Staying Fit During a Pandemic

As a Pilates instructor, I’ve been asked how I have been staying fit during the pandemic. With gyms and studios closed or open with limitations, it can be hard to make yourself work out. I completely relate: on my own, I’ll quickly stop doing reps as soon as I feel the slightest burn. Without a class on the schedule, it’s easy to say, “I’ll do it later.” Then later becomes tomorrow. Before I know it, a week has gone by and I haven’t put in any dedicated time towards my fitness goals.

If there is nobody there to push me or help me plan, I can easily spend weeks and even months without exercising. I don’t feel good about it. My body doesn’t feel good about it. At a certain point, it feels almost embarrassing to think about working out again.

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The Beginning

I was fortunate, at the beginning of the safer-at-home orders here in California, to have made a friend who also values being in shape. He quickly made the switch to exercising at home and would share his progress with me. This, naturally, came with the enthusiastic question, “So Katie, did you get your workout in today?”

His dedication to continuing to pursue his fitness goals despite the circumstances inspired me to be better about my own fitness goals. Of course, I already knew I would struggle to push myself, so I had to figure out what would work best for me. I decided I would research how to put together a home workout routine and schedule, then go from there.

The first few days were great! I felt my muscles working, and I was proud to be making progress. I felt stronger, better able to conquer the days. It was so satisfying to be able to say, “Yes, I did get my workout in today!”

Then came the boredom.

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What I love about Pilates, part of why I became an instructor, is that it challenges me, helps me balance my body, and is never boring. I just didn’t have the patience for the learning curve of creating bodyweight, dumbbell, slider, and stability ball routines at home. Add that with my tendency to let myself stop as soon as my muscles felt challenged, and quitting out of frustration was virtually guaranteed. Being my own instructor was just not for me.

However, I still wanted to exercise. Walking around the neighborhood was nice, but I needed more. I wanted to target my glutes, arms, back, shoulders, and core (basically everything). Going on walks wasn’t going to be enough to achieve my fitness goals.

Staying Fit During a Pandemic

Before COVID-19, when I couldn’t afford to pay for classes, I had followed along with yoga videos on YouTube at home. Doing random yoga moves by myself never left me satisfied. However, by following a video, I was able to feel more purposeful, like I was getting something out of my practice. If yoga videos worked well for me, why not fitness videos?

(Yes, yoga is exercise, and you can certainly get in a good workout through various yoga practices; still, I prefer to use yoga to stretch and meditate, and a different form of exercise to build muscle.)

I knew I would have to make my workouts fun to keep my attention and engagement up. Slider exercises immediately came to mind: they use minimal equipment, are enjoyably challenging, and can easily be used to target the areas I most wanted to work on first, my glutes and core. Plus, I already had sliders, so I wouldn’t have to use DVD cases or another substitute.

A YouTube search for “slider glutes workout” returned plenty of results. I threw a few of the more promising looking ones into a “Workout Day” playlist I created and started testing.

At this stage, it’s nice if you have the equipment in the videos you’ve found (if they use any), or if you already know what specific exercises you are looking for, but it’s not the most important thing.

Find Your Instructor(s)

With any instructor-led class, whether in-person or online, I find that the most important key to success is finding an instructor you enjoy. When I’m considering an instructor, I look for three things:

  • Useful cues: When the instructor is talking about how to perform an exercise, they include how to find correct form, how to modify if I need to make it more manageable, and how to vary it if I want to challenge myself more
  • Tone: My preference is for an instructor who sounds upbeat, relatable, understanding, and encouraging, because we all have our good and our bad days, and I want someone who can help me get through those days when I am struggling, too
  • Good visual demonstration: It is easy to see how to do an exercise by watching the instructor perform it, and any potentially tricky-to-understand elements are called out with additional demonstration to help with comprehension

I also enjoy if an instructor has a good sense of humor, but I don’t consider that a “must-have.”

As you take more classes or follow more videos, you will develop a sense of what works best for you. Just because someone you know likes an instructor does not mean that you will also enjoy that person’s teaching style. Especially when it comes to physical fitness, which is something many people already struggle with doing, it is essential to find what teaching style works best for you.

You might prefer an instructor who brings new moves to every class, or you might prefer someone who sticks to a certain repertoire. Maybe you like hearing personal stories from your instructor during class, or you like the instructor keeping it strictly professional. Some people like an instructor who talks the whole time, others like to have more quiet moments.

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Find Your Equipment

In this time of COVID-19, exercise equipment is scarce. If you didn’t have fitness gear before the pandemic, you will have a tough time getting it now. So, take stock: what do you have available to you?

Once you know what equipment you have, or what substitutes you have for traditional equipment, you can better narrow down what video routines will work for you. For example, if you don’t have a stability ball, you might want to stay away from workouts that require a stability ball.

If you are just getting started working out at home, it is easier to find success, and therefore build the momentum to keep going, if you keep everything as accessible as possible. The “ease of access” principle is part of why walking and running are such popular forms of physical activity: they only require shoes, and most people have those (though you could technically go barefoot).

No matter what equipment you have (or don’t have), someone out there has made a workout routine for it.

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Find Your Wants

People are unique: we all have different preferences, skills, fitness, and health. There are so many different ways to exercise that it can be a little intimidating once you start exploring. Luckily, there are ways you can narrow it down.

When I started getting serious about adding physical activity to my life, I asked myself these questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this?
  • Do I already know what I do not like doing for exercise?
  • What do I already like doing?
  • How much time do I want to invest in working out, at least to start?

My answers were:

  • My goals are to increase my flexibility, build my arm and core strength, work on mitigating my postural scoliosis, and tone my glutes, arms, back, and core.
  • I don’t like running (understatement of the year), and since I live above people, I don’t want to disturb my downstairs neighbors, so any jumping should be minimal and able to be done quietly
  • My favorites are slider, glute, and oblique work
  • To start, I want to stay at 20 to 30 minutes, preferably closer to 20

Putting It All Together to Stay Fit at Home

By this point, I had found instructors I liked, I knew the equipment I had access to or could substitute, and I had a better idea of what I wanted from my workouts. This information helped me to pick and choose fitness videos to add to my “Workout Day” playlist so that they were easy to find when I wanted to exercise.

If you’re lucky, the instructors you found go the extra step of putting together playlists of their videos. You can take advantage of this, either by saving that playlist or using it to sort out videos that fit your goals. For example, the instructor might have playlists for different target areas, workout types, or length of routine. By exploring their playlists, you might find more options to fit your needs than you expected.

I was just getting started working out at home, so that meant keeping it simple: choosing one workout on my playlist that was close to 20 minutes and used sliders, showering (hygiene is important), changing clothes, and done.

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As I became more reliable with completing my one routine per day goal, I began to add on. First, I found a quick post-workout stretching video. Adding a cooldown gave me the added benefit of working towards my goal of increasing my flexibility. Next, I added a short pre-workout warmup video. To maintain ease of access, I restructured my playlist:

  • Pre-workout warmup
  • Today’s fitness video
  • Post-workout cooldown/stretching
  • Other fitness videos

By reorganizing my “Workout Day” playlist this way, I could easily switch which exercise video I wanted to do, then starting my warmup video would let it automatically play the workout and cooldown videos next. The autoplay feature allows me to get a drink of water between videos and not have to worry about finding the next one I want to do.

Keep Going

As mentioned, I wanted to avoid the dreaded boredom trap. I also knew that if I kept having to go through my “Workout Day” playlist to pick out what I wanted to do each day, I was going to quickly get bogged down in trying to decide how to change it up. Eventually, it would become too much of a hassle for me to want to exercise at all. I found creating smaller playlists of different day options, then changing them up every few weeks, was a great way to eliminate the decision paralysis.

After I had kept up with regular exercise long enough to feel confident I could maintain it, I wanted to add on to it; I had lots of target areas to get to! I began small, adding on one fitness video. This gave me about forty minutes of exercise targeting two different areas, plus my warmup and cooldown.

The changes I was starting to see and feel in my body were highly motivating: I was starting to see a lift in my booty, a little bit of definition in my arms, my stomach was flattening a touch, and I could get through exercises with fewer breaks, more weight, and less falling. These signs of success, no matter how small, encouraged me to keep working.

These days, I rotate between four “Workout Day” playlists with three fitness videos in each. I’ve always believed in exercising the whole body when working out, so I reflect that here with different videos each day for core, lower body, and upper body, respectively. Some people prefer to do particular target areas depending on the day (ex. leg day or arm day); it’s all a personal preference, what your goals are, and what works best for your body.

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Tips for Staying Fit During a Pandemic

  • Stay hydrated before, during and after exercising to help your body stay cool and release the heat it creates1
  • Get protein in your diet throughout your day and after your workout to help with the repair and growth of your muscles2
  • Rest days are essential to allow your body to recover, prevent muscle fatigue, reduce risk of injury, improve your performance, and support healthy sleep3,4
  • Pay close attention to your form: follow the cues the instructor gives, practice in front of a mirror or other reflective surface if you can, or you can record yourself or ask someone else to check your form for you
  • It is okay if you aren’t perfect, if you miss a day, or if you mess up; take a reset if you need to and try again
  • Be nice to yourself: establishing an at-home exercise routine can be challenging, particularly when you are used to attending classes in a gym or studio
  • Celebrate your successes, no matter how small – they’ll help you keep going

Key Points

  • For fitness at home, YouTube has a massive variety of exercise videos you can access if you have trouble making yourself work out or coming up with routines to do
  • A search for workouts for the area you want to target most can provide you with a good selection of fitness videos. From there, you can narrow down your list by finding instructors you like, looking at what equipment you have or can substitute for, your goals, and how long you want to exercise
  • Start small and simple to help build your confidence and solidify your routine
  • Celebrate your successes, and be nice to yourself on your journey to find what works best for you

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References and Additional Resources

1 Healthy Hydration for Physical Activity. (2018).

2 Caspero, A. (2020, June 22). Protein and the Athlete – How Much Do You Need? EatRight.

3 McCall, P. (2018, December 19). 8 Reasons to Take a Rest Day. ACE Fitness.

4 Nunez, K. (2019, August 7). Exercise Rest Day: Benefits, Importance, Tips, and More. Healthline.

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