How do we exercise at home during lockdown, when we’re not the gym bunny type? What form of exercise is best? It feels like there are so many places to start, and things we should be doing. So here’s my story so far – an attempt in progress. My aim has been to find what works best for my body, by feeling it out, and then do it with scheduled regularity.
I joined a gym in January – back when it was a simpler time. This was my first gym membership as an adult (I’m 27, and have done well at avoiding them so far). I thought it would be a positive step to improve my fitness and health, and taking part in group classes would be a good antidote to the isolation of running my own business from home. I paid for the year upfront – there was a good price offer for this new local gym and paying in advance was the cheapest (and most motivating) way to take part in the long run. This is the point where a crystal ball would have been handy….
Then, of course, the world changed. We are all isolating in our own homes and, looking to the future when we are allowed out with greater degrees of freedom, a gym will always present various challenges to social distancing. All that shared equipment, communal surfaces, tight spaces and multiple bodies… It is just not a viable option for the foreseeable, so my gym membership is frozen. My need for exercise and company, however, has not changed. If anything, we’re probably all feeling that even more.
So where do we go from here?
In the UK, we’re allowed to take one outdoor trip for exercise each day as long as it’s close to home. My partner and I have been going out early for walks round the local cricket and rugby ground. But that feels more like a mental health benefit – of fresh air, greenery and space to breathe – than a fitness workout. Something else has to fill that gap.
I tried a HIIT session, as both my partner and my brother are really benefiting from a daily HIIT whilst in lockdown. But I ended up with severe muscle pain in both thighs for a week – hobbling around and feeling really sorry for myself. No doubt I did something wrong – not stretching enough, or making a mistake in the movement. But it confirmed that this high intensity, short and sharp burst of exercise isn’t for me. I highly suspect it isn’t the best form of fitness for my M.E.
I needed something deep but gentle. I’ve been doing yoga to relax for about 4 years, using Youtube videos every evening after work. This originally started as a way to wind down from the commute but I’ve kept up the habit and really seen the mental heath and muscle tone benefits over time. I really recommend this to compliment any other workout activity or as a starting point to build an exercise routine that isn’t intimidating. I use Yoga with Adriene, which is a really great and accessible channel. Just now, an evening yoga session is proving a really useful way to draw a line between the work day and the wind-down evening time. But the reason I joined the gym was to bring in variety and to challenge my existing habits. So whilst I’ve kept up my evening yoga, I’ve also been continuing to work out that gym replacement.
At the start of lockdown, my gym provided a temporary link to a small selection of Les Mills videos (as they use their designed programmes). Even though this is a condensed version of their On Demand subscriber programme, there is a good variety in exercise types. I’ve been making the most of their 30 minute Barre and 55 minute Body Balance routines. Both of those videos are filmed in the South Island, New Zealand, and offer a stunning scenery background as you work out with the very friendly presenters. I’d been too intimidated to try out the Barre class at my gym, as I don’t have a ballet background or much co-ordination, but this has offered a safe space to learn. I’m finding it a really beneficial form of exercise – it’s slow and precise movement, which gives a thorough core workout without shocking the body. It has the relax and release of dance (however badly, in my case) whilst also feeling very much like exercise.
Body Balance is a mix of tai-chi, pilates and yoga. I’d been going to a pilates class at the gym in January and February – a bit of a chore, as I struggled to get on with the rigid structure of the movement. This class is much more enjoyable for its flowing approach. If there’s one thing to takeaway from all this, though, it’s that tai-chi is really great for the stresses of lockdown. If you get restless trying to do some deep breathing, look up a tai-chi video on Youtube, learn the moves, them repeat them listening to your favourite chilled out music. Then have a soaky bath. That is my prescription!
I also really recommend H&M for affordable exercise wear – their leggings are comfortable without being see-through, their tops are airy, and most importantly they have seamless exercise bras. It took me ages to find a bra that wouldn’t appear through gym tops and they’ve really nailed it.
So there you have it, that’s my exercise report! An unexpected benefit of this lockdown time has been the opportunity to explore different exercise types – on my terms and to my preferred degree. If you’re looking to start, I really recommend making use of Youtube and trying one gentle form of exercise where you can build up intensity. For example, yoga, tai-chi or there are loads of fun dance videos out there. Even if it’s just putting on some music and shaking your limbs, the main thing is to start one thing. Then do it for a short burst every day. Set a timer alert and show up for yourself.
Regularity has been my main takeaway so far. That way, every day brings benefit.
Note: I have not been endorsed or sponsored to mention any of the forms of exercise in this post. These references are just to share what I am using and where I personally have found benefit.