Make exercise ‘part of who you are’ for a healthier 2021
Q-and-A with Sarah Donato, a Seneca fitness expert
Jan. 5, 2021
Sarah Donato is a true believer of if it’s broken, rebuild it. Through rigorous strength and conditioning training, the former captain of the Sting women’s soccer team rebuilt both of her knees after “freak accidents” on the pitch led to two torn ligaments and two surgeries before the age of 20.
And even though she’s now facing another surgery, this time on her ankle, due to another soccer-related injury, Ms. Donato, now 30, is not showing any signs of slowing down.
“I’m the strongest I’ve ever been,” she said. “I’m living and preaching what I do.”
A graduate of Seneca’s Business – Marketing and Fitness & Health Promotion diploma programs, Ms. Donato is the head strength and conditioning coach at Seneca and assistant coach of the women’s soccer team. Since the pandemic hit, she has been leading the Sting’s online strength and conditioning program several times a week for varsity athletes, along with other members of the Athletics & Recreation department.
“It has been absolutely wild with everything being online,” she said. “But I still enjoy being able to develop that relationship with the athletes and motivate them to feel stronger and get faster.”
Ms. Donato, who also runs her fitness training business Elite365, sat down with Seneca News this week to talk about how to start the new year on the right foot when it comes to reaching personal fitness and health goals.
SN: What are strength and conditioning?
SD: Strength is about muscle endurance, while conditioning is more cardio-based. For an average person, having good strength and conditioning means being able to do daily activities without pain or soreness.
SN: What’s the best way to start an exercise routine?
SD: If you are starting out, I recommend doing 30 minutes of exercise each day and making it count. It’s OK to rest for a minute or two, but otherwise you should be sweating for that 30 minutes. Everybody thinks they need to be in the gym for two hours, but you can burn 260 calories in 30 minutes if you do a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. Pushups, planks and squats — those three are my go-tos. They cover a full-body workout.
If you are someone who sits or types a lot, I recommend doing a scapular retraction. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if there’s a pencil in the middle of your spine. Your core needs to be engaged. The spine should not be curved, but rather in a straight stack. Do three sets of this every day and you’ll feel a massive improvement.
SN: Are there tricks that can help you stick to a routine?
SD: It takes 28 days to break a habit. You can try making yourself a calendar, write down your activities or set an alarm to remind you to keep going. It’s also important to reward yourself for what you do. Go get an ice cream. You are allowed to cheat. Otherwise, it’s not realistic. It’s all about balance. Work hard, but keep it consistent.
And remember that failing is not the end of your journey. You may fall seven times but at the end of that, you’ll still be standing. Make your exercise routine part of your lifestyle as opposed to something that you have to do. Make it part of who you are. Even if it’s just a 30-minute walk, do something. A bad workout is better than no workout at all.
SN: Is it true exercising can improve your mental health?
SD: Yes, mental health is a huge factor. We release endorphins when we exercise and that’s why we feel better after a workout. When you exercise, you are taking that time out solely for you, and doing that fitness is taking time out to focus on yourself. That is satisfying. It’s mentally healthy on all levels.