How to keep fit at home: online fitness classes to try during isolation

From planking on the pouffe to free weights with your wine cellar, our writer offers tips for staying strong in lockdown

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How to stay fit at home when you're self-isolating online training plans fitness classes
Boudicca pushes up on a dining chair Credit: Clara Molden

If you were secretly delighted at the prospect of gyms closing during this strange time of social distancing then I'm afraid I have some bad news; working out from home is the new going out.

As the UK enters its second week of lockdown, the fitness industry are finding alternative ways to keep offering classes to their regulars. N-RG Barrebody in Kentish Town is just one studio improvising with dial-in classes via video conferencing, while Carl Faure, founder of yoga studio Stretch London in Broadway Market, announced on Instagram that it will be streaming on Zoom with students able to book via mindbodyonline.com, Specialist online fitness websites are seeing a spike in subscriptions.

Moviing, which offers classes with international instructors in everything from dance cardio to HIIT, has seen a 30 to 40 per cent increase in subscriptions since the coronavirus outbreak, with Italy driving three times more traffic than usual (moviing.co). 

No one knows how long this situation will last, but few of us will want to loaf around at home as our hard-earned fitness levels drop.

Indeed, whether you are stuck at home alone or with loved ones, coach and Nike trainer Luke Worthington says times like this are a great opportunity to reset and re-evaluate your exercise regime.

It's time to improvise Credit: Clara Molden

“Exercising for general health and fitness isn’t really as complex as it’s often made out to be, and should consist of resistance (strength) training two or three times a week, and cardiovascular training twice a week. Training for a specific event or sport is a little different, but for the general population, this is the ideal balance.”

While many of those training for events such as the London Marathon (postponed to Oct 4) may be pausing their training, Olympians are continuing to train, with the Tokyo Olympics optimistically still scheduled for July. 

The rest of us, from Worthington’s experience, will tend to miss out on strength or resistance training, as it’s seen as less accessible than cardio, which can simply involve going for a run or a bike ride. This may be especially the case when people are self-isolating and avoiding busy public spaces such as gyms.

However, it is possible to create a “do it yourself” resistance training session at home, in the garage, or, weather ­permitting, in the garden.

“All we have to do is remember to cover the fundamental human movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, lunge – working through each of these movements two or three times a week will make a huge difference to how your body moves, looks and feels,” says Worthington, who has shared a basic home workout with us (see box, right).  

The long-term exercise avoidant will be wondering if that applies to them, too. Haven’t they been forced to suffer enough already with all of this disruption, without now having to brush their teeth in a squat position and hold a plank while watching the TV news?

A word from the Roman poet Juvenal to the PE refuseniks: “mens sana in corpore sano”. An NHS study found the odds of getting depression were 31 per cent lower for people who managed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise a week, compared with those who didn’t.

Get creative in the home Credit: Clara Molden

Jo McLelland, founder of Fulham studio Body Society, urges us to shake up what we think of as exercise. In fact, her first suggestion to those self-isolating was to have more sex.

“You know, it’s a great way to waste time, rekindle your romance and keep fit,” she tells me over the phone. “It’s a great workout for your glutes and your pelvic floor. If you really get into it you could go all the way through the Kama Sutra.”

What about those people with children and no time to spend in flagrante? 

She suggests playing with them. “Run around the house like a loony, do a dance-off with the kids, anything to get you active, burn the calories and get that heart rate up.”

If you don’t fancy that either, or don’t have any children you can borrow, a big spring-clean lugging heavy bags for charity down the stairs or a big garden sort-out will similarly do the no-exercise exercise trick. 

“You don’t have to be doing squats and lunges in your living room,” says McLelland. “If you’re calling loved ones on the phone for a catch-up, don’t sit on the sofa, walk around the house.”

For those looking for more structure, McLelland recommends starting an at-home exercise routine with a “buy in”. At the Body Society, sessions start with a “buy in”, which could be something like 50 burpees. Everyone has to do 50 before they can start working out.

Another is 10 squat jumps, 10 push-ups, 10 lunges. “It means that before you even start, you are already pushing yourself and getting out of breath,” says McLelland.

It’s something you can do at home as well. She suggests putting on your favourite song and having a boogie around the living room for the length of the song before you start exercising – or, you can keep it traditional and do the burpees.

Not having gym equipment shouldn’t limit what you can do at home. A dining chair is good for step-ups, simply add tin cans or bottles of wine for weights. Fill a tote bag and use it as a kettlebell. McLelland says just holding a tea towel above your head is better than nothing. Similarly, two tea towels, one under the ball of each foot, mean you can do mountain sliders.

She explains: “From a plank position, use the tea towels to slide one leg into your chest and then back out, making a horizontal running motion with your feet. It’s a great workout for your shoulders, arms and core,” says McLelland.

“You want to work your whole body in every exercise you do because you get a bigger return on your workout.”

Teatowel Mountain Sliders Credit: Clara Molden

For push-ups, you can make them easier by using your kitchen counter; the higher your arms are, the easier a push-up is. Fitness pros can make them harder by instead elevating their feet on a dining table for sofa.

"That works your chest, your shoulders, your biceps, your core. Again, a good return on your time."

Another one that’s easier to do at home is a glute bridge. “We do this all the time in the gym, it’s a staple of our warm-up, especially if we’re doing lower body exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts and step-ups.”

Lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor, slowly raise your bum up and squeeze it at the top then slowly lower it down. “Think about each vertebra as you come up and down, it’s really important for our abdominal turn-on,” says McLelland.

“If you want to get an extra bang for your buck, put something between your knees. Anything from a pack of nappies to a kids’ football, or a cushion – it will engage your internal thigh muscles, your pelvic floor and your deep core muscles.”

If you want to get your heart rate up, old-school jumping jacks and high knees work well, she says. You could even run up and down the stairs a few times. “By doing all those things in your living room, you’ve got a full body workout.”

Cat and Cow stretches will keep your spine juicy Credit: Clara Molden

Make time for slower forms of exercise, too, such as yoga, Pilates, breathing and meditation. “Our bodies aren’t designed to be in this constant state of overdrive with our adrenal glands producing cortisol. They’re meant to burst up into these high activity levels and calm back down.”

Do some simple stretches, even the ones you remember from school for your hamstrings and quads will do, says McLelland. Or a yoga cat and cow stretch on all fours. "If you're in self-isolation, you're probably sitting down more than you're meant to so you definitely need a chest stretch. Something is better than nothing."

WORKOUT 1

Luke Worthington's Essential 5-Movement Home Workout
Luke Worthington is part of the Nike Training team

Push - The classic push-up is a surprisingly advanced movement to do well; make it easier by placing your hands on a chair or stool, bringing the floor closer to you. If you’re advanced, you can progress by placing your feet on the chair or stool and making the floor further away. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Pull - This can be hard to perform without equipment, but try this: loop a bath towel around the top corner of a door, and close the door. If you grasp the two loose ends of the towel, you can use it to perform a bodyweight row. Keeping your feet on the floor and a tight grip on the towel, lean backwards until your body is at an angle, and then using the muscles in your arms and upper back pull yourself back to upright. The more upright your starting position, the easier the exercise. Perform 4 sets of 8-10 reps.

Squat - An easy one to replicate, as we do this one every time we stand up from a chair. Beginners should simply sit and stand from a dining chair without using hands for support. If you’re more advanced, take the chair away and hold any sort of load in front of you. (Maybe use some of those stockpiled tinned goods!) Perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Hinge - A hinge is the term we use to describe any kind of dead lift in the gym, but it is really bending down to lift an object from the floor. While dumbbells or barbells are great for this, you can use anything – a box, a six-pack of bottled water. For those newer to exercise or struggling with lower back pain, a hip bridge is a good alternative. Lie on the floor, bend your knees placing your feet flat on the floor, then push your feet into the floor to push your hips up to make a bridge. Perform 4 sets of 8-10 reps.

Lunge - The simplest way to single-leg train is to use a step or a firm box to step on to. If you’re more advanced, then try a split squat, which is simply a static lunge where both feet remain stationary in the lunge position and you push yourself up and down. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps on each leg.

WORKOUT 2

Jo McLelland's Improvised Home Workout
Jo McLelland of the Body Society

Try not to rest longer than 15 seconds between sets

10 to 15 step-ups on one leg, using a chair. 3 reps each leg

Step up on the right leg and join the left, step down with right leg, join with right. Rest 15 seconds and then step up with left.

30 seconds jumping jacks x 3

From an upright position with legs together, bend knees and jump. Land with your legs at shoulder width apart, arms over head. Jump back to ­starting position.

15 mountain sliders x 3

Come to plank position with a tea towel under the ball of each foot. Slowly draw your right knee to your armpit, without lifting your bum up, and slide it back to plank. Swap legs.

10 to 15 glute bridge lifts x 3

Lying on your back with your knees bent, slowly peel your spine off the floor. Squeeze your glutes at the top and slowly roll back down. For more intensity, squeeze a cushion between your knees.

Interactive online platforms

“It’s great to have you all here in class,” booms Mario Valverde. “Amelia, Taneka, Paul… err… Boodisia?” 

Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t struggle to say my name, even, it turns out as I exercise in self-isolation. Because I’m not at a studio or a gym, I’m crunching away on my yoga mat in my living room, my laptop positioned on a pouffe in front of me. It’s a welcome dose of normality to hear Valverde stumble and raise a confused eyebrow.

I’ve logged into a live, 10-minute, “Core Shred” class on online platform Yogaia (14-day free trial. Membership from £5.99 a month). There’s no shortage of workout apps, YouTube videos, online platforms to help motivate your home workout, but Yogaia is different, in that I’ve not only logged into a live class, watching the instructor in real time, but he’s watching me, too. 

Valverde is giving feedback, and so are we. “Is this hard enough?” he asks. “OK, I’ll go harder next week.” I stay for his “Yin for Athletes” class, but skip the more high-octane “HIIT and Run”. It feels a little like sneaking out the back of the studio, even though Valverde is actually in the US and I’m in east London. 

Boudicca plays with her pincha mayurasana while doing a rocket class on Yogaia Credit: Clara Molden

Other Yogaia classes are tantalisingly close. The Finnish-founded company has a studio in Whitechapel, east London. There’s a Rocket yoga class in an hour, except I don’t have to dash out to get there. I make a cup of tea instead. 

This is at-home working out for the Deliveroo generation. I’m not sitting on the sofa face-first in a pizza box, I’m releasing endorphins, and dare I say, cyber-connecting. OK, I might not be able to see Amelia, but from Valverde’s coaching, she sounds like the star pupil. The two-way interactivity, and the sense of community, makes Yogaia, yes, a bizarre experience, but hugely energising. 

The spread of the coronavirus has shown us how globally connected we all are. While travel restrictions have put a temporary curb on our wanderings, we remain linked online. 

Early that morning, I’d logged into HelloYoga (7-day free trial. Private sessions from £15) for a one-on-one Yin Yoga class with Sonali Dash, a teacher based in India. The Danish company recently launched in the UK, offering private training sessions booked via their website with teachers from the birthplace of yoga. 

Dash connects to me from an airy white room, and after asking me my level of yoga experience, we take three oms together. The experience reminds me of yoga classes I took 15 years ago, before we all wore Lululemon leggings, and secularisation did away with the sound of the universe. 

Adriene Mishler has hundreds of free YouTube videos and is great for newbies to yoga Credit: Christopher Pledger

I book a Vinyasa Flow class with a different teacher, but there’s a problem with the connection and I abandon the class, hoping it’s a teething problem. 

Fortunately there is always Adriene Mishler. Beloved the world over for her mantra of “find what feels good” the Austin, Texas-born yoga phenomenon behind Yoga with Adriene has hundreds of free YouTube videos ranging from Yoga for Seniors to her classic 30 days of Yoga challenge. 

I load one up. This might not be a fancy interactive class, but no one connects quite like the Texan. Community is something we all need right now, and with minimal tech, Mishler, with her unaffected delivery, makes you feel cool, calm and connected. 

The best of the rest online workouts

Gymondo

The irony of doing a “Belly-Fat Burning” HIIT class aimed at getting me bikini-body-ready wasn’t lost, given that, like everyone else, I’ve had to cancel my much-anticipated spring holiday.  

Gymondo offers a variety of classes, well filmed and clear to follow from motivating trainers. Track your progress, inputting how many squats you manage and set and reach goals. 

14-day free trial available. Membership from £4.79 per month; gymondo.com/en

Boudicca tries out Crossrope in her garden Credit: Clara Molden

Cross Rope

Simplicity here is the key. This US company sells smart, weighted skipping ropes, but its easy-to-use free app is available for those who’ve dug out their old children’s ropes from the attic. Mix interval jump rope work with bodyweight workouts – lunges, squats, planks, push-ups, tricep dips, sit-ups. Depending on which workout you do, it targets different muscle groups, but often it’s a full-body workout. The sessions range from 10 to 30 minutes. You might want to get some motivational music on in the background. 

App is free to use. Jump ropes from £100; crossrope.com/app

Pilates queen Lynne Robinson

Body Control Pilates Central

Dig deep and build strength without sacrificing mobility. Established by the doyenne of Pilates, Lynne Robinson, this website hosts a wealth of information, classes and knowledge from top teachers. Body Control Pilates also has a free YouTube channel to get you started. You’ll just need some pillows and a mat. Don’t own free weights? Get those tin cans out.

Free trial; Membership from £13 a month; bodycontrolpilatescentral.vhx.tv 

FIIT

Usually spend your weekend in athleisure attending top wellness teachers’ workshops, keep-cup in hand? Fiit is for you. With its high-end boutique gym vibe, sessions are led by some of the UK’s top personal trainers, including Richie Norton, Ida May and Cat Meffan, across HIIT, yoga, kettlebell circuits and Pilates.

If you have a fitness tracker (Apple Watch, etc) or a Fiit device, you can fully experience the app’s features, including the UK’s first interactive live leaderboard classes, which allow users to workout with friends and family nationwide from the comfort (safety) of their own homes. 

14-day free trial available. Membership from £10 a month; fiit.tv

Ida May

Nike Training

High quality and free to use, the Nike Training Club (NTC) app offers a vast library of minimal equipment workouts, as well as the very best qualified and experienced trainers to produce the content. 

Start training with a personal plan that guides you while adjusting to your progress, schedule and other activities. With NTC, you get access to four 4-6 week training plans. 

Free app for iOS and Android; nike.com/gb/ntc-app 

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Centr

Go into self-isolation, emerge with the body of Thor. The team that turned Chris Hemsworth into a Viking god are the brains behind this app. The fitness platform features content from renowned experts – such as Tahl Rinksy, Elsa Pataky’s yoga instructor; Luke Zocchi, Chris Hemsworth’s PT; Ashley Joi, the celebrity personal trainer and track athlete; and many more. 

Memberships start from £7.83 per month; centr.com