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At-home exercise is vital to staying fit while the coronavirus pandemic keeps gyms closed.

Gorodenkoff Productions OU/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

These are dark days for gym rats. The sky has yet to fall, but Sunday evening, Canada’s largest health club operator, Goodlife Fitness, announced they are closing all of their 300-plus facilities until further notice because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many municipal community centres had already taken this step; by Monday morning just about every other corporate fitness centre in the country had followed suit, leaving a whole lot of people with nowhere to work out.

When compared to the spectre of death and global economic collapse, having to take a couple of weeks off from the gym is pretty low on the list of calamities caused by the COVID-19 crisis. People are worried about how they’re going to pay their rent or mortgages; they’re worried about their businesses, their colleagues, their loved ones. It’s a stressful situation to say the least.

And this, friends, is precisely why maintaining a workout routine in the face of this crisis is so important. Anxiety and uncertainty are best friends with stress, and stress, as we know, kills. If we’re going to be practising social isolation over the next couple of weeks, we can’t just sit around bingeing on Netflix and 24-hour news reports. We must maintain our regular fitness routines as best we can, not only for the stress-management benefits, but also to prevent the loss of momentum that comes along with any prolonged layoff from training.

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Be prepared

Hands up: How many readers consider building a home gym an essential element of emergency preparedness? All it takes is a modest financial investment, and you’ll never have to worry about gym schedules again. Your at-home setup will largely depend on the size of your home; those fortunate enough to have a high-ceilinged basement or a usable garage have more options than urban condo dwellers. But generally speaking, everyone who cares about their physical fitness should have the following pieces of equipment at home:

● Dumbbells, ranging in weight from five pounds to however much you can press overhead with one arm. Adjustable dumbbells are ideal for the home, as they provide a full range of weight options while only taking up a small amount of space.

● Jump rope and running shoes. You’ve got to take care of your cardio, even in a quarantine.

Resistance bands of at least two different levels of resistance – one light, one less light. Bands provide a useful alternative to cable machines; they’re also excellent for basic mobility drills.

Kettlebell(s). At least one heavy bell, in the 30-50 pound range, depending on your skills and experience. With one heavy kettlebell you can perform loaded carries, swings, squats, and presses. With two, well, sky’s the limit.

Suspension system. This one falls into the “nice to have” category. Suspension systems like the TRX are portable and versatile; I like them because of the variety of pulling exercises they allow for (unless you’re adept at door-frame pull-ups, training your back at home can pose a challenge).

Get creative

It’s going to be tough, training for a powerlifting meet from home, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most lifters can do with a week or so away from the heavy weights anyway. Use this time to experiment with different approaches to fitness. Some of my most productive workouts have taken place in my living room; having limited options forces you to focus on the essentials in a more creative way than usual.

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For example, if low-volume strength training with maximum poundage is your bread and butter, embrace the opposite and give high-rep bodybuilding protocols a shot. It’s a different stimulus for sure, but the challenge can be just as great. And don’t forget about the myriad options body-weight exercises offer. You may have an impressive bench press, but how many one-arm push-ups can you do?

Get the kids involved

Parents across the country are up against a very tough task – keeping their kids entertained and occupied while just about every essential service is shuttered. Why not tackle two things at once and incorporate the little ones into your workouts?

Kids love to mimic whatever adults do, and having all that energy around can invigorate your performance. Their light, flexible bodies are perfect for calisthenics; practice your push-ups as a team. And, hey, if you have kids, you may not even need to buy any weights – just strap one to your back and squat away.

Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Toronto.

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