Funny how when you can’t do something, it’s suddenly all you pine to do. And in these strange and disquieting times, exercise can provide much-needed solace. So for habitual runners, or footballers, or gym-goers, or pilates devotees, the prospect of cancelled games, races or classes is sad, and the temporary loss of the community that goes with them perhaps even worse.
Around the world, communities are either in total lockdown or partial social isolation. Some can still get out and run - the lucky ones - but plenty can’t. People who are really desperate to exercise will usually find a way - I’ve seen some brilliantly creative videos of people running in the bath, read stories of people jogging 60,000 times round their dining room table. This is magnificent lunacy which I can only applaud. But really, most of us aren’t as adaptive or creative. But we all need to exercise.
When I say all, of course not if you are ill or have health concerns. But if you are healthy, just stuck indoors, then I beg, in fact implore you to keep exercising. Or start! Sure, it’s good for your body and your physical health, but perhaps even more importantly, at least in the short term, it’s good for your mind.
It’s 2020, so if you have internet access, you have an entire world of free online workouts, many of which require nothing more than a small amount of space. Youtube has a video for every exercise niche - but the sheer choice can be a little overwhelming. So to start fairly simply: the NHS here in England has a really good site with 24 videos, from 10-45 minutes a piece. If you find something you really like then you can explore that in more detail, using the countless apps and subscription sites - or even face-to-face ones with an instructor over FaceTime or Skype.
But really, you don’t even need that. You’ve got your own gym at home already.
Looking sceptically around you? No, honestly, you really do! Do you have a step or stair? A suitcase or holdall? Some books? Any bags of sugar or flour? If you are lucky, perhaps an old skipping rope lying around somewhere?
Just a few of these, and you have a home gym. Here’s a short suggested selection of exercises you can do with stuff you have lying around anyway (or using nothing at all). But there’s plenty more that you can do with nothing more than your own bodyweight and 20 minutes. So do yourself a favour: take that 20 minutes, close down the alarming news, step away from social media, and try and raise some endorphins.
SIMPLE HOME WORK OUT EXERCISES
First of all, clear a little space - push back chairs or tuck away things from the hallway. If you have a yoga mat, set that up somewhere. It’s not essential - if you have carpet you don’t need anything, if it’s a hard floor maybe put a towel or two down just to protect your arms. Get into position: lie on your front with your forearms on the floor (parallel to each other), toes tucked under, then push up your bodyweight so you are resting on your forearms and your feet. Keep your body in a straight line - brace your core muscles, don’t sag in the middle. Hold!
Work up to holding 1 minute. If you’ve never done it before, have a google of “plank daily challenge” and follow that - in days you’ll move from 10 seconds to 60, and possibly well beyond. If you’ve already a regular planker (which sounds, to my English ear, horribly close to an insult, sorry) then try variations like side planks or harder adaptions. Check online videos for correct form but also always remember my own personal plank rule 1: while planking you must spend the time thinking about the fact that the world record for a plank is 8 hours and 15 minutes. It’s strangely cheering, mainly because no one is making you do it.
Just when you thought holidays were a dream, it’s time to fill your suitcase! Use books, tins, old CDs - whatever you’ve got. Squat slightly to pick it up (don’t bend over) and make sure you brace through your core and then walk, keeping nice and even and straight backed. Of course, you can do this with one “weight” in each hand but that might be tricky to balance properly at home - unless of course you happen to have two sacks of rice lying around.
Again there are some good online videos and explainers by better qualified people than me - but please do start light and gradually add weight if it’s too easy, rather than the other way round. Ideally you will work up to using an amount of weight you couldn’t carry more than a couple of hundred metres max.
Things you can use for this: a step, a low bench, a toddler’s chair - anything that won’t move and can comfortably take your weight. Stand in front, step up with one foot, bring the other up stand up on the step. Step backwards using the same leg. Repeat on the other side. So basically it’s a constant up-and-down but each time you are alternating your ‘lead’ foot. Try to keep your back nice and straight again and your core braced. Do as many reps as you can until you feel like your form is starting to go a bit. Maybe keep a count of how many that is, and aim for a few more next time.
Time to unpack again! Get some of those tins or bags out of the suitcase and use them as weights. There’s almost an endless list of exercises you can, from simple bicep curls to deadlifts - but there’s also a really good BBC workout set here using only cans. You can also use them when you get super good at planks - together, we can all come out of isolation one day in the happy future with cores of steel.
Skipping with a rope is a truly fantastic cardio exercise, challenging a lot of muscle groups and working your hand/eye coordination and timing into the bargain. Of course you do need a bit more space for this but if you can, it’s a brilliant way to get the heart rate up and fantastic particularly for runners who can’t get out.
Only the truly hardcore could probably manage to skip for any serious length of time but mix in repetitions of, for example, a minute of skipping then working through the other exercises above - then repeat times 5. Or just see how many skips you can do before you snag yourself with the rope, then try and beat that each time.
Kate Carter for World Athletics