Exercising in Isolation Doesn’t Have to be Boring, but it Does Have to be a Daily “Non-negotiable”

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It is hard enough to train consistently at the best of times — and a global pandemic is anything but the best of times. The problem is, while isolation makes it harder to prioritize motion, isolation also makes exercise mission critical. Movement helps manage anxiety and depression and strengthens the mind, body, and immune system; and training gives us something to control — an unquantifiable perk in this uncertain time.

How do you make daily movement a reality? Make exercise convenient, schedule it in, and eliminate as many disincentives as possible! A major disincentive is boredom. The pandemic is no time for a workout that makes you yawn — boredom is the kiss of workout death!

Mix things up! Put on your favorite music and dance, establish a family fitness challenge, sample various online workouts, or try a “fun” pyramid set!

Pyramids provide a killer workout, no gym required — perfect when isolated!

How they work

Pick the “base” and “add-on” exercises. The base exercise stays consistent in reps and intensity during the workout. The “add-on” exercise ramps up in reps or intensity throughout the pyramid. You simply alternate the base exercise with the “add-on” exercise. Confused? Don’t worry, I have outlined two sample workouts below.

Workout 1: Cardio pyramid + 10-minute strength

For this example, the base is stairs or burpees. In a condo or apartment run the stairwell. In a house, run your home stairs. No stairs? Substitute burpees. The “add on” is jumping jacks. (To do a burpee, bend over and put your hands on the floor. Jump your feet back into a plank. Engage your core — no arching your lower back. Jump your feet back in and stand up.) Other options: high knees, skipping, or squat jumps.

Set details:

Run up and down one set of stairs (OR do five burpees). Do 10 jumping jacks. Run one set of stairs. Do 20 jumping jacks. Run one set of stairs. Do 30 jumping jacks. Run one set of stairs. Do 40 jumping jacks. One set of stairs. Do 50 jumping jacks.

Do 10 minutes of 10 squats, 10 push-ups, and 10 lunges — repeat the exercises as many times as possible in 10 minutes.

Then, repeat the above cardio add-on set. Enjoy!

Workout 2: Core pyramid + Tabata intervals

For this example, I am using a V hold as the base and a plank as the add on. Instead of adding on time to the plank, I have added on different iterations of the plank. Other options: crunches, bicycle kicks, bridges, side planks, or Supermans.

Set details:

Start on your bum in a V hold, chest out, back flat, core engaged, back neutral. Always hold for 30 seconds.

Flip over onto your hands and knees, walk out into a plank. Hold for 15 seconds. Bum down. Back neutral. Core engaged.

Walk your hands backwards. Flip back into a V hold — try to not stand up as you flip. Hold for 30 seconds.

Add on 1: Plank walks. Flip around. Hold your basic plank for 15 seconds. Then, in a plank position, “walk” your right hand in front of you, then your left. Place right hand back to its starting position underneath you, then left. Repeat starting with the left hand.

Walk your hands back. Hold V hold.

Add on 2: Shoulder taps. Walk into a plank. Hold for 15 seconds. Do one walk-out starting with each hand. Then add on “shoulder taps.” Keep your hips stable as you touch your right hand to your left shoulder. Then touch your left hand to your right shoulder.

Walk your hands back. Turn over into your V hold.

Add on 3: Leg extensions. Repeat the above sequence. Then, add on one “leg extension” on each leg. Holding your plank — core engaged and pelvis stable — engage your right bum muscle to lift you right leg off the floor. Hold for five seconds and then repeat with your left leg.

Walk your hands back. Hold your V hold.

Add on 4: Leg abductions. Repeat the above sequence. Then add on one “leg abduction” with each leg. Holding your plank — core engaged and pelvis stable — engage your right bum muscle to lift your right leg off the floor and out to the side. Hold for five seconds and then repeat with your left leg.

Hold your V hold.

Add on 5:  Knee tucks. Repeat the sequence thus far, then do one knee tuck with each leg. Hold your plank as you bring one knee into your chest. Count to five, then repeat with the other leg.

Tabata interval:

One round of Tabata is 4 minutes. You alternate between 20 seconds of all-out work and 10 seconds of recovery. Try burpees, jumping jacks, or squat jumps.

If appropriate for your fitness level, do a second time through the core pyramid. If currently not feasible, no problem. Work up to doing two sets.

If you have weights, by all means incorporate them. For example, try a strength add-on pyramid with squat and dumbbell shoulder presses as your base and push-ups as your pyramid. Start 10 squat and presses and 8 push-ups. Go up by 2 reps of push-ups each set until you get to 20.

Main take-away

Frame daily motion as a “pandemic non-negotiable” — your current and future self will thank you! Consistent exercise will leave you with greater levels of concentration, a more stable mood, fewer negative body aches and pains, improved sleep, and more emotional resilience.