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Keeping Fit in Isolation, or “How Not to Become an Epic, Depressed Slob”

Exercise is a pain in the arse – figuratively and often literally. But for a large proportion of the world, the change in mentality you get from leaving the house and entering a gym is enough to provide encouragement to get a sweat on. Take that mechanism away, though, and it is all too easy to become very lethargic, very quickly. As anyone who does any amount of exercise knows, it’s a cruel bastard; 6 months training can be utterly obliterated in the space of one. So, if you’re used to a certain level of fitness, recent restrictions on life can be pretty stressful.

For me, personally, my mental health suffers enormously if I don’t work out. I need those sweet, sweet endorphins. Plus, I like being able to pretend I’m a human dustbin without it turning me into a weird human-orca hybrid. Having WFH (see my previous post for details) for over 2 years, I’d say I’m quite well versed in the types of workout you’d term as getting prison fit. Ok, fine, I like my weights, I like my running, and I like to be somewhat extreme with my exercise time. The good news is, you don’t need weights, a treadmill or any more than 20-30 minutes per day. Here are a few ideas, all equipment-free. Give them a go – I’ve put together a couple of suggested circuits at the bottom, too.

Tip: Before you do this, put your gym gear on. It goes some way towards providing that mental, almost Pavlovian trigger. It’s exercise time.

Lower Body

Stairs

This one’s simple. Unless you live in a bungalow, you’ve got a ready-made step master at home. I tend to do this with a backpack on, filled with weights. No weights? Baked beans are heavy…  so is wine. Focus on keeping your feet pointing straight as you walk up the stairs to get the maximum benefit for your thighs. Your stairs at home will be 8-10 inches high. We have 20 in our house, so 172 times up and down equals 2300 feet (or Pen y Ghent – who needs the Yorkshire 3 Peaks?)

Squats

The key here (well, with all exercises, to be honest) is to do this in slow, controlled movements. Down for three seconds, hold for three seconds, up for three seconds (3/3/3) – if you do this properly, you won’t need weights. 100 squats with 9-second arcs like this will break most people. Get your feet just a touch more than hip width apart, don’t lean forward (do this against a wall to help with form) and don’t bounce as you switch between down and up.

Suggestion: 4 sets of however many you can manage, with a 1-minute break in between each set.

Lunges

Using the same 3/3/3 timing as above, keep your shoulders back and your back straight – don’t lean over your front leg. Pick a point on the wall (or TV) and look at it. The pitfall here is looking down, which causes you to lean. Get a 90-degree angle with both legs, ideally.

Suggestion: Hold a shopping bag in each hand, evenly weighted (that’s if unweighted lunges don’t make you swear to begin with).

Wall Sits

This is an absolute bitch. Get your back against the wall and slide down until you are “sitting” with your legs at 45-degree angles. How long can you last? Add 10 seconds each time you do this. You think planking is hard? This will mess you up.

Belly

Sit-ups

The key here is a bit of variation. Your common or garden sit-up is feet on the floor, knees up so you make a triangle shape, hands on temples, slow and controlled up and down. This is great, but 1) boring and 2) only focuses on one section of your stomach. Add in crunches (start lying flat, then draw your knees into your chest and raise your feet at the same time as you perform an upper body sit-up) and leg lifts (lie flat on your back and raise your legs, then return in a 3/3/3 pattern).

Suggestion: Using the three variations above, go 10/10/10, then a 60-second break. Four sets. Increase this by 2 per type each time you do it.

Plank

Everyone knows what this is. How long can you do it for, though? Remember to keep your back straight, don’t drop your hips, and don’t stop until you’re shaking like a shitting dog. Managed 5 minutes? That’s pretty good. The world record is just over 8 hours, though…

Upper Body

Triceps dips

Three good ways to do this and as always, alternation is your friend. I go with wearing a weighted backpack, then putting both feet up on a table and dipping to the floor. Again, 3/3/3. I’ll be honest, though: I’m finding these really fucking hard to describe. So, we’re going to use Google, as follows:
“Tricep dips chair”
“Tricep dips one leg up”
“Tricep dips feet elevated”

Piss off. I know.

Curls

For these, Google “Will Ferrell bicep curls Anchorman.” What form! What grace! Anyway, if you don’t have weights, use wine bottles or absurdly enormous bags of panic-bought toilet roll. What else is heavy? Lamps? I don’t know. Use 3/3/3 if you can’t find anything heavy. Your average wine bottle weighs about 1.3kg (full). I tend to do 4 sets of 20 using 25kg dumbbell sets, so my maths tell me I could do 4 sets of 500 using wine bottles and I’d have lifted the same amount… but much more deliciously.

Tip: Lifting with your palms facing up exercises a different set of muscles to lifting with your palms facing in, towards each other. Alternate.

Presses

Lie on your back with your trusty box of 9,000 eggs (none for the rest of you, you fuckers) on your chest, then extend and lock out your arms upwards. With a bench press, as you return the weight to your chest, your elbows tend to sink below where the floor is, but that doesn’t matter too much in this context. If you can’t find anything heavy enough to make 3/3/3 difficult, upgrade to 5/5/5. Children are great for using as weights for this one.

Press-ups

As with sit-ups, press-ups are better with variation, which comes with how far apart your hands are. Start with them shoulder-width-apart, then try wider, then narrower. My favourite/least favourite press-ups are done with my hands on top of each other, directly below my face. They’re an absolute bastard.

Tip: Can’t manage a press-up? Put your knees on the ground. Not a problem.

Full Body / Cardio

Standing Jumps

Feet together, bend your knees, jump up as high as you can and land with your knees bent (important), ready to go again.

Star Jumps

Yep, really. These are great for getting the heart rate up.

High Knees

Running on the spot but getting your knees as high as you can in front of you.

Squat Jumps

Jumping up in the air and landing in a wide, deep squat position. This one is a real killer.

Swings

This is where you hold something heavy in two hands then go into a squat position so it’s between your legs, before swinging it up and above your head, then back down. In a gym, you’d use a kettlebell. Again, not bouncing or using a jerking motion is key; you need to have control. You can do this with a large bag of rice or flour, or a weighted backpack. 4 sets of 20.

Burpees

Just the word makes me want to vomit. A standing jump, with your arms in the air. Then crouch and put your hands on the floor, jumping both your legs back so you’re in a plank position. Then, one press-up, jump your legs back to the crouching position and jump up in the air with your arms in the air. Keep the cycle going. I have been doing these for years, but they still hurt, and they can be scaled up to any level of fitness. 100 in 6 minutes is enough to make me want to cry.

Workout Plans

There are two keys to making the most of your home workout.

1. Variation

2. Keeping your heart rate up

Sitting still and doing some weights with a rest to check your phone in between will improve your muscle definition but do absolutely nothing for fat burning. Because of this, the best home circuits alternate between muscle and cardio.

Here is an example of an easy workout – you can do this with any of the above exercises really. Choose either upper body, lower body or belly, along with one or two cardio exercises.

For each block, go through the cycle 4 time (a “set”)

Block One
Upper Body Exercise 1
30 seconds break
Cardio Exercise 1
30 seconds break

1-minute break after 4th set

Block Two
Upper Body Exercise 2
30 seconds break
Cardio Exercise 2
30 seconds break

1-minute break after 4th set

Block 3
Upper Body Exercise 3
30 seconds break
Cardio Exercise 1
30 seconds break

I would always advise that each exercise you do is for a minimum of 10 reps.

Getting Serious

Sound too easy? Here are two examples of quite serious workouts that I like to do. If you find these difficult, you can reduce the number of sets to 2 or 3, or up the recovery time. You could also reduce the amount of workout blocks from 3 to 2. Oh, and the backpack isn’t necessary, obviously. These can also be scaled up a bit if you’re fitter than me, or loads and loads if you’re an absolute nutcase. These do me fine though.

1. Upper Body Day

Block One
Burpees x 10
20 seconds break
Triceps dips x 20 (30kg backpack)
20 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

1-minute break after 4th set

Block Two
Squat jumps x 10 (30kg backpack)
20 seconds break
Presses x 20 (50kg weights)
20 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

1-minute break after 4th set

Block 3
Swings x 20 (32kg kettlebell)
40 seconds break
Press-ups x 20 (30kg backpack)
40 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

Total: 40 minutes, 4-500 calories

2. Leg Day

Block One

Squats x 20 (50kg weights)
Sit-ups (10/10/10 x 2 – total 60)
1-minute break

(Repeat x 4)

Block 2

Lunges x 20 each leg (30kg backpack)
Squat jumps x 20 (20kg backpack)
1-minute break

(Repeat x 4)

Block 3

Wall Sit x 1 minute
Plank x 1 minute
30 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

Total: 50 minutes, 700 calories

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these. I’ll tell you what, though: this is but a drop in the ocean in terms of what you can do at home. If you want to hear more ideas and more work-out plans tailored to specific sports or strengthening specific muscle groups, drop me a message. If you have your own ideas, again, get in touch – I love adding more variation and changing things up whenever I can.

In the meantime, stay active, stay healthy and try and stay happy. It will get better.

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