Fitness at a Distance
Ali Othman, CPT
Fitness, fun, work, and life took a wildly unexpected turn at the beginning of this year as the Coronavirus spread across the world sickening millions and killing hundreds of thousands of people. Gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios, and many other retail brand health and wellness shops had to close their doors and either wait for the current environment to change, or find an alternative to offer their clients. Fitness enthusiasts who once frequented the retail spaces have adjusted their routines to incorporate online media, or the neighborhood sidewalks and trails. Online content has improved in its functionality and ability to interact with the user. Interactive applications can motivate us to receive our second wind as we get tired. They can even cheer us on as we overcome our limitations and succeed in pushing ourselves harder than we thought possible. Human ingenuity has been given a kick-start as we repurpose household items and equipment to use in a manner other than directed. Many people have been contemplating whether or not they will return to their fitness centers, or if it is possible to maintain social distance in a space filled with sweating, heavy breathing individuals. If you are one of those people, purchasing a few key pieces of equipment can help turn a small area of your home into a mini-workout studio. One should set their goals appropriately as the current social distancing environment might be our new norm. Think about long-term goals when you seek out and purchase equipment for your home. Multipurpose items that don’t take much storage space are best for creating an in-home exercise space. Take advantage of the warm weather and inviting outdoor summer climate by finding activities that can be enjoyed while still maintaining appropriate distance from others. Unprecedented times can look favorably upon those with unconventional new ideas. Don’t be afraid to try something you never thought possible if it will help you stay fit, happy, and healthy.
Earlier this year, as each State decided to issue their shelter-in-place orders, a lot of our retail amenities had to close their doors. Many had already begun to explore options for maintaining their clients’ well-being. Exclusive content was developed or purchased and incorporated into their online applications and made available to members. Granted, streaming an online workout in your living room may not have the same draw as being in your yoga studio with your classmates, but it does have its appeal. If your in-person instructor drew you in with his or her motivating words and soothing voice, maybe that same instructor has begun posting videos you can access. If not, try a simple internet search for a few keywords that helped keep you coming back to class. You may find that the benefits of being in your home for a workout outweigh those of being in the physical space of a retail fitness center, or you may find the opposite is true. One typically limiting factor with online content is motivation. It may not be possible for many to gather the motivation needed to follow along with a YouTube fitness trainer at home.
So you’ve decided to set up an exercise space in your home and cleared out an area that is favorable for a workout. The next step is choosing the proper equipment. Cardiovascular equipment such as treadmills and stationary bikes are great; they can bring considerable benefits in increasing heart and lung strength and conditioning muscles. However, there is one drawback: you have to be motivated to use them as directed instead of as an expensive rack for drying your clothes. Instead, you might choose something more dynamic, like an aerobic step-up with risers. It’s a relatively small piece of equipment that can be used in many different ways to help work your entire body. An easy way to use the step-up for cardio is by doing the “Power Step-Up Alternating Side.” Start with your right foot on the step and left foot on the floor. Bend down into a half squat position and raise with a small sideways jump to the right side. When done correctly, your right foot will come down to the floor on the right side of the step-up, and at the same time, your left foot lands on the step-up. Once you get the hang of this movement, you can bounce back and forth quickly and repeatedly until your heart is pounding and your legs are burning. The step-up can be used for lower-body agility exercises such as lunges and squats, where one foot is on the step, and the other is on the floor. This imbalance will force your core to flex and stretch, effectively working your entire midsection. Add a few dumbbells or elastic bands and you can incorporate a shoulder raise or press to your squats. Add a riser to the base of your step-up to increase its height and make your movements more challenging. Elastic bands can be woven underneath the step and grasped with each hand to work your arms, shoulders, chest, and back. For dozens of additional step-up variations, the internet will be one of your best resources.
Your home is potentially already filled with equipment that can be repurposed to use during exercise. Khoshal Azami, a Chicago based personal health coach, hasn’t let the stay at home order or social distancing interfere with his clients’ success. In the second week of quarantine, Azami had the innovative idea to continue training his clients via video-conferencing. Most of his clients don’t have equipment at home, so Azami used his experience and ingenuity to find objects around their houses to involve in his sessions. “We use water bottles, laundry detergent, bags of potatoes, tables, couches, and anything that can incorporate some resistance because resistance is the best way to break down and build muscle.” Use your dining room chairs to do box-squats, grab two jugs of laundry detergent, and use them for bicep curls. Fill a large bag with clothes and carry it in front of your body like a small child while walking around your house, or up and down the stairs. The added weight can turn a callisthenic workout into an explosive muscle-building session. The possibilities are endless; just make sure you don’t break anything.
If exercising in your home is not for you, then another great suggestion is to take it outside. When getting your activity outdoors, try to limit yourself to doing so with only the people within your household. Your neighborhood is the best place to walk, run, bicycle, or incorporate any kind of physical activity you can imagine. Find activities that you can enjoy with your kids; build a fort or obstacle course. Head to your local park, trail, or forest-preserve if they’re open, to find a walking trail, and hike it out to become one with nature. The important thing to remember is to follow your local government’s guidelines for social distancing while outside. If face coverings are required in your area, then you should be wearing one. Exercising with a face covering is a new concept that hasn’t been thoroughly studied or reviewed. When you cover your nose and mouth, breathing may become more labored. The mask’s material can also make a difference in how your body reacts to this new fashion statement. Start at a little lower intensity than what you are used to and feel how your body reacts. Over time, your lungs will begin to adapt to this change and become more robust out of necessity. If the mask is reusable, be sure to wash it each time you wear it to prevent infection from bacteria build-up.
Getting your activity outdoors provides you with several benefits. Of course, the activity itself is important for keeping healthy, but being outdoors in nature can bring a soothing and calming feeling. Fresh air, open space, and sunlight tend to make people happier than being indoors. This is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of being outside, even if it is just for a few minutes a day. Nowadays, most people are spending the majority of the day indoors, so a small change of scenery is an excellent way to inject some freshness into an otherwise routine day.
For those of us who are still working from home, spending even a few minutes a day outdoors can help fend-off the depressive nature of being inside for days on end. Working from home has its benefits; no need to fight the rush-hour traffic to-and-from the workplace, lunchtime can be as simple or as involved as your mood dictates, and if you’re having a bad hair day, try again tomorrow. While you work from home, you can also try a few techniques for adding physical activity to your workday. Take a one-minute break every hour to stand, stretch, walk around your office or living room, do a set of twenty squats or pushups, then get back to work with a fresh pair of eyes.
The start of this year may have brought us a new reality, but there are still ways to make ourselves better than our last version. Spend the extra time you have working on improving your physical and mental health. While practicing social distancing, be sure to remember not to become socially isolated. Take a few moments and go outside for some fresh air each day. The situation you are going through in your city is similar to that of nearly every city in the world. There are other ways to get physically active if you are not ready to go back to the gym. Work with an online trainer, find online fitness content that interests you, hit your neighborhood trails for a bike ride, or clear a space in your home where you can work up a sweat on your own or with a group of friends on video chat. Before starting any physical fitness routine, consult with your physician either in-person or through an online portal to ensure that your activity won’t contraindicate any underlying conditions; and, above all, be safe.
Ali Othman has been an NSCA certified personal trainer for the past 13 years with specialization in weight loss, functional training, muscular hypertrophy, and human nutrition. He also works in the Technical Department at IFANCA and manages IFANCA business activities in South Korea.