Adjusting your workout routine to the indoor life with some simple and satisfying exercises
Like most people, I go through phases of being a devoted gym-goer. Last year I was in a solid habit of attending three to four gym classes a week, including spin class, ‘absolute abs’, pump, and body tone. Then they changed the class schedule, and it became harder to fit in with daily life. So I got back into running. Again, I’ve had an on-off relationship with running, but I’ve taken part in a couple of 10k races in the last year or two, and generally get a good level of satisfaction and motivation from meeting and beating my personal bests. But with the onset of social and physical distancing, it’s not always possible or sensible to use your daily allowance of outdoors on a long run. If you live in a busy city, or an apartment building, every time you step outside your door you’re having to think about carefully and proactively following distancing and hygiene guidelines. And sometimes that’s just not a very appealing thought.
So many of us are turning to indoor workouts to get our weekly fix of endorphins. As I’ve mentioned, I find the 7 Minute Workout app really helpful for motivating me to get my gym kit on and work up a sweat. The thought of exercising purely at home can be a little intimidating. You can’t help but think ‘surely I’m going to need some dumbbells, or kettle bells, or at least some big elastic bands for this to really work?’ But the good news is that you absolutely don’t need any special equipment to get a good home workout. There are lots of great exercises you can do that won’t require any equipment at all, or that just make use of things we’ll all have lying around the house. Here are six of my favourite ones. Each or a combination of these will have you feeling you’ve worked your body, and give you a chance to keep working on your fitness from the comfort of your own home. For reference I’ve included some how-to videos to give you a guide to how to do each movement.
1 Standing Bicycle Crunches
These are a great way of working your abs, and your balance! With your hands behind your head, lift your knee to touch the opposing elbows, then alternate. These can give you a good stretch too, and I like doing them at the start of my workout. They’re a bit less challenging than some of the other exercises, but still give you a fairly good full-body workout.
2 Russian Twists
This exercise primarily works your core. They’re like V-Sits with an added step. Lift your legs up and lean back on your seat bones. Now twist your upper body from side to side. If you can, find something heavy (maybe a big cook book or something like that) and hold it in front of you, touching it to the floor at your side each time. These are hard to keep up for any sustained period of time, but will give your torso a good hit of exercise.
3 Jumping Jacks
An ‘oldie but goodie’, jumping jacks are great for introducing a bit of cardio to your routine, and raising your heart rate. Do them regularly in intervals of 30 seconds or more, keeping up a steady but moderate pace. These are a good way to start your workout, and get you ready for the tougher, more focused exercises ahead.
We all know that squats are great for toning our lower body. Targeting your thighs and glutes, they also help with your back and core strength. But you actually have to be quite careful with squats, as if you get your technique wrong you can end up tiring yourself out without gaining the full benefits. It’s important to keep a straight back, and return to a fully standing position at the end. This will mean doing what feels like pushing your bum forwards, but really this is putting your body back into alignment, and giving your muscles a beneficial final squeeze. You should also be sitting back into the squat, rather than just folding down – the same motion as sitting down on a chair.
You can vary the difficulty by having your feet closer together or further apart, but try to get as low as you can. This will depend a little on how flexible you are, so don’t push yourself too far – aim to stay just on the right side of discomfort. It should be challenging but not actively painful. If you have anything to hand you can also hold a weight to up the difficulty, but if not just keep your arms straight out in front of you. Get into a regular habit and you’ll soon see the difference squats can make to your strength and muscle tone.
5 High Knees Running in Place
Another one to give a hit of cardio to those of us missing the outdoors. Pretty much what it says on the tin, this will get you using similar muscles to your usual run, and raise your heart rate. Aim to get your knees up to a 90° angle, and try not to fold in on yourself too much. You should maintain a straight back and good posture, with your shoulders back. Try to go quite quickly for short bursts – think of it as a 200m sprint not a 5k run. Work this into your routine with other exercises and you’ll be giving your legs and lungs a good workout, and preparing yourself for when you next have the chance to run outside.
6 Tricep Dips
It might sound strange but I think tricep dips are my favourite indoor exercise. I used to find them really satisfying when I did them in gym classes, and I’ve actually been working them into my daily routine for most of the year. Triceps are often seen as a bit of a ‘problem area’ as they’re quite hard to work on in a general session. Whereas your legs and core will be worked by most cardio activities, and there are plenty of options for your abs, you really have to target your triceps. But tricep dips are a great solution, and you can do them pretty much anywhere. All you need is a stable surface of reasonable height to rest your hands on.
Position yourself in front of a chair or step, and gently raise and lower your body using just your arms; be careful not to let it morph into some sort of squat by relying on your hips. If you can, stretch your legs out in front of you so you’re lifting more of your body weight with your arms (which obviously makes it more difficult!). You can make it more challenging by placing a weight on your legs (that cook book again?). If you haven’t got a suitable chair, the side of a bed or bathtub (if you have one) will do just as well. Gradually increase the number of repetitions you do each time, being wary not to rush through them. Overall the results of this simple exercise can be enormously satisfying!
I say all of this with the caveat that I am not a qualified trainer! I find exercise a really good way to focus and help me feel I’ve achieved something, even on the days I’m stuck indoors and time seems to drag. These exercises are some I’ve found most effective and satisfying, but that’s not to say that they’ll work equally well for everyone. If you’ve got a bit of spare cash from the gym membership you’re no longer paying, and would like to take your fitness to the next level, I highly recommend checking out some local personal trainers. Almost all PTs are freelance and have had their livelihoods severely impacted by the lockdowns. Many are now offering online or Skype sessions, so if you’d like regular help or just a bit of advice to get you started, give them a try. There are PTs out there for every style, body, and philosophy, so you’re sure to find one who fits your needs and personality.
How are you adjusting to a life lived indoors? Are you keeping to a new fitness routine, or seeing it as a good chance to take a break from your old one? At the moment I’m trying to stick to a few rounds of circuits every weekday, as my indoors workouts are slightly less arduous than the few runs I used to do a week (I would normally get in a few 5ks and maybe a 10k each week, but haven’t managed that since moving to Australia). I then take the weekends off (which is also helping me honour my weekends). But we’ll see how long that lasts! I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.