Written by Sean Singer, veteran, yogi, and physical health instructor at Bellwood Health Services.
So you are stuck at home because of social distancing or self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. Cabin fever is setting in, rations of cookies and ice cream are starting to run low, and you’ve already watched everything on Netflix. Your usual distractions are not working or are unavailable. You can’t take a yoga class, you can’t work out at the gym—but don’t panic! Take some deep breaths. You don’t have to lose all your gains—there are many exercises that you can do at home to get a great workout.
As a person who has been in social isolation since the 1990’s, I’ve never really enjoyed going to a gym. I prefer to workout at home using bodyweight exercises. There are so many benefits to be gained from daily physical activity, just Google it, they all say the same thing: it’s good for you!
Why is it good for you? Glad you asked! By exercising, you improve your cardiovascular health, and strengthen your heart and lungs. A healthy heart and lungs improve the circulation of blood and oxygen to your whole body. Brain function is improved in a variety of areas including memory, creativity, and learning. The risk or severity of depression can be reduced. Not only do you make your body strong and healthy by exercising, you can also affect and change the way your brain functions for the better—so let’s get moving!
7 Exercises for a Great Home Workout During Self-Isolation
The following home workout consists of seven exercises that you can do without any equipment. Please be cautious when doing these exercises, especially if you’ve been inactive for a long period of time. None of these exercises should be painful. If you experience pain during any of these exercises, use your judgment and back off or completely avoid the particular exercise.
(1) Deep Breathing
Take big, deep, full breaths.
- Do deep breathing before you start to exercise.
- If you don’t have time to exercise, take some deep breaths whenever you can.
- Breathe in fully to your belly, then chest.
- Breathe out from chest, then belly.
- Start with 10–30 deep breaths.
(2) Jumping Jacks
Jumping jacks are a classic cardio exercise for when you’re stuck indoors without any equipment.
- Starting from a standing position, jump and land with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, as you are jumping, raise your arms above your head. If you like, you can clap your hands above your head for extra motivation.
- Return to the starting position by jumping again and landing with your feet together and arms by your sides.
- Repeat 10–30 times.
Everyone has a different fitness level, so go easy at first. It is normal to be out of breath. But notice if you have any sudden changes in blood pressure, feel light headed, or dizzy. Pace yourself and find a rhythm of breathing that works for you.
Planks are a simple and effective core exercise, with variations so that anyone can do them.
- Keep your forearms parallel.
- Firm up your belly and back to create a stable core.
- Avoid rounding the back and shoulders by gently squeezing your shoulder blades together and imagine hugging the body in towards the spine.
- Don’t raise your hips higher than your upper back—this puts more pressure on your upper back and shoulders.
- Don’t let your hips sag lower than your upper back either—this strains the lower back.
- Take slow, full breaths as you hold this position.
- Hold for 10–30s. Avoid prolonged holds because as certain muscle groups start to tire, other parts try to compensate, which in turn can cause stress and injuries to the muscles and supporting tissues.
If you cannot hold a plank with good form for at least 10 seconds, then do it with your knees on the ground.
If you can easily hold a plank for 30 seconds with good form, then increase muscle engagement throughout your body to make it more challenging.
(4) Bodyweight Squats
Squats help keep your legs strong as well as maintaining hip, knee, and ankle mobility. It’s an especially suitable exercise for a home workout because variations can be done using furniture that most people have in their homes.
- Keep your core engaged.
- Keep most of your weight in your heels so that they do not come off the ground at any time.
- Turn your toes outward, as needed, if you don’t have the mobility to perform a full squat with your toes pointing forward.
- Similarly, it’s okay for your knees to spread apart if you don’t have the mobility to keep them pointing forward as you descend.
- As you descend, push your knees forward.
- Look straight ahead (don’t look down) to help maintain the alignment of your spine.
- As you start rising from the bottom position, gently squeeze inwards using your inner thigh muscles to stabilize your hips.
- Start with 10 squats, or less if you have been inactive for a while. Increase the number of reps as your body feels more comfortable.
Beginner variation #1
If you find yourself losing your balance or otherwise feel that you need some support, place a chair in front of you and hold onto it.
Beginner variation #2
If you don’t have the strength or mobility to squat all the way down, you can place a chair right behind you and squat down to lightly touch the chair and then rise back up again.
Push-ups are an essential upper-body pressing exercise that require integrated control of the whole body.
- Start with your core engaged and hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
- As you lower, squeeze your shoulder blades together, towards your spine.
- As you rise, push your shoulder blades wider apart, away from your spine.
- Maintain alignment of your hips and spine, similar to the plank.
- Do 5–15 push ups, but listen to your body. Maintain good form rather than pumping out more reps. Only add more reps when you feel that you can do so with good form.
Beginner variation #1
Push-ups with your knees on the ground. You can place some padding under your knees for comfort.
Beginner variation #2
Push-ups with your hands on a chair or couch. If using a chair, make sure that it is sturdy and stable! In this way, doing the push-up at angle reduces the weight on your upper body which makes them easier.
Lunges are great not only for strengthening your legs but also for improving your balance and mobility.
- Take a big step forward while keeping your core engaged.
- Push your front knee as far forward as you can without letting your front heel come off the ground.
- At the same time lower your hips down as far as you can go without letting your rear knee touch the ground.
- Push strongly through the heel of your front foot to come back up to the standing position in which you started.
- Inhale when you step forward and exhale when you step back.
- Lunges are great for strengthening your glutes (butt muscles) as well as the muscles on the fronts and backs of your thighs.
- Do 5–15 lunges per side. Start with what feels comfortable for your body, especially if you have previous injuries or have been inactive for a long time.
(7) Side Planks
Side planks work the sides of your core and are important for developing lateral stability of your torso.
- Keep the upper part (between your shoulder and elbow) of your supporting arm perpendicular to the ground.
- Keep the elbow of your supporting arm at a 90-degree angle.
- You can put your other hand on your hip, or reach for the ceiling if you like.
- Keep your whole body firm and in a perfectly straight line.
- Don’t let your hips sag low. Also, don’t raise them up into the air. Doing either will put extra stress on your spine and you will not be strengthening the intended muscles.
- Breath slowly and steadily.
- Hold for 10–30 seconds and then do the other side.
Beginner variation: bend both knees to 90 degrees so that the foot, lower leg, and knee of the bottom leg are all resting on the ground.
Once you’ve completed all the exercises above, you can rest for a few minutes (ideally not more than 2 or 3). Then, repeat them all again (except for the deep breathing). Keep going for 20–30 minutes. Alternatively, you can do full rounds of all the exercises (including deep breathing) at different times throughout the day, aiming for 2–3 rounds each day.
Doing home workout exercises regularly during self-isolation will be beneficial even on its own. However, you’ll get the best results if you also take care of other areas of your physical and mental health. Eat healthy, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and try meditation and mindfulness exercises (if you don’t do these already).