During a time of crisis, I think the first important thing to remember is that it will pass. So hang in there and stay strong. The second thing is that staying strong includes staying physically strong. The majority of us who are keeping up our training during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic are now doing it at home. This limits many who don’t have complete home gyms, but it doesn’t stop anyone.
It’s so important to avoid all or none thinking.
We have to avoid the error of believing that if we can’t follow our usual routine, it’s not worth training at all. It’s more important than ever to keep training now. We can adapt, improvise and overcome, so we do. If we don’t know how yet, we learn.
You can strength train (and cardio train) with nothing but your body weight if you have to. It may be a nice change. You may learn something new and expand your knowledge of the myriad of fitness options available.
I have, because I’ve been an iron-pumping gym-goer my whole life and now the gyms are closed. But I get creative and forge on. We all must forge on.
Stuck at home with no gym… but still training…
Before all of this started to escalate to business closures and stay-at-home orders, I left my home town of Hoboken New Jersey, not to escape the fourth most population-dense city in the United States (also a major transportation hub next door to New York City – now the epicenter of confirmed cases), but for other reasons – to help out my 83-year old parents who are both struggling with health and aging challenges.
When I first arrived in my mom and dad’s rural Pennsylvania town, there were no coronavirus cases in the entire county, so thinking it was low-risk, I went to the gym.
I was still cautious, washing my hands, wiping down all the equipment both before and after use, then washing my hands again. I didn’t think too much of it, except of myself as being “hardcore” (ie, “I go to the gym no matter what!”)
On the way out of the gym one day, I bumped into the owner and told him the first coronavirus case was just reported in Hoboken and within 24 hours the Office of Emergency Management ordered all gyms to close – I believe the first city in the United States to do so.
He was floored, and said, “Oh my god, I didn’t even think of that. If it happens here, I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent.” (A week later, in PA, Governor Wolf shut down all “non essential” businesses. My heart goes out to all these small business owners getting impacted like this).
As I read more about how the virus spreads and what individuals it hits the hardest, and as I watched what the rest of the fitness industry was doing, after only two gym workouts, I decided it wasn’t about me and my needs. I didn’t want to take any risk of bringing germs home to two 83-year olds, both with health issues, so I started training at home long before closures were mandated.
Problem is, there were no weights at my parent’s home, only a bike and treadmill (and my mom’s 2 and 3 pounders). Actually… no problem. I ordered a pair of Powerblock dumbbells. They still haven’t arrived, so I started training anyway with what I had – my own body.
My first workout at home was an upper body supersets body weight routine:
Push-Pull Upper Body Builder:
1. Push ups
2. Inverted rows
How many reps? As many as possible
How many sets? I did 5 each. (I’d suggest for a beginner or a more modest workout, start with 3 sets each).
That was it! Done. (The next workout I added dips between chairs and reverse (tricep bench) dips – a little push-heavy, but pulling is a challenge with zero equipment).
Primary Muscles worked: Chest and upper back
Secondary muscles worked: Front deltoid, triceps, biceps, core
It only took minutes and yet it was a solid muscle-building workout. This one superset (push-pull) is my GO-TO workout for upper body if I am ever restricted to body weight only. Try and see – you can even get a darn good pump from this.
Sometimes I do pull-ups instead of inverted rows, (or both, ie one horizontal pull and one vertical pull) but not everyone can do an unassisted pull-up with their body weight (nor does everyone have a pull up bar at home, yet the majority of people can do an inverted row and almost everyone can do a modified inverted row.
Inverted rows can be done with a sturdy broomstick across two chairs, or the way I did it was underneath a very sturdy table. If you have a suspension strap trainer like a TRX you can do inverted rows that way too. If you have equipment like a power rack, that’s even better.
Lower body strength training can get compromised for an advanced lifter if you have no weights, but you can still do resistance training with only your body weight.
And remember – if you have a backpack, you DO have weights. Fill that thing with books, reams of paper, kitty litter, water bottles, anything you have that’s heavy.
Body Weight Leg Training For Muscle And Endurance
My routine, while I wait for my free weights:
1. Bodyweight plus 25 pound backpack squats for super high reps (75 per set)
2. Bulgarian split squat with pack (continuous tension) 20-25 reps per leg
3. Hill running or interval cycling with high resistance (I count this twice – as legs and as cardio)
You could do glute bridges and hip thrusts at home too.
When my dumbbells arrive, the lower body training will be greatly expanded to include lunges, split squats and Bulgarian split squats with weight, dumbbell squats, dumbbell front squats, step ups, and Romanian deadlifts both two legs and one leg. I could even go out in the backyard and do walking lunges.
Abs and core training with body weight is easy – no excuses there. (The best body weight ab exercises will be a whole separate post).
If you have nothing but dumbbells and a few good body weight resistance moves in your arsenal, you can get a great muscle and strength-building workout right at home (with little, if any compromise in results). I can’t encourage you enough to get dumbbells for home if you don’t have them because the number of truly-effective pure bodyweight only resistance exercises that can build significant strength and muscle are somewhat limited.
Cardio Training: In-Home And Outside
What about cardio? I ramped it up. I usually don’t do cardio every day unless I’m in a serious cutting phase, but I decided my response to this would be to do more exercise, not less, and cardio options are more plentiful than lifting options at the moment. Plus I wanted to get outside – I figured it’s a great stress releaser.
I set a schedule for 3 three-mile runs, 2 sessions of intervals against hard resistance on the bike, and 2 sessions of jogging up and down the “hill from hell” out back (brutal but rewarding, and effective) and one long walk (5-7 miles).
I know a lot of people may want to get their cardio doing body weight (“calisthenics”) circuits, and there are lots of online (and DVD) videos that lead you through these circuits if you don’t know how. I’d rather cycle, walk, run, and do hill repeats, but the important thing is find something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy running or cardio machines, don’t let anyone try to force you into it. Choose the training you like the most.
Back to that upper body workout for a minute…
When I was in the living room doing push ups and rows, my brother Steve, (who is autism-spectrum) wandered in, and he knew I stopped going to the gym and I had told him to do the same. As I was pushing and pulling, he started working out too. First, he started doing his Kung Fu (kata) practice (that’s always entertaining to watch).
Then he started doing some lunges… incorrectly. I took a break between sets and I said, “Wait, take a bigger lunge stance so your feet are further apart. Now, instead of lunging forward, focus on dropping your back knee down. Now, go a little deeper. That’s it – now you got it.”
At that moment, my mom, who is 83, struggling with some memory loss and starting to lose some of the function she used to have, and has had both knees replaced, and then the left one operated on again last year, walks in, sees us, and without saying a word, starts doing split squats! I went over and showed her the same form as I did my brother. She didn’t do the full range of motion, but it was deep enough for her.
We counted off the reps, 1, 2, 3…. 10! Then switched legs…
Then I said, do you want to see another exercise? Let’s do goblet squats. This time I handed her a little dumbbell and we started counting reps again.
It was priceless. I was happy.
Do it for yourself… and be a role model for others
Next time, we’ll do upper body, and then the next leg workout after that we’ll bump it up to 2 sets. I also ordered (in addition to mine) some heavier dumbbells for her – some 5 and 8 pounders so she can get some progressive overload, right?
That got me thinking, as we’re all hunkered down, why not train with your family, or help your family train at home, if you’re the expert? Why not make the most of it and do the best you can with what you have? If your family doesn’t train, who knows, quietly train yourself and maybe they will follow (The best kind of “influencer.”)
Dumbbells are a little lower in supply than usual right now, but it’s not like finding toilet paper – plenty of places have dumbbells in stock and ready to ship. Or just pump out reps and reps of bodyweight moves (even if you’re strong and fit, if you think 50 to 100 nonstop reps of squats with light weight or only body weight is easy, try it first, then be the judge).
With or without gym equipment, we can do this.
The state and local government agencies may say gyms and fitness centers are “non essential businesses” during a pandemic. But remember – STRENGTH AND FITNESS ARE ALWAYS ESSENTIAL!
And please let me know how I can help.
I know there is a huge demand for home workouts right now and so I’m already working on putting together some new ones and will bump up all my older ones. In the meantime, while out here under “quarantine,” I scrambled to get my new Burn the Fat Blog rebuilt, finally finished it, and I bumped up this article on how to set up a home gym:
Other requests for help that I’ve been getting include:
– Home training progression (how do you progress body weight exercises?)
– How to make sure you don’t lose muscle or go backwards when only training at home or with just body weight
– Tips for beating stress eating
– Defeating all or none thinking
All of these topics I’l be covering in upcoming blog posts.
Let me know how else I can help. You can reach me by sending an email from here: