On September 11, 2001 I was training a client at a large health club in downtown Washington, DC, about 4 blocks from the White House, when we heard some buzz from the cardio area where the TVs were located. We all know what happened next. The following days were a surreal experience that felt like a collective punch in the gut.
A journey back 19 years is time is relevant because, I don’t know about you, that is exactly how I’m feeling now. First, major conferences and trade shows cancelled, then companies mandated employees work from home, next up sports seasons – from professional down to youth, cancelled and now the final coup de grace – schools are closed. Oh, and do yourself a favor, DO NOT look at your investment portfolio.
Except for the rapid fluctuations of the financial markets, all of this makes sense, why have large crowds and people intermingling if it could exacerbate and increase the spread of COVID-19? Are all of these closures a little extreme? Is this level of ‘social distancing’ going too far? Who knows, I’m not an epidemiologist but the people who study this stuff for a living are making the argument that these steps are necessary to limit the spread of the disease – to get a better understanding of that perspective, this clip from the Joe Rogan podcast with infectious disease expert Michael Olsterholm sums up the serious nature of the virus.
As of this posting I haven’t heard of health clubs being closed because of the virus but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happens because, let’s face it, due to the nature of what goes on – even the cleanest health clubs can be a melting pot of germs. As a long-time instructor I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say, “I’m feeling a little under the weather but if I sweat it out, I should be fine.” NO! If you’re sick, stay the F*** home, be selfish and keep your germs to yourself!
What do you do if you’re a fitness fanatic in the age of COVID-19? For many of us, NOT WORKING OUT IS NOT AN OPTION. Do you risk going to the gym and becoming infected? While it sounds like COVID-19 is fatal to only a small % of the population, becoming sick with it still sounds like a horrible way to spend 10 to 14 days.
IF you do go to the gym check out this blog by my Seattle-based colleague and fitness superstar Tricia Murphy Madden or this document by yoga instructor / Johns Hopkins Professor Shauna Harrison, MPH, PhD both provide excellent steps that you can take to limit the risk of catching any disease while you’re working out and, to be honest are things we should all already be doing.
As someone who makes people sweat for a living and travels around the world to teach fitness education workshops I’ve had to do workouts in small hotel rooms in Manila and Moscow, sweat in under-equipped hotel workout centers in Shanghai and Singapore and done metabolic conditioning workouts in public parks in Melbourne and Hong Kong – the point is I can design workouts with a gym full of equipment or no equipment at all which is why I’m writing this blog – to give you exercise solutions that you can do from the comfort (and safety) of your own home.
Here’s the outdoor workout from Melbourne, AUS
For good measure, here’s a standard workout from when I take my kids to the playground (it requires a superband)
If you can’t make it to the gym or studio for your favorite class and you don’t want to drop the duckets for a Peloton, good news, the Tabata protocol of high intensity interval training (HIIT) allows you to get a great metabolic conditioning workout in less than ten minutes.
Yes, that sounds like a cheesy, late-night infomercial, but the truth is that recent research demonstrates that 4-minute Tabata training sessions can actually be more effective than 30-minutes on a treadmill for improving aerobic capacity and running economy; which strongly supports the concept of ‘less is more’ when it comes to high intensity exercise.
In their study, Schaun and colleagues organized participants into three separate training groups for a sixteen-week workout program. The fifty-five participants were healthy young men (average 23 years-old) organized into three groups:
- HIIT-T – 17 participants would follow a Tabata protocol on a treadmill: run at a velocity associated with 130% of VO2 Max for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest, repeated for 8 cycles for a total of 4 minutes.
- HIIT-WB – 19 participants would do a Tabata interval using bodyweight movements including Burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks and squat thrusts with 3 kilogram kettlebells.
- MICT – 19 participants would run on a treadmill for 30 thirty minutes at an intensity associated with 90% of the heart rate at the second ventilatory threshold (VT2).
Once the 16-week training protocols were completed, each group improved their fitness levels – measured by time to reach VT2 and the time to reach exhaustion. The HIIT-T group demonstrated better results than the HIIT-WB or MICT groups; which adds support that HIIT is a time-efficient workout solution. However, more importantly, the study shows that HIIT WB following the Tabata high intensity training protocol can be used to help improve fitness levels which is great news for those days when time can be a factor and a gym workout just isn’t in the plans.
A Tabata interval using bodyweight exercises is perfect for when you’re stuck at home. The circuit used in the above study is perfect, with one modification – ice skaters (hop from right to left on each leg as fast as possible like ice skating). Download a Tabata timer on your app store, hit go on your favorite playlist and have at it for this circuit. Good news, if you move at your highest intensity you only need to do it once!
- Mountain Climbers
- Ice skaters
- Jumps jacks
Here are other metabolic conditioning workout formats that you could from the comfort of your own home; for each protocol, do approximately 4-6 minutes of a general warm-up of bodyweight exercises; here is a great mobility workout that you can do a little space and NO equipment
Options for exercises include:
Run in place
30:30 – Based on research by Dr. Martin Gibala, the protocol is 30 sec of high intensity followed by 30 sec of low intensity; warm-up for 4-6 minutes then do 30:30 intervals for 5-10 minutes.
30:20:10 – Based on research that is known as the Copenhagen Protocol, it is 30 sec. of low intensity, 20 sec. of moderate intensity then 10 sec. of highest intensity; repeated for 5 min. at a time. Rest for 2-3 min. Then perform another one; including the warm-up it’s a great workout in less than 15 minutes.
6 minute Ladder –
Structured intervals based on 1 min. blocks of time; the 1st number is the work effort – go at your fastest speed possible, the 2nd is the active recovery, move at a comfortable rate of speed to catch your breath.
20:40 / 30:30 / 40:20
40:20 / 30:30 / 20:40
That is 6 minutes that will leave you completely out of breath.
For strength training, you can do the bodyweight workouts in the video above, or here these medicine ball workouts (if you don’t have a med ball, you can use a single dumbbell or a heavy soup can):
The point is that you have options for how to stay fit if you want to stay home for a period of time. For other ideas, you can pick up a copy of my book: Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple, it teaches you how to design your own workouts for mobility, strength and metabolic conditioning and provides you with 21 workouts using only 1 piece of equipment.