Staying physically fit boosts your immune system, so here are some simple bodyweight workout exercises that will keep you healthy, happy, and busy at home during Ireland’s quarantine lockdown.
As you may have heard, Ireland is experiencing a slight period of uncertainty at the moment. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the country-wide cancellation of sporting events and large gatherings, with many businesses closing. What is reassuring is that these measures are preemptive, and have been put in place to ‘flatten the curve’ of the virus to avoid our country following in the unfortunate footsteps of China and Italy.
Come together as nation by staying apart – Leo Varadkar
So, why keep fit during this lockdown?
The list of benefits to frequent exercise is virtually endless. At a time like this though, exercise is more crucial than ever for your physical and mental well-being.
- Studies have proven the link between physical fitness and the body’s immune system. Moderate regular exercise improves cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, and circulatory health, which enables white blood cells and antibodies to flow faster through your body to detect and fight illness. If you’d like to stay healthy for yourself, friends, and family, now might be the time to figure out a home exercise plan.
- One of the more bizarre factors of this situation is that we could feasibly be in our homes for months. To avoid crawling up the walls, and also assuage any anxiety you may have about this, you could try a home exercise plan. Exercise has been linked to stress and anxiety relief. As well as feeling better, you’ll sleep better too.
- Finally, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, with this much time to kill, this really is a gorgeous opportunity to do everything you tell yourself you don’t have time for normally. No more commuting, acting as a taxi for the kids, office parties or other social responsibilities. Use this absolute gift of extra time for a 30 minute exercise, even just 3 times a week, and by the time this whole mess is a memory you’ll be well on your way to the fitness goals you’ve been procrastinating.
How to keep fit during the lockdown
How can you stay fit with all the gyms and leisure centres across the country closed? What you need is a home exercise plan which will raise your heart rate and get blood and oxygen flowing through your body. This is a crash course of different exercises which stimulate the main muscle groups in your body while using conservative amounts of space and which require no equipment, just your fine, motivated selves. Before we start though, a few words of guidance:
- It is absolutely crucial to warm-up before attempting any of these exercises, without this you run the risk of getting seriously injured.
- Form is essential when it comes to exercising, as it both avoids injury, and gets the most out of a workout. Watch some tutorials on YouTube if you’re unsure on any movement before getting stuck in.
- Lastly, remember to breathe. Deep breaths fill your muscles and blood with oxygen, which allows you to exercise longer, run farther, and avoid cramping. A general rule of thumb is to exhale on exertion. During cardio finding a comfortable breathing rhythm is key. Okay, let’s get into it.
Let’s start with cardiovascular exercises as good cardio is the cornerstone to any healthy body. It strengthens your heart, increases your lung capacity, burns fat, lowers cholesterol and lowers blood pressure. Here’s a selection of exercises you can consider for your home workout:
As of the publication of this article jogging and running in parks and streets are permitted, just not in groups. So get out and get the wind on your face, it’s a sure way to feel better, get the heart pumping, and concentrate on something other than this quiet chaos, like making it that last 200m meters home.
Alternative: Running stairs
In all likelihood, Ireland will follow in the steps of its European neighbours and impose restrictive measures on leaving the home for non-essential reasons. If this day comes, your cardio will not suffer. Stair running, or stair climbing, is a plyometric exercise which means it involves exerting maximum force in a short amount of time. This increases speed, strength, and power in the legs and overall body. Sets of running stairs in your home or apartment building will force you to utilize areas of the body not used in regular jogging by lifting your knees high and using muscle stabilizers and core strength for balance and to fight gravity.
Here’s one that’ll bring you back to primary school P.E. If jogging isn’t an option, jumping jacks can be a great substitute. This is a brilliant tool for those easing into fitness training who want to improve their health and immune system. Remember to keep good form with each set, jumping energetically and widely while engaging your core for the full benefits.
There’s a reason why nearly every personal trainer and gym instructor has an affinity for demanding sets of this intense exercise. The highly physical movement engages almost every muscle in your body, doesn’t require a tonne of space, focuses on explosivity, and will have your heart pumping and sweat pouring after just a few repetitions. Here’s how you do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, placing your weight in your heels, and arms by your side.
- Pushing your hips back and bending your knees lower into a squat position.
- Place your hands on the floor in front of you, just inside the line of your feet, and shift your weight forward onto your hands.
- Jump your feet back into the a plank position, engage your core, and keep your back and neck straight.
- Now, jump your feet forward to just outside of your hands.
- Reach your arms over head and jump up vertically.
- Land and lower back into a squat for your next rep.
As for training your muscles, physical fitness professionals generally divide the body into 5 main muscle groups. These are the abs (core), legs (quads and glutes), arms (triceps and biceps), back, and chest. Here’s a handful of home exercises for each muscle group:
Abdominal Muscles (Core)
Commonly referred to as your core,this connects your upper and lower body. Strengthening this area helps keep you balanced, reinforces the spine, improves your posture, and helps in all paths of physical fitness. Everyone already knows about the sit-up, so let’s have a look at a few different approaches:
This classic exercise is simple to do, can be done practically anywhere, and is one you can easily work at improving over the coming weeks. If you’re a beginner you could start out holding for 20 seconds, adding on 10 seconds a week, or when you become more comfortable, aiming for a minute-long plank position hold.
- Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows aligned below your shoulders and your arms parallel to your body at about shoulder width.
- Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body.
- Keep your spine, neck, and head in line by looking at a spot on the floor ahead of your hands, which you can clasp together or place flat on the floor.
- From here, engage your core, concentrate on breathing, set a timer and hold.
A more difficult variation is a standard plank. For this one, you hold your body in a push-up position.
An entry-level option is the knee plank, where you rest your knees on the ground, with your ankles crossed behind you, your arms in normal or elbow plank position and hold.
To target your lower abs you could try some leg raises. These take some time to get used to in terms of balance, but with a good rhythm and steady breathing, they soon become second-nature.
- Lie flat on your back on the floor/mat with your hands behind your head, by your side, or under your lower back for support.
- Keeping your legs together, straighten them out ahead of you.
- Engaging your core, raise your legs until they are perpendicular to the floor, or as far as you can.
- In a controlled motion, not allowing them to fall back, return your legs to the starting position.
If you really want to get that 6-pack popping, try a butt up. This is just like a leg raise, but when your legs are up in the perpendicular position, you thrust your hips and raise your butt off the floor. You then ease your butt to the ground, return your legs to the starting position, and go again.
As mentioned, everyone knows the sit-up, so here’s a movement that hits those muscles, but has a twist. A reverse crunch targets the upper and lower abs and while it may look easy, a few reps in and you’ll be feeling the burn.
- Lie flat on your back with your legs held straight out in front of you and your hands supporting you from either side.
- Bend your legs at the knees and slowly bring them towards your chest.
- When your knees are at your chest, raise your shoulders and torso off the ground in a curling motion without raising your lower back from the floor.
- Return your legs to the starting position and bring your shoulders back to the floor.
The leg muscles are the biggest muscle group in your body. Working these muscles takes a lot of energy which means you’ll burn more calories. Plus, most exercises below engage many muscle groups at the same time, giving your full body a hit and sending surges of testosterone and endorphins through your body. Yum.
Quadricep Muscles (Quads)
You’ve probably seen this one before. Lunges are pretty simple and are great for working your core, back, and most importantly the long, large muscles at the front of your legs.
- To perform a lunge, stand tall, feet hip width apart, and engage your core.
- Take a big step forward with your right leg, and shift your weight forward so that your heel hits the floor first.
- Then, lower your body so your right thigh is parallel to the floor, and your right shin is vertical. Make sure your right knee doesn’t move past the line of your toe.
- Press into your right heel to drive your body back up to the starting position.
- Follow the same technique for your left leg.
This exercise is a beautiful blend of cardio, abdominal and upper body muscles.
- Start in a traditional plank position/press-up position with your shoulders over your hands, and weight only on your toes.
- Engaging your core, raise your right knee towards your chest, keeping the toes of this leg just above the ground.
- Return to the starting position and repeat with the left leg.
- Continue repetitions at a comfortable (or strenuous) pace while breathing and engaging your core for a set time.
Gluteus Muscles (Glutes)
This exercise works your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core all in the one gorgeous (and excruciating) movement. In the past you may have seen the huge weights people squat in the gym,so you’ll be relieved to hear that squats using only your bodyweight are fantastic for you too, especially for the purpose of aerobic, cardiac, and vascular health. Furthermore, as I’ve stated, form is imperative, so mastering the bodyweight squat is important before stepping up to the rack.
One useful tip is to place a chair behind you when squatting, so on the downward motion you make sure to lightly touch the chair with your butt, before raising up again.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with your toes turned slightly outward, engage your core, and keep your eyes forward.
- Start the movement to lower your body by dropping your hips and bending your knees while keeping your heels flat on the floor.
- To keep your balance you may find it useful to hold your arms out straight at shoulder height in front of you.
- Touch your butt on the chair a moment and continue engaging your glutes and core. Keep your back and neck in a straight line and continue looking forward.
- Strongly push back up to starting position, mirroring the shape of the descent
This is a super simple exercise which is great for bringing definition and strength to your glutes.
- Lie flat on your back with your hands by your sides, knees bent, and feet shoulder-width apart on the floor.
- Raise your hips up off the floor engaging your glutes and core.
- Hold, then lower in a controlled manner.
This is a variation of the classic movement favoured by drill sergeants around the world – the push-up. This movement focuses on the large muscles at the back of your arm, while also hitting your chest and shoulders.
- Get on all fours with your hands together under your chest. Position the index finger and thumb of each hand so they are touching, forming a diamond or triangle.
- From here, extend your arms so that your body forms a straight line and your weight is on your ams and toes. The position is like a standard press-up, except your hands are between your chest muscles rather than under your shoulders.
- Lower your chest towards your hands keeping your elbows tucked close to your sides, your back flat and straight, and your core engaged.
- Stop just before your chest touches the floor and push back to the starting position.
This can be demanding on your balance and shoulders, so if you’re struggling, ease into it with some standard push-ups, which I explain in the chest section.
This movement is straightforward, only requiring a chair or other well-balanced surface, and really effective at engaging your tricep muscles. Be careful putting your weight and balance on a surface, and make sure you don’t overload your shoulders by warming-up well! If it becomes uncomfortable, try a surface lower than a chair to use.
- Begin seated on a secure surface or stable chair with your hands shoulder width apart behind your back and your legs together out in front of you.
- Grip the surface and raise yourself off and away from the edge by straightening your arms, taking the weight of your body on your triceps. Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep tension on your triceps and off your elbow joints.
- From here, bend your elbows to lower your body towards the floor keeping your back close to the bench or surface.
- When your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle, press into the bench or surface straightening your elbows and returning to the starting position.
A standard push-up already hits the bicep muscle, but by moving your hands closer together you will put more weight on that muscle and achieve more of a curling motion.
- Get into standard push-up position with your back and neck straight, weight on your toes, and arms shoulder width apart.
- From here, move your hands closer together leaving just a few inches between them.
- Lower your body to the ground, tensing your biceps and allowing your elbows to flare slightly.
- Push back to start and repeat.
This is like a pull-up, without the pull-up bar. It’s a tricky one though, which requires some DIY equipment, so be careful when setting up and performing this exercise. What you’ll need is either a large, sturdy table, like the one you find in your kitchen/dining room. Or, you could set up a thick, sturdy metal pipe or wooden bar between two chairs which are facing each other.
- How you perform this movement is by lying below your table or bar, and gripping it with both hands, at shoulder-distance or less apart, while keeping your legs straight and about hip-width apart.
- Keeping your back straight and core engaged, pull yourself towards the table or bar using your biceps, bringing your elbows out to the sides.
- Don’t touch the bar/table with your chest but get within 3 or 4 inches of it and hold, before lowering yourself back to starting position.
This fan favourite is brilliant for your chest, shoulders, arm muscles and core. But like so many classic exercises, you need to make sure you’re doing it right to get the full benefit of the movement. It should be an exercise in full body tension, and you should squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lower into the pushup.
- To begin, get into position on all fours with your hands below your shoulders or further apart.
- Straighten your legs, putting all the weight on your toes, and straighten your arms pushing yourself up from the ground.
- Engage your core, straighten your back and neck, and look forward.
- Lower your body in a controlled movement, until your chest almost touches the floor while exhaling, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and tightening your core.
- Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position.
If this proves difficult, feel free to place your knees on the floor with your ankles crossed until you are comfortable with the movement.
This active movement gets your blood pumping and targets your transverse abdominals and obliques. It blasts your shoulders too, as you hold your body up with just one arm at a time.
- Start in a standard press-up position, except with your legs spread hip width apart.
- Then, distributing your body weight between your legs, core, and primarily the left arm and shoulder, raise your right hand to your left shoulder and touch it.
- In a controlled movement, not letting gravity or mis-balance slam your hand back, place your hand in its original position.
- Do the same with your left hand.
- Throughout the exercise keep your core and body steady, and avoid a rocking motion to fully engage all your muscles.
Alt Arm/Leg Raises
This calisthenic exercise works a lot of muscles including the abs, lower back, obliques, and shoulders.
- To do this exercise, get into plank position on all fours with a straight back and neck.
- In a controlled motion, stretch your right arm out in front of you while simultaneously raising your left leg up off the ground. While you do this, engage your core.
- With control, return to your starting position before doing the same on the other side, this time raising your left arm and right leg.
- To add to this workout, really stretch your limbs, and hold it for a few seconds, you’ll be feeling the burn in no time.
A silly looking exercise that’s super for your back muscles. The name is obviously inspired by the DC caped crusader and its clear to see why.
- Lie face down, flat on a mat or the floor, with your legs straight and arms outstretched.
- Simultaneously raise your legs, arms, and shoulders off the floor, so just your upper legs and lower torso are touching the floor and you form a bowl shape with your body.
- Hold this position for a select period of time.
Now you have a few simple exercises to get started with, you might want to develop a plan to help structure and organise your workouts. Combine whatever choice of exercises you feel. Some people split their workout into a ‘Push, Pull, Legs’ Split. This works on two main muscles groups per day on a three day rotation. ‘Pull’ includes back and bicep exercises, ‘Push’ includes chest and tricep exercises, and ‘Legs’ includes quads, glutes and generally core for good measure. Others try a ‘Bro Split’, this involves concentrating on one muscle group each day for six or seven days.
There are plenty of other ways to split your workout which you can research but if you’re going for general health and well-being, why not try mixing and matching different exercises three or four times a week. Like you would in a “Pyramid Workout”. This takes you through 5 exercises which hit various muscles, the repetitions become lower with each movement and you aim for minimal to no breaks in between sets .
Here’s an example of one, feel free to switch out exercises to suit your body and your goals:
Jumping Jacks 50 repetitions
Shoulder Touches 20
Supermans 10 to be repeated three times.
Was there anything I missed out? What would you add? Or have you started a home workout plan yourself?
Let me know in the comments, and remember to mind your mental health during these confusing times.