If you haven't been able to find your groove with at-home workouts, this should help.

By Alyssa Sparacino
April 09, 2020
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If you felt a rising panic as gyms and studios began to close their doors for the foreseeable future, you aren’t alone.

The coronavirus pandemic has likely changed a lot about your schedule and quickly—that includes your workout routine (and maybe even your dating life). If you’re left floundering without your box’s barbells or your hot yoga studio’s flows, wondering how to even begin an at-home workout regimen, there’s help. Fitness expert Jen Widerstrom sat down with Shape for a recent Instagram Live to discuss all things at-home fitness—from which weights to buy (and if you even need any!) to how you should be utilizing your time outdoors. Check out the trainer’s tips and tricks to make any at-home workout space (big, small, or crowded) into a place for effective and fulfilling exercise.

1. Use this time as an excuse to experiment.

Instead of worrying that you won’t be able to keep up with your routine exactly as you mastered it—due to lack of equipment or resources, for example—consider all the fun new modalities, workouts, or tools you can try instead. Whether that’s swapping dumbbells for laundry detergent to do racked squats or ditching the CrossFit WODs for calisthenics, there’s a lot you can still learn from your body and it’s adaptability.

“My advice is to get curious,” says Widerstrom. “How can you use this time in a positive way?” She also emphasizes that exercise can be used as a tool for so much more than fitness, especially right now. It can curtail anxiety and offer structure to your days. “I’m using it to help anchor my schedule,” she explains.

2. Take yourself seriously.

Whether you’re working remotely while also home-schooling your kids or you’re on your fourth 1,000-piece puzzle, you must take time for yourself, says Widerstrom. (Related: The Self-Care Items Shape Editors Are Using At Home to Stay Sane During Quarantine)

If exercise is typically a happy activity for you and something you look forward to as “you” time, don’t lose sight of that in this new, often chaotic normal. If you’re scheduling time to walk your dog, cook dinner, and play with your kid, it’s just as important to schedule your own workouts and take that time seriously, she says.

“All you need is the evidence of how you feel after one day, and you're like, ‘Oh I can do that again!’” she says. And don’t feel like you need to plan out the whole week in the same way you might typically might—this is uncharted territory and it’s perfectly acceptable to figure it out as you go. Try yoga one morning, and if that doesn’t feel right, opt-out or try something new the next day, says Widerstrom. Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself the space to fail and try again the next day.

3. Be together, alone.

If you were a group fitness junkie before the coronavirus hit, you might be feeling wholly unmotivated to exercise on your own without a workout buddy or a late-cancel fee holding you accountable. First, know that that’s totally normal, says Widerstrom.

Figuring how to effectively work out at home is going to be difficult at first, but look on the bright side: “You having an opportunity to build skills—and in a way, we haven't been forced to stretch our brains mentally [like this before]," she says.

Still, if you rely on that group environment to pump you up, you can find it in other ways—through virtual classes from some of your favorite trainers and live-streamed workouts, which are available now more than ever, she adds. “Find someone, call them, put it on FaceTime, and sweat with each other,” she says. “Do it like a virtual happy hour; a virtual sweat hour.”

4. You don’t need any fancy equipment, promise.

Just by changing up what Widerstrom calls her three Ts—timing, tempo, and tension—you can create diversity in your workout routine without adding any equipment.

For example, if you’re doing a bodyweight squat, “the moment you slow down and change the tempo or create timing pauses and holds in the movement, it starts to get really heavy,” says Widerstrom. “It keeps it mentally interesting and it forces a different kind of recruitment in your muscles and therefore development.”

If you’re looking for some no-brainer bodyweight cardio exercises that you can weave into your strength training workouts, try these picks from Widerstrom, which are sure to get your heart rate up and endorphins flowing. Bonus: They are low impact (and low-noise!).

Left: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
Right: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

If you do want to utilize some new equipment without making a purchase, you can grab a hand towel—one of Widerstrom’s favorite at-home workout accessories. You can use it to create tension by gripping either end and pulling it apart, or doing biceps curls, or rows.

Furniture like the couch or a sturdy chair also works nicely in lieu of a bench or a box you’d typically use at the gym, says Widerstrom. The chair, in particular, is a really versatile piece of equipment that offers a lot of options for leveling up or down your bodyweight routines, think: incline push-ups with hands on the seat or inverted pikes with your feet on the chair. (Try these plyo box moves that don't include box jumps.)

5. Invest in at-home fitness equipment smartly.

If you’re still craving the tactile feeling of lifting weight, Widerstrom suggests investing in one 25- to 35-pound weight—yep, you don’t even need to buy a set. “You can hold it with one hand for legs, two hands for upper body,” she says “You can do shoulder presses or bench presses on the floor. You can do a single-arm row.”

If you’re still not sure which weight is right for you, she breaks it down even further: Beginner strength trainers should go for 20 pounds, intermediates, 25 to 30 pounds, and advanced lifters can buy 35 to 40 pounds.

6. Work within the space (and living situation) that you have.

Sure, it would be great to have an Olympic-level training facility in your basement with all the high-tech equipment a girl could dream of, but that’s not the reality for many people. If you’re working within the confines of your tiny bedroom in an apartment you share with a roommate, don’t be discouraged, says Widerstrom. You don’t need much space at all to get in a solid workout—as evidence by this small space, no-equipment cardio workout. And if you’re worried about the noise factor (downstairs neighbors and squat jumps don’t exactly mix), she suggests modifying plyometrics exercises for low-impact bodyweight exercises, which are actually really kind to your joints as well.

If you’re nervous about grunting through a strength training routine with your roommate trying to work in the living room, Widerstrom says she gets it, and sure there are things you can do to accommodate each other’s schedules, but at the end of the day, “I wouldn't worry about it too much just because I actually think it's a great conversation to broach with yourself,” she says. “You can continue to work around somebody else for your life or you can just live your life and not really worry about them.”

7. Spend your time outdoors wisely.

While the current regulations on activity outside may differ from city to city and state to state, it’s natural to want to get out for some fresh air when you’ve been cooped up all day. But instead of going out for a run or lugging your kettlebell and mat to the front yard, consider soaking up that vitamin D in a little more relaxed way.

“I think right now you should use outdoors as a safe place to really breathe fresh air and think clearly with less pressure,” says Widerstrom. “I don’t want you to think ‘I need to hit 12 miles. I need to do these sprint intervals.’”

If you do want to take your workout outdoors, Widerstom says you can bang out a quick interval run with a 2- to 3-minute jog followed by a 1-minute run on repeat. Another option is a run-down—i.e. 7-minute jog, 1-minute walk, 6-minute jog, 1-minute walk, and so on. (Related: Should You Wear a Face Mask for Outdoor Runs During the Coronavirus Pandemic?)

And if you’re choosing to exercise outdoors, Widerstrom suggests doing it in the morning when it’s quieter and less crowded. It should go without saying at this point, but to say it again: Be sure you’re practicing safe social distancing.

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