It seems inevitable, given the forward briefings by the government, that gyms in the UK will not be opening before April.
I could be wrong about that (and there could be an outbreak of optimism on the part of the politicians and their advisors to allow the gyms to open in March), but I think, realistically, April will be the earliest when the gym doors will be opening again and we will be able to exercise with specialist equipment and heavy weights.
This means we still have some time to go before we can get structured and demanding workout programmes back on track (or shelter from the elements). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy exercising outdoors. I find it invigorating and stimulating, even at this time of year, though like many others, I also miss the benefits that only a modern gym can offer.
So, I am looking forward to those doors opening once again!
But, if we are a matter of weeks from being able to exercise in a well-equipped gym space, it is important that we do not waste the time available right now and that we continue to maintain a fitness lifestyle and focus on the benefits of exercise. In this vein, I offer the following advice to those so interested so as to make it to April ready to benefit and enjoy being back, working out in a gym.
As a starting point, identify what your preferred exercise format is. For some, it is strength and resistance training (certainly the worst hit by the closure of gyms), for others it is more about cardiovascular exercise (which can probably be best adapted to the current conditions). For some, the focus is on flexibility (which again, can best be adapted to an exercise programme maintained away from the gym).
Resistance exercise strengthens and/or builds muscle, and also improves mobility, particularly as we age. I am a huge fan of resistance training, as focussing on strength also builds resilience (which is, for obvious reasons, important right now).
Such exercises can be delivered from a single position but do require the right equipment, either in the form of weights or resistance machines/bands. Outside of the gym, home weight sets (which can be purchased online) can be used as a fill-in until the gyms open again or, for light resistance work, such cupboard essentials as cans of food can be used, together with that modern staple, the elastic band.
Elastic bands are great for this kind of exercise until the heavier weights are available, as they are affordable, take up almost no storage space and can be selected for the level of resistance required.
There are also many kinds of fill-in resistance training video guides online. Just go to Youtube, search ‘strength and resistance home training’ and you will have a variety of video guides to choose from. In addition, the NHS has also produced its own exercise videos (NHS Fitness Studio) and if you select the 'Strength and resistance' option, there are also workouts here which fit the bill.
As touched upon earlier, of all the exercise formats least troubled by the closure of the gyms, cardiovascular is pretty much the winner.
Cardiovascular exercise increases heart rate and blood circulation, plus is great for losing weight, as well as building overall fitness. I am an advocate of running (as anyone who knows me will testify), as well as cardio’ workouts (I had a thing for the Jane Fonda workout as a younger man) and advise everyone to add a cardio’ element to their workout programme, as it delivers energy and variety, even if strength and resistance training is at the heart of the workout in question.
Again, both YouTube and the NHS have a whole variety of cardio’ workouts that be undertaken away from the gym and then there is also the original Jane Fonda workouts, that can be followed with minimal or zero equipment.
Which brings me to flexibility exercises, which include stretching and yoga routines, both of which can also be undertaken without equipment. Flexibility training is even better placed to be undertaken away from the gym (particularly in winter), as these kinds of exercises can be delivered at home following online guides (on Youtube again, or the NHS).
Stretching is great, particularly as a regular component in any training regime, as the demands placed on the body by resistance or cardio’ training will exhaust muscles, which in turn will then benefit from regular stretching.
Finally, a brief word about the wonders of walking: Even in winter (perhaps particularly in winter) walking is a great way to get fresh air, visual and mental stimulation and to burn calories in a more leisurely and social way that sweating it out in a cardio’ workout. Walking is also something which can be added relatively easily into most lifestyles by withdrawing the use of public or private transport on a daily or regular basis. So, walk as much as possible and look to reach the point where a single walk of 30 to 60 minutes is easily deliverable, to gain the maximum benefit from doing so.
Whatever is chosen as the go-to exercise of choice in the weeks ahead and before the gyms reopen, continue to exercise regularly and to maintain the best fitness lifestyle possible. That way, when it is possible to workout again with demanding equipment and weights, the gym floor exercise will be challenging and rewarding, as opposed o exhausting and punishing.
The opening of the gyms is coming. Be ready for that day.