The social distancing workout guide

Step-by-step advice for those looking to maintain fitness when self-isolating

How do you work out when you’re self-isolating? It’s an important question. Even if social distancing has you trapped inside, exercise is important for immune function and mood. It’s also the secret to a good night’s sleep. In this special COVID-19-themed episode of Eat Move Think, Medcan Director of Fitness Stephen Salzmann provides listeners with the basic principles that go into any workout session, outlining a series of strength-building push and pull exercises that’ll keep you fit even when you’re trying not to leave your house. 

Combine aerobic with strength training
Absolutely you can still engage in musculoskeletal resistance training with minimal equipment in your own home. First, I’m going to talk about the variable that you’re able to control, regardless of setting—intensity. You work out fast enough, no matter what you’re doing, you’ll get out of breath, which can trigger a training adaptation. So that would be a principle that you could apply to essentially any exercise, to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your workout.

Structuring your home workout
You’ll want to follow some general principles. Pair upper body movements with lower body exercises—that’s one. Two, pair push and pull exercises. So a traditional exercise would be something like a push up, and you would pair that with a glute bridge or hip thrust of some sort. That’s where you’re laying with your back to the floor with your knees bent and your feet directly under your knees. Then you clench your glute muscles so that your hips raise off the floor.

Medcan’s trainers are available for virtual training sessions to create personalized workouts. Check out Medcan’s Virtual Fitness offerings.

Upper body pushes and lower body pulls 
Pairing upper body pushes with lower body pulls minimizes central nervous system fatigue and helps you get the most out of your training. To switch things up, you can pair an upper-body pull with a lower-body push. So you can do a pull-up, or a bent-over row, which are upper-body pulls, and then pair those with a squat, a lower-body push. So I might pair push ups to fatigue with something like a single-leg deadlift. It might not be the same amount of weight that you’re used to lifting, but you can replace that with a tremendous number of reps. Do the exercise until you have to stop.

Adding exercises
After that pairing is complete, you then move on to another pairing, which would be an upper-body pull and a lower-body push. So you can think of it roughly as a pull up and a squat of some sort. I’m fortunate enough that I have one of those pull-up bars that I attached to one of the doorframes in my home and I can use that. But that’s not necessarily something that everybody’s going to have. The alternatives are things like a dumbbell, a kettlebell, even a bag of milk. These objects can absolutely be repurposed for an upper-body row, or an upper-body pull, where you’re essentially leaning over and stabilising yourself on something like the back of a chair or a set of stairs. And essentially what you would do is keep your back perfectly flat and pull or row as you normally would. Or you can do alternating rows, which is where you have a dumbbell in each arm and you perform the row motion first with one arm, then the other. Again, the variation is really up to your own creativity.

The next step
I would pair that upper-body row within a squat variation of some sort. Now, having worked out for many, many years, I can do bodyweight squats ‘til the cows come home. And I don’t find them very challenging. So the opportunity here is to find a way to make it a little bit more difficult. And again, here’s where I get to be creative if I’m in a pinch, and I don’t necessarily have the weights. If I have simple things like dumbbells or kettlebells, and I have more than one, I can grab one in each arm and I can hold it by my side and do those squats. If that’s not challenging me enough, I can take those same squats and turn them into a jump squat—where you jump at the end. I can take them and change my stance so that it’s not necessarily symmetrical. Or I can put one foot in front of the other almost like I’m at the top of a lunge and then I can do jumping lunges—until I get to a point where I can do no more.

The wrap-up
So essentially, I’ve covered four basic exercises that hit all of the main muscles of the body. Once you’ve gone through a full set of each, you have a choice: Do you continue to just rinse and repeat through these four exercises, or do you maybe do the first pairing over and over and over until you can’t do any more—and then move on to the second one after a break of a few minutes? That’s entirely up to you. As long as you’re getting these four main movements in through the body of the workout, you’re fine. To wrap up, we’re all working through a less-than-ideal scenario. Exercise can help get you through it—using these various principles.

Stephen Salzmann is the director of fitness at Medcan. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology at York University and has been a certified personal trainer since 2011. Before he was at Medcan, he was a personal training manager at Equinox, where he won the Personal Training Manager of the Year award. 

Subscribe to Eat Move Think podcast on Apple, Spotify or Google Play—or your favourite podcast platform. Follow host Shaun Francis on Twitter @shauncfrancis. Connect with him on LinkedIn. And follow him on Instagram @shauncfrancis. Eat Move Think is produced in conjunction with Ghost Bureau

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