicago Fire Director of Performance Ben Donache (left)
Chicago Fire FC

Chicago Fire midfielder Fabian Herbers admits he isn’t much of a yoga guy.

But, after the club’s first “virtual team yoga” session this week, Herbers felt the burn.

“I was good. It was different,” Herbers told Hot Time in Old Town. “I’m not a big flexible guy, so it was actually pretty intense for me, doing all those exercises. You always think it looks easy when the yoga instructor does it, but I started sweating a little bit in my apartment. We have a group with [Francisco] Calvo and [Robert] Berić in the WhatsApp, and some other guys, and we were all texting after that this was hard.”

Across the city at his home, Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein had a similar feeling.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m the best yoga student, but it was really cool to be able to see the teacher, the yoga master, doing the poses, and then trying to implement them,” Bornstein said. “Now, afterward, I feel really rejuvenated and ready to go for my next workout. So, it was positive for everyone. I think the team thoroughly enjoyed it.”

That was the reaction the Fire’s new Director of Performance, Ben Donachie, was hoping for when he planned the virtual yoga session. Something challenging, fun, different, and most importantly, something the team could do together, while everyone is dealing with the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

“Some of the guys had never done yoga before,” Donachie said. “Perhaps never thought about even doing it. So it was trying to think outside the box and incorporate some stuff that would challenge them, but also can be quite fun. I think yoga can be quite fun. And the fact that we all did it together, we kind of had that team bonding, that team ethos, so I think it was quite a positive session.”

Donachie, who joined the Fire from AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League, has more virtual team sessions planned. This week the players are also getting an educational session focused on nutrition, and another fitness class that Donachie and his staff will be running.

“We’re kind of just trying to mix everything up so they stay mentally engaged, and have some variety to their training, which I think is super important at this time,” Donachie said.

Every player is in a different situation. Bornstein lives with his wife and two young daughters. Herbers lives alone. Some players have access to a safe outdoor space to run where they can stay away from other people. Others don’t have that luxury.

“If we go out, you take the risk of bringing it back to your family, so I’ve stopped running outside, but I’m running in my stairwell,” Bornstein said. “We’ve got 76 floors where I live, so there’s plenty to do there. Also, doing exercises here in the apartment. I have enough space where I can dribble the ball around.”

Donachie said the club has delivered exercise equipment specially tailored to each player’s needs, whether that be an exercise bike, a treadmill, kettlebells, resistance bands, or weights. Donachie also sends out a training schedule each day, and checks in with the players to make sure they’re following along.

“I think they’re taking ownership of their fitness, which is great,” Donachie said. “Me and my team, we know we can trust the guys, so we know that whatever program we give them, we check in on them every day, to ensure they’ve done it, and we can trust them to do it, which is really important.”

Donachie knows he can’t keep his players “football fit” without matches and training sessions. But, the Englishman is confident he can keep them as healthy as possible during the stay-at-home order. He’s even been talking to his counterparts at other teams and sharing ideas, with the goal of keeping the Fire as fit as possible.

“We’re all in this together,” Donachie said. “We’ve got a great group of guys at Chicago Fire, I can’t stress this enough. We’re gonna be in a great place when we go back to training, and we can’t wait for the season to start again.”