For many of my friends, clients and peers, I’ve noticed that the reality of the COVID-19 Pandemic has finally been settling in.
As a community, we’ve gone from “I can take two weeks off the gym” to: “Crap, gyms are going to be closed for MONTHS… maybe I should have bought those dumbbells when I had the chance.”
The news changes the world daily. We are all uncertain and unsure about what this year will bring. Most of us are finally trying hard to do our part and stay home.
These uncertain times raise a lot of questions for me as a health and fitness coach.
Gyms will be closed in Virginia until June 10th at the earliest, as of March 30th our governor issued a stay-at-home order for the state. Many other states have already done the same or are going to soon.
I’m fortunate that my business has always been online, and that the nature of my job doesn’t need to change. Because of this, I’ve been focusing my energy on finding ways I can help the MOST people make this transition an easier one, and how I can help the most people USE this quarantine situation to their own benefit.
My clients want to know what they can do so they won’t lose their progress or take steps backwards when stuck at home. They want to know what they should be expecting during this time in terms of progress, & assuming you’re already on my email list and consume content from me, I’m sure you do too.
Questions I’ve been answering frequently:
- How much progress can I ACTUALLY be making with minimal equipment?
- Should I change my current goals because of the situation?
- Should I be adding cardio to my routine?
SPOILER ALERT: The answer to all of these is, “it depends.” Classic, Marissa.
But… the best part about email newsletters is this is LONG-FORM content! Keep reading to figure out what ends of the spectrum you’ll fall under for each question.
How much progress can I actually be making with minimal equipment?
Okay so, this question by nature is vague and will have to depend on what your definition of “minimal equipment” is.
One individual may have a full dumbbell rack at home while another might just have one resistance band. Another person may just have a suitcase they can fill with heavy objects and lug around.
The amount of progress you can make with whatever you have around depends on two things:
- Your current strength and experience level
- The array of equipment you have
Your current strength level determines how creative you’re going to need to get with your training to make progress.
The array of equipment you have determines your “ceiling” for making progress with a given load.
For example, if you are a total beginner to resistance training, you may just need your bodyweight to make progress. Push ups, pull ups, dips, split squats and many other bodyweight exercises can be plenty challenging for you. As you get stronger, you can progress by doing more sets, reps, and eventually playing with tempo to make sets harder without having to go into unreasonably high #s of reps.
If you DO have equipment, say a set of ten pound dumbbells or a band, your ceiling for progress is immediately raised. You can now progress beyond just your bodyweight for every exercise and can add in new variations.
This gets trickier for intermediate to advanced trainees, who are used to a full gym setting and thrive with barbells, machines, and dumbbells galore. However, making progress is NOT impossible.
- Take any bilateral exercise (ex. barbell squat) and perform it unilaterally (split squat, pistol squat, single leg box squat) to make it tremendously harder.
- Get creative with your bodyweight and make harder variations of usually “easy” exercises for you (ex. decline push ups, dips with your feet elevated, single leg calf raise off a step, slowing tempo or adding a balance component to lower body work)
- Address your weak points – for many this is CORE WORK. Take this time to really build that foundation so you can come back to the barbell even stronger when gyms do open. Master long planks, sit ups, and work on those ab exercises you ALWAYS skip.
- If you have bands or dumbbells, make normal exercise variations harder in the same ways, but now with whatever load you have. I PROMISE that 99.99% of you can find your limits with any amount or lack of load and still make some type of strength gains.
- My at-home guides and custom coaching plans apply all of these principles for you so you don’t have to think about it.
Now… the answer to this question lies in ONE more variable: How are you DEFINING progress?
You’re probably not going to add weight to your 1RM back squat with a set of dumbbells or bands at home.
You’re probably going to need to define progress a little differently during this quarantine if your focus was solely strength in particular movements.
The downside to this – no barbell therapy.
I know. It sucks! 🙁
But it is what it is right now.
Change your expectations just slightly.
When the focus goes from “I want a ___lb squat and ___lb deadlift” to:
“I want to get stronger in any way possible and keep up my level of fitness through this quarantine,”
THAT is when you will start making big strides forward, even as an advanced trainee.
This segways wonderfully into the next question:
Should I be changing my fitness goals because of this quarantine?
Again, it depends. It depends on:
- The nature of your goals prior to quarantine
- The realistic potential for you to carry out those goals without gym access/your current at-home equipment array
- Your mental state and overall well-being during this quarantine
- Financial variables
- The variable state of the world will change the achievability of some goals (contests, meets, events)
Consider someone like myself, who was dieting prior to the quarantine and planned to diet through the beginning of May. This involved caloric restriction, additional cardio, and strength training not necessarily to build muscle, but to retain it. Continuing on with these goals made sense for me because:
- I can do cardio outside and keep my steps up by taking walks
- It’s EASIER to nail down my nutrition with every social event having been canceled for the next 2-3 months
- I am currently mentally in a place where continuing to cut, restrict, and push myself in quarantine is not negatively affecting my well-being.
In GENERAL, I have found that this quarantine is a prime time to really crack down on diet for most of my clients. No social events, parties, or variables that can easily throw off nutrition. Times like these NEVER come around.
The only circumstance where dieting would not be ideal during this quarantine is if you are not handling the COVID-19 pandemic situation well in terms of mental health. Everyone is processing this pandemic differently, and it’s OKAY if you are not ready to take extra steps or add extra stressors to your routine. You need to acknowledge where YOU are at and make progress from there. For some, focusing on including healthy foods, fruits and vegetables to your diet may be a good and realistic step forward.
Now consider someone who is focused more on strength and muscle building, male or female. This typically involves specific heavy compound movements, increasing calorie intake, and gym access or the financial capability to invest in the right equipment. Changing goals slightly during this time would make more sense for this individual because:
- For MOST people, the likelihood of being able to swing buying a rack, barbell and plates is slim. If you have the means and have been procrastinating putting together your garage gym, all the better for you! But most people probably don’t fall under that category.
- Focusing on weak areas, stability, and core with an at-home training program may make more sense for this time given a barbell or heavy enough weights are not available.
Final Question: Should you be adding cardio to your routine during quarantine?
Again, it depends. It depends on:
- Your activity level prior to quarantine
- How much more sedentary you have become because of the quarantine/WFH situation (if you are non-essential)
- What your goals are/aren’t
Your activity level prior to and now currently during quarantine are the two biggest factors that influence what you should be doing to keep up weight maintenance/whatever your goals are.
You must ask yourself: HOW BIG IS THAT GAP? Using a fitness watch like an Apple watch or Fitbit is a great way to quantify this.
For me personally, my activity level did NOT change much pre- to post-quarantine. I work on my laptop and walked minimally on campus when classes were in person. I was rarely hitting 10,000 steps daily before quarantine, so the drop-off when everyone was ordered to stay home wasn’t large.
However, I have clients who are personal trainers or teachers that are on their feet all day long at work, and are now working from home or unemployed. Their steps have gone from an average of 10-15k per day to <5. They absolutely need to be doing more to keep up their activity levels, because a change that large CAN make a difference in total energy expenditure over the course of a few weeks or months, and impact progress significantly if said clients are aiming for fat loss or body recomposition.
Also note that if it’s NOT URGENT for you to lose body fat, weight, or make any changes at all to your body, it may be less important for you to add in daily walks/runs/exercise to keep up activity levels. If you don’t care to gain a pound or two from lying around more and not changing anything, that’s OKAY!
Got more questions for me? Send them my way and I will put out more emails this month or next month for you. Below this I’ve linked my at-home training guides that will remain priced down at $14.99 for the bundle and $5.99 per guide until the COVID pandemic has blown over.
I hope that I’ve been able to help you in some way throughout this uncertain time. If there is any kind of content or support that I can provide as a coach or educator on this platform or on Instagram, please reply to this email and let me know!