YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH EXERCISE. It’s not just about your heart, but you probably already know that. A sweaty hour of exercise can do wonders for lowering your body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, but you might know that as well. Exercise also has curative powers over your brain or, more specifically, your memory, concentration, mood and even growth of new brain cells. Every time you get moving, your body releases endorphins—chemicals in the brain that suppress pain and bring about feelings of bliss and a shy, muted buzz, kinda like morphine. These are all things you’ve heard before.
So, really, if there’s ever been a time when we ought to be leaning into exercise, it’s now, given the depressive state of the world, which has a lot of us slumping into a funk. But for something that should be a no-brainer, there’s a heckuva lot of mental resistance that comes into play. Exercising, on a normal day, requires a lot of willpower. Exercising today, for a lot of people, seems almost unimaginable.
Truth is, the practice of tearing up old routines and casting new ones is every bit as difficult as getting through a grueling run while experiencing a pesky side stitch. The other part of the argument is that not everyone picks up at-home workouts quite as easily as others. It’s difficult to part ways with your post-work running group or the local yoga studio where you’re greeted by name. So there’s the issue of motivation without outside support. The other thing is … Well, not to point fingers or anything, but there’s the couch and the TV, and there’s the thing that happens when you put one in front of the other and a bowl of chips in between.
So for those of you who are choosing to stay at home (and away from the sweat, grime and germs smeared on your local gym’s StairMaster) but are having a hard time finding your groove, we reached out to Emily Allen, owner andinstructor at IM=X Pilates and Fitness Studio in Little Rock. She discovered this low-impact form of exercise when her physical therapist recommended it as a way to work out while nursing her scoliosis and lower back pain, and she has been singing IM=X Pilates’ praises ever since.
When social-distancing measures were first announced, Emily created a Facebook group, and she filmed and posted workouts for clients. For added motivation, she scooped up an armful of gift cards and gave them out to clients who finished her challenges. To get the skinny on bodyweight, home-friendly workouts, we asked Emily to share a few of her tips for making exercise a part of your quarantine routine and working up a good sweat.
FIND WHAT YOU LOVE
Even before the pandemic broke out, there was no shortage of fitness videos, gadgets, apps and how-tos scattered over the internet. With local gyms now posting their own livestreams, there are even more offerings of anytime-anywhere workouts— from good ol’ calisthenics to barre, yoga, Pilates and, heck, even Yogilates. “I just say that someone should choose something that they think they can physically enjoy,” Emily says. “If you’re not going to enjoy it, you’re not going to turn it on and be motivated by yourself. Find something that you look forward to and that you can be motivated by and stick to.”
SHAKE IT UP
It’s a great thing if you find the perfect exercise plan, but nothing makes for a more well-rounded fitness lifestyle than diversifying your routine every once in a while. Swap out those squats and split jumps with, say, a vinyasa flow, which helps strengthen, stretch and tone your muscles while bolstering your mind-body connection. Already got your cardio down? Try strength training. Already lift weights? Maybe work on your flexibility and balance. Cross-training is not only good for working various muscle groups, it also helps keep injuries at bay. “The body can get used to anything,” Emily says. “People will go gung-ho all on one thing, like barre. I love barre class, but if you do that every day forever, you can get burnt out or bored.”
There’s a slew of relatively low-cost equipment—resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, ankle weights—you can use to kick your workout up a notch, but don’t fret if you don’t have those things. Scour your house for alternatives, such as canned beans, a wine bottle or even your kid’s schoolbook. If you’re a cardio junkie but live in an apartment above easily irritable neighbors, take your sweat sesh outside. (But, like, not outside outside if you’re self- quarantining). Jog up a flight of stairs. Use that concrete bumper in front of your car for step-ups, a bench for box jumps or triceps dips, a railing for inverted rows. As Emily puts it, “make it work.”
FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP
Having trouble staying motivated? You’re hardly alone. Without a crowd sweating it out with you or an instructor cranking up the energy in the room, it’s hard to stick to your fitness goals. This is where joining an online community might help. Checking in and feeding off the energy of other fitness devotees can be an attitude-changer for many. Alternatively, round up a few friends and create your own fitness group (bonus points if you host a post-sweat-sesh wine down). “That takes a little bit of accountability into it,” Emily says, “but you almost still feel like you have some sort of obligation or support because, you know, you have someone who’s counting on you.”
CREATE A DESIGNATED SPACE AT HOME
Just like you spruced up your home office, carve out some space at home for working out. It could be a part of your home office, guest room, patio or even the garage, if the weather allows it. Most importantly, make it a space that is inviting and motivational, and a place you’ll want to spend time in. “I would almost say, don’t make it temporary for people who struggle with motivation,” Emily says. So, get to decorating. Add a mirror, slap a vibrant coat of paint on a wall, keep a portable speaker handy. Oh, and throw in a Rocky Balboa poster for some major fitspiration and derriere-kicking energy.
STRETCH THROUGHOUT THE DAY
If you’re clocking in more hours at home, there’s a good chance you’re also sitting a lot more than usual. “You know, when we sit, our glutes get super tight. It pulls into our low back and adds stress,” Emily says. “Stress is a major player in pain and fatigue in the body.” Emily’s advice? Take a socially distanced walk every once in a while, whether it’s on a trail or even just a long walk around the block with your pup. And even if you find yourself getting sucked into another heart-pumping episode of Ozark (and really, we don’t blame you), put your multitasking skills to good use, and do some light stretches on the floor.
GIVE YOUR MIND A BREAK, TOO
That workout nook? It could also double as a quiet, sanctified meditation space and a brief escape from reality (and the kiddos, the daily torrent of bad news and the notifications firing off on Slack). In times like these, tending to your mind is just as important as whipping your body into shape. “If you can find a room, sit in your backyard, in the bathtub with a candle, whatever—it’s nice to take a break from things,” Emily says. “That helps me a lot.”