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How to Stay in Shape at Home When the Gym Is Closed

Wellness Technology + Gear
by Matthew Meltzer Mar 18, 2020

Self isolating was all going to be fine…until they closed the gyms.

Working from home, eating from home, being locked in a house with your spouse and kids — all tolerable as long as you have your daily escape to fitness land. But with the gym shut down for the foreseeable future, finding out how to get your workout in can be more of a challenge than the workout itself. And possibly even more important.

“In times when there’s a lot of stress, exercise may be as important for mental wellbeing as anything else,” says Mickey Demos, a personal trainer and owner of Mickey Demos Boxing and Fitness in Miami. “Exercise is probably the best way to avoid depression, keeps you on an even keel, and motivates you to eat properly. It just has a positive snowball effect.”

So what do you do to keep in shape when the gym shuts down? Demos and other trainers we talked to across different disciplines offered up their best advice.

1. Schedule a time to work out every day.

With the newfound challenges of working, eating, child-caring, and doing pretty much everything else from home, scheduling is the key to getting it all in. Working out is no different.

“The most important thing is to be structured,” Demos says. “You need a workout time, so figure out a time each day that’s going to be for your workout and just dedicate that time. And let your family know not to disturb you during your chosen workout time unless it’s urgent.”

You’ll also want to schedule what kind of workout you’re going to do, whether that’s an online fitness class, a run, or something you make up yourself. Most importantly, make sure you stick to your plan so that you’re not doing random workouts without some kind of routine.

2. Designate a workout space.

person inclining to side and stretching arms

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In addition to having a set workout time, you also need a place in your home that serves as your personal gym, even if it’s only for the hour or so you’re exercising. That can mean heading out to your garage, but it can also mean setting up an atmosphere that helps you work out anywhere in your home.

“If you need to, clear out your couch, move a coffee table, light a candle, get the music bumpin’ — whatever your vibe is,” says Taylor Almony, an instructor with Pure Barre. “You need to change the scenery from wherever you’re working, even if it’s just another room.”

3. Use your roommate or spouse as a workout buddy.

For most of us, having an accountability partner ensures we make it to the gym every day. But when our gym buddy is self quarantining (or just doesn’t feel like working out in your living room), you may need to rely on the nearest person available to assist in your workout motivation.

“Working out is always better with a partner,” says Isabelle Anagnostou, a studio manager at Orangetheory. “A lot of people aren’t married or have a roommate, but if you do take advantage of that and say, ok, we’re going down to the gym or to the basement of your house for an hour at 2 PM.”

An added bonus: Since your new workout buddy isn’t stuck in the same routine as you and your usual partner, they might even introduce you to something new. “If your spouse or roommate likes kickboxing, try a home kickboxing cardio routine,” Anagnostou says. “Or if you like yoga, maybe get them to try something you like.”

3. Get outside.

“Yes, we’re quarantined, but you can still go outside,” Almony says. “Run, walk, skip, grab your mat, whatever. Not only does working out boost your immune system, but vitamin D is also essential for immune health.”

Boxing trainer Demos also suggests using your yard or alleys near your house for sprints and other short-burst workouts. Or even your patio or balcony if you want fresh air. But he does warn that running outside may not be advisable for those with joint issues who aren’t used to running on pavement.

4. Do Tabata for cardio.

person checking her workout time at home

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If your local weather isn’t conducive to running quite yet, you can still get serious cardio in without stepping outside. Tabata training — a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with 20 seconds of extreme work followed by 10 seconds of rest — has been shown to burn more fat in four minutes than 40 minutes of moderate cardio. This can gas you out in only a few minutes, from almost anywhere in your home.

“You can stay in one place and do mountain climbs, do 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off,” Demos says. “Do that for four minutes and you’ve done enough cardio for the day. And if you have bad knees or ankles or a bad back, you can just do it on a rubber mat.”

5. Find workouts online.

If you need some guidance in formulating your workouts, there are a number of online fitness apps with exercise programs that are easy to follow. Peloton, known mostly for its at-home group spinning classes, has an entire app full of strength training, yoga, and even outdoor workouts. Nike has a similar app. Pure Barre has on-demand classes, free for its members. Sworkit is also popular. There are dozens more that are likely being downloaded as you read this.

To avoid having to download (or in some cases pay for) an app, you can find plenty of workouts on YouTube. “YouTube is brilliant,” Demos says. “There’ll be videos out there on every type of exercise. If you wanted to research how to do a burpee, you can go online and you can find it. This week I used [YouTube] to figure out Tabata weight training.”

Anagnostou, who also teaches at Pure Barre, says she’s found excellent classes for yoga, barre, and pilates on YouTube, and says the visuals on the videos often help with form.

7. Dress the part.

person abdominal exercises on floor at home

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Trainers suggest wearing gym clothes to put you in fitness mode just like work-from-home tipsters advise people to throw on real pants to put your brain into work mode. Even if you’re used to wearing your Lululemon best right after work to shift into gym time, being at home can sometimes lend itself to wearing the same stuff all day.

“[Dressing] is definitely underrated,” Almony says. “It puts us in a work out state of mind and boosts self-confidence, in turn pushing us to try our best to get results. So get out of your pajamas and show up for yourself.”

8. Invest in some light weights or use what you have at home.

It doesn’t take a treadmill or a Peloton bike. If you can order or safely go to the store, purchase some minimal equipment. Demos says all you need is a pair of weights that are 10 pounds or below and some rubber physio bands and you have enough for good strength training.

“Grab two two-pound weights and do uppercut shuffles, in other words drive the weights up and down with your hands while you’re running in place,” Demos says. “Do that 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off — you’ll be dead.”

If you don’t have weights, or don’t want to go out and buy them, you can use household items to add resistance. “Big water bottles, wine bottles, milk/water gallons, canned food, unopened pasta sauce all make for great weights,” Almony says. “No excuses.”

9. Stretch.

Person stretching

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Not that this is a novel exercise tip to anyone who’s spent time at the gym, but stretching is especially important when you’re not moving as much as usual. It’s also crucial when experiencing periods of increased stress.

“We tend to hold a lot of tension in the hips, especially during these high-stress times,” Almony says. “Even if you have an off day and can’t hit your workout, stretch everyday. I can’t stress this enough. It’s so important for keeping muscles long and strong and releasing tension in the body.”

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