10 Home Workout Hacks to Reach Your Winter Fitness Goals (Even When the Gyms are Closed)
Winter is always the hardest time to stay motivated. Dark nights, frosty mornings, the constant temptation to cozy up on the couch and settle for hammer curling mince pies into your mouth instead.
Lockdown life has forced even the most devoted of gym-goers onto home turf this year, but thankfully, home fitness has never been hotter and being housebound doesn’t have to mean losing gains or slowing down your progress.
Need some #fitspiration (or just a push to tear yourself away from Netflix)? These 10 tried and tested home workout hacks will not only get you moving, but help you advance towards your fitness goals.
1. Make a Plan and Stay Focused Even Without a Trainer
Working out from home makes it tempting to squeeze in a session whenever you get a free moment, but having a plan means it won’t become just another item on your to-do list.
If you’re used to following a strict weekly gym routine or weight training split, apply the same structure to your home workouts. Decide which days you are going to work out, allocate a time slot in your diary, and give it the same importance as any other meeting or event.
When it’s time to train, switch off your phone and other devices, and instead use a timer or timed playlists to keep you on track. If possible, find a space to exercise away from family, housemates, and pets, and keep distractions to a minimum.
Creating a training plan is also key to success. Detail which exercises you plan to perform, along with the reps and sets, or time intervals. Not only will it ensure you don’t lose focus, but it means you can keep track of your progress. On those days when motivation is running thin, reminding yourself how far you’ve come will be a welcome self-esteem boost.
2. Get Creative: Workout Equipment That Doesn’t Break the Bank
Unsurprisingly, fitness equipment retailers have reported a more than 50% surge in sales in 2020. However, not all of us have the time, money, or space for fancy gym equipment.
If you do want to invest, a set of adjustable dumbbells and some resistance bands will give you plenty of options. Otherwise, get creative!
Plastic bottles filled with water or sand can double up as dumbbells, while larger water containers or plastic jerry cans can be used for heavier goblet squats or farmer’s carries. Fill them up with water or sand (as a rough guide, 1 liter of water weighs about 1kg, while 1 liter of sand weighs about 1.5kg). For lighter weights or higher repetition sets, cans of food or bags of rice will provide enough resistance.
There’s a solution for everything. Looking to try one of those fun Instagram workouts using sliders? A towel gliding on a smooth surface will do the trick. Want to master calisthenics movements like tricep dips or L-sit holds? A pair of sturdy chairs (make sure to slip-test them first) will suffice. Don’t let lack of equipment be an excuse!
3. Switch Up Your Training and Turn Gym Downtime into Quality Training
If your training focus in the gym was on increasing strength or building muscle, it’s natural to worry about losing progress. There is no home substitute for compound lifts and squats, but you can still find ways to keep upping the intensity and feel the burn.
Building strength or muscle requires progressive overload, which means you need to be continuously increasing the demand placed on your muscles. However, this doesn’t have to mean adding more weight — there are other ways to increase resistance or intensity.
Switch from heavy shorter sets to longer repetitions at a lower weight or increase the over-all training volume. Add resistance bands or elevation to increase the resistance or bodyweight load. Vary movements by incorporating static holds, pauses, pulses, or half-reps. Or super-charge your workouts by incorporating supersets that target the same or opposing muscle groups.
4. Shift the Focus from Training to Technique
Gyms won’t be closed for ever, so instead of getting down about what you can’t do, try to focus instead on what you can do. This is the perfect time to hone your technique or focus on areas of weakness.
Has your squat form always suffered due to tight hip flexors or inflexible ankles? Try incorporating 15 to 20 minutes of stretching into your workout routine. Struggle with endurance? Focus on longer repetitions at lower weights and incorporate some steady state cardio into your weekly workouts.
Working out at home is also the ideal time to analyse your technique away from the gaze of other gymgoers. Set up a mirror or film yourself performing squats or other movements, and take time to analyse your performance and pinpoint any areas for improvement.
Stuck on technique but don’t have the budget for a trainer? There are some great YouTube videos to help you out. Physical therapist and strength coach Jeff Cavaliere has covered just about every weight training movement over at Athlean X. Hanna Öberg’s ‘Common Gym Mistakes’ series offers women plenty of tips to improve technique and avoid common errors, and the Bodyweight Warrior has follow-along stretch and flexibility routines that target different areas of weakness such as wrists, ankles, and hips.
5. Make Variety Your Friend: Stay Motivated by Trying Something New
In-keeping with the turn-a-negative-into-a-positive attitude, why not use this time to try something new? At the height of the pandemic back in April, CNN reported a running boom, as hundreds of new runners took to the streets and parks of New York, London, and Paris.
Trying something different will not only stave off boredom and inject some fun into your home workouts, but it will challenge your body in new ways, which can improve overall fitness.
Perhaps, try a different online workout such as body combat or dance, experiment with callisthenics, or set your alarm clock an hour earlier and wake up with some morning yoga or Pilates. If your focus is strength training, shake things up by incorporating full-body circuits or resistance band workouts into your weekly split.
6. Get Outdoors: Make the Most of Nature’s Gym
Lockdown rules and regulations vary, but if you still have access to beaches, parks, and recreational areas, then make the most of them. Many parks have outdoor fitness equipment or playground equipment that can easily double-up as a calisthenics gym.
Pull-ups, chin-ups, tricep dips, and hanging leg raises can quickly add up to a full-body workout. If you’re more advanced, exercises such as muscle-ups and toes-to-bar are a challenge for even the most seasoned athletes.
Even your own garden or apartment complex might be full of gym-kit substitutes. Low walls can be used for step-ups or pistol squat progressions (grab some weights to increase the resistance) or you can prop your feet up to increase the intensity of push-ups or mountain climbers. Steep banks or steps are ideal for sprint sets, benches make great box jumps, and stairs can be used for calf raises or tricep dips.
Just be sure that you are allowed access to the equipment before using it and choose a time when you are unlikely to annoy anyone — early morning workouts will often mean you have the place to yourself.
7. Go Digital: Take Advantage of Free Online Classes
From live fitness classes to follow-along Instagram workouts, there has never been a better excuse to increase your screen time and decrease your time outdoors.
Popular online fitness platforms include P.Volve where you can reap the benefits of live trainers and stream workouts on-demand and Peloton, which links up with home gym equipment such as bikes and treadmills, while gymGO and Mindbody both offer virtual training with live classes.
You don’t have to pay to join a program, however. Fitness trainers and influencers offer plenty of YouTube or Instagram workouts for free, so you can try before you buy. Popular channels include Natacha Oceane for HIIT and resistance training circuits, Cassey Ho, a.k.a. Blogilates, for Pilates workouts, or MadFit for targeted abs, booty, or arm workouts.
8. Stay Accountable: Connect with the Fitness Community
Without your gym buddies to spot you or a trainer to shout at you (or gently coax a few more reps out of you, depending on your preference), it’s easy to lose focus.
Keep yourself accountable by teaming up with like-minded friends to train together. If social distancing rules prevent meeting up in person, you could even do this via Zoom, or set up a group chat to share your progress reports.
Online fitness communities offer plenty of ways to connect too, whether it’s signing up to one of the aforementioned fitness programs, joining a live-streamed class, or taking on one of the numerous social media fitness challenges. Sharing your successes (and your setbacks) means double the inspiration and encouragement.
9. Keep Up Your Cardio: HIIT Up Your Heart Rate
Braving frostbitten fingers for a pre-sunrise run might not be your idea of fun, especially if you typically turn out your cardio on a treadmill or elliptical, but there are still plenty of ways to get your cardio in.
While the easiest way to get your heart rate up is to head outdoors for a walk, run, or cycle, there’s no excuse to give up the cardio just because you’re stuck indoors.
Lacking time or equipment? HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions offer a time-efficient way to burn fat and get your blood pumping, while HILIT (High Intensity, Low-Impact Interval Training) offers an effective and apartment-friendly alternative.
10. Challenge Yourself: Set Goals to Get You Through Lockdown
From 30-day squat challenges on Instagram to the 99-year-old UK veteran whose sponsored garden strolls pulled in £13m of donations for the NHS; everyone loves a lockdown challenge.
Most of us won’t be getting knighted like Captain Tom Moore for our efforts, but setting yourself a clear workout goal during lockdown is a fun way to mark your efforts and feel like you’ve achieved something.
Pick something suitably challenging but do-able. Follow one of Instagram’s ever-popular 30-day challenges, set yourself a goal to increase your max reps of pull-ups or push-ups, master a tricky callisthenics or yoga move (pistol squats and crow poses, anybody?); or come up with your own personalised goal.
Just remember the golden rule: it needs to be achievable (a goal that you can realistically reach within a month or two) and it needs to be quantifiable (i.e. “Increase my maximum push-ups to 50” or “run 5km in under 25 minutes” not “get better at pull-ups” or “improve my 5km time”).