I consider myself an athlete, but I don’t engage in any particularly impressive physical feats. I am not “cut” or “swole.” My superpower is consistency. Barring the rare knee surgery or birthing the occasional child, I have worked out daily for more than 20 years. Physical activity is also how I avoid injuring myself while picking up my kids, and how I combat anxiety.
As the pandemic has worn on, it’s become more vital to find a way to move your body every day, especially if you’ve discovered that the sedentary days are starting to wreak havoc on your neck or lower back. For suggestions, I enlisted the help of Cassey Ho, the animating spirit behind the wildly popular Blogilates fitness platform, as well as Ben Musholt, physical therapist, parkour coach, and the author of The Mad Skills Encyclopedia. (Disclosure: Ben is a friend, and I used to work out in his garage.)
And an FYI: This is not a guide to making “gains” or meeting your weight loss goals. It’s just a bit of advice to help you get (or stay) active.
Updated January 2020: We added new information, new apps, and new equipment reviews.
Set Up Your Space
Most sports manufacturers won’t tell you this, but you don’t need anything—no, not even a pair of fancy leggings or shoes—to start working out. Just do a couple of push-ups in your pajamas every time you pee, and congratulations! You’re on your way.
Still, a basic kit may help you establish a routine. Fitness expert Cassey Ho recommends starting with a yoga mat. “Obviously, a lot of us don’t have space for our own home gym,” she says, but a mat can help you define a workout space within the chaos of your living room floor.
A yoga mat will cushion your joints and keep your feet and hands secure. Parkour enthusiast Ben Musholt also notes that for apartment dwellers, it will dampen the sound of your footfalls for your downstairs neighbors.
Many free online workout tutorials will also feature workouts that use weights, like small dumb bells or a kettle bell. Musholt likes a versatile piece of equipment called a Lebert equalizer, which can be used as an overhead weight, a step stool, dip bars, and so forth. My colleague Matt Jancer also builds muscle using a weighted vest.
These are nice to have, but body weight exercises will suffice for most people. You probably also have a lot of alternative weights in your house. I have danced around in my living room swinging cans of beans, jugs filled with water, and a backpack filled with books. A 3-year-old clinging to your ankle who needs to be repeatedly picked up and cuddled also works.
Musholt also notes that viewing your home as a parkour practitioner can help vary your workout. “There’s opportunities all around,” he says. You can do tricep dips off chairs or step workouts in a stairwell. I’ve also found this Ikea stepstool to be a surprisingly useful piece of workout equipment.
Pick Your Workout
The best way to start working out consistently is to find something you like to do, and then do that—whether that’s running, walking your dog, or attending weekly Dance Church.
But if you’re still not certain what will tickle your fancy, I recommend starting with free services. The New York Times has a quick, efficient, strength-building 7-minute workout that’s easy to do on a lunch break. Musholt also devised a beginner’s whole-body workout for WIRED readers.
January is also a good time to kickstart your routine with a 30-day online program. I’m currently doing the Yoga with Adriene 30-day program with Adriene Mishler, who I’ve started to refer to as my only quarantine friend. Her voice is soothing, the instructions are clear, and the expectations mercifully low. Cassey Ho’s Blogilates also has a 30-day program, as well as a free quarantine workout. Despite the name, PopSugar Fitness has plethora of trainers of different genders, shapes and sizes. Orangetheory also offers free classes on YouTube.
Once you have some idea of what you like to do, it’s easier to invest in real gear (if you need it at all). For example, I have less trouble dropping a hundo on a running jacket, since I know I’ll use it every day. For in-home options, Peloton is the clear winner of the Pandemic Olympics, but new competitors are springing up every day. If you’re a serious cyclist, the Wahoo Kickr will probably be a better fit. For casual athletes, the Myx system is actually a more cost-effective alternative to the Peloton.
If you miss travel, I also like NordicTrack’s treadmills and Studio Cycle. If you have the money, but a little less space, you might want to consider investing in a Tempo or a Mirror, which can be mounted on a wall. These in-home gym systems have a wide array of workouts and screens that help you check your form.
I also maintain a list of the Best Fitness Watches and Trackers. If you prefer one kind of fitness tracker over another, Fitbit and Garmin have their own proprietary workout apps and coaching services. This may take some experimentation to find your personal preferences, as a runner and a biker, I like to use Strava to record runs on a Garmin or Apple Watch.
If you’re looking for gear ideas in a specific sport, I encourage you to check out our Best Running Gear guide, as well as our guides to the Best Workout Earbuds and Headphones and the Best Biking Accessories. If you need a device to stream some of these free workout services to your TV, take a look at our guide to the Best Streaming Devices.
Try More Intense Services
Let’s be honest. You’re probably tired of doing sit-ups in front of Netflix and taking those stupid little walks to get out of the house. Now is a great time to try out something different. Again, the Peloton app is unquestionably the most popular app, and you don’t even need a bike. It offers 10 different kinds of workouts, including strength training, guided outdoor running sessions, and meditations—and the first two months are free.
Two of Peloton’s major competitors recently debuted new health programs, too. If you’re an Apple stan, try Apple Fitness+ to coordinate workouts between your watch, iPad, and Apple TV. If you need more accountability, Fitbit recently debuted a 1:1 coaching service. I tried it, but checking in with an online coach as well as my husband, boss, co-workers, kids, friends, and family felt more oppressive than encouraging. I also liked Obé Fitness. It has a free trial full of brutal workouts, with instructors ensconced in a disconcertingly empty, white Clockwork-Orange-like room.
Whatever your niche interest is, the odds are that 10 months into a pandemic, someone has started a workout app around it. Personally, I like the MuTu system and MommaStrong for rebuilding my core after having two children.
My niche interest, the thing that usually gets me going, is that I love to dance. If you haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole of learning TikTok dances, Steezy has a variety of dance styles on a clean and easy-to-navigate site that you can stream to your television. I also like online barre classes from Pure Barre, The Bar Method, and Barre3. If you have a Samsung TV (2018 or newer), you can access many of these services for free.
My other niche interest is the best Hemsworth. He has also launched a workout app. Personally, I find the app a little difficult to navigate and the food recommendations impossible to follow with two picky young kids, but you may be a better Hemsworth than me.
Finally, if you used to attend fitness classes before the pandemic, I encourage you to contact your old in-person instructor to see if they offer private Zoom classes.
Fire It Up, Don’t Stop
If working out with El Hemsworth on a daily basis isn’t enough of an incentive for you to get off the couch, you can try other simple tips to jump-start your exercise habit.
How to Get Started and Stay Motivated:
- Set a recurring appointment in your calendar app.
- Make sure you have clean, comfortable workout clothes.
- Start small and stop if it hurts. Don’t injure yourself.
- Cross-train and try a lot of different things!
- You set that recurring appointment, right?!
For Ho, putting an appointment in your calendar means you’ll mentally set aside the time for working out and get a reminder about it. Making a date with a friend is another incentive—nothing will make Zoom more appealing than seeing your best friend (and Chris Hemsworth) at the start of your day.
Your workout apparel can also be minimal, especially if you’re staying inside your house. But it may help you to get motivated if it’s clean, organized, and fits well. The less energy I put into digging through my laundry basket for a clean sports bra or matching pair of socks, the fewer excuses I have for ditching my plans, and the more time I have for actually working out. In the winter, that usually means slipping on a base layer and some running shoes.
Finally: This is the worst possible time to go to a hospital. Most coaches recommend consulting a doctor before starting a new routine to rule out possible heart or respiratory problems, but that’s not easy to do at the moment.
Musholt has a simple rule of thumb to avoid injuring yourself: “If a movement is hurting, that’s the biggest indicator that you should stop.”
It’s normal to be sore afterward, but a motion shouldn’t hurt while you’re performing it. For example, if you’re a new runner and you feel pain in your shins, stop running. Walk home and try again later. Modify workout instructions to match your fitness level, whether that means transferring a push-up to a chair instead of the floor, or doing half-burpees instead of full ones. Ho also recommends building in warm-up and cool-down times to stretch before and after workouts. “You never want to just jump into something,” she says.
My advice is to cross-train, or try different activities every few days. If you’ve discovered you like running, throw in a few of Runner’s World’s 7-minute strength training sessions. If a barre workout has your glutes burning the day after, go for a walk with your kids, partner, or dog.
“In times of uncertainty, what makes us feel better is when we have a plan of some sort,” Ho says. Right now, there’s a lot going on that you can’t control. But for the next 30 minutes, you can do whatever you want—whether that’s a jog around a forest while listening to a podcast or a dance around your living room with your kids. This much, at least, is up to you.
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