Realistic at-home corona workouts

Posted on March 23, 2020

(Last Updated On: March 23, 2020)

Every trainer in the world is writing about at-home workouts right now, so let’s be trendy.


I realize there is a lot of controversy around this issue, and that controversy is only growing. Much like anything arithmetic based in America, we’re incapable of widespread agreement.

To be clear, much like you are not interested in mine, I am not interested in your views on how serious this should be taken, debating, arguing, whether I, or people, or certain countries, are under or overreacting. If nothing else, your situation is not my situation. If you want to devolve into when-engineers / lawyers / businessmen-make-themselves-look-like-morons-by-trying-to-talk-immunology, please go to Elon Musk’s twitter feed.

I think, at this point, most people have seen the argument it’s not how many cases there are, it’s how many there are at one time. As of this writing, America has like a 1% fatality rate, but Italy is nearing 10%. I think, readers of this site will realize yes, Italy has an old population so that’s one likely reason their fatality rate is so high, but there’s no guarantee our fatality rate can’t sky rocket if our healthcare system gets overwhelmed. Perhaps most relevant in our situation, it’s not just people getting a really bad flu. It’s people who have a heart attack who can’t get proper care because so many have a really bad flu that the hospital has redirected, or run out of, resources. It’s not just the fatality rate primary to the virus. In healthcare speak, it is the fatality rate, or even the disability rate, secondary to the virus. Which, some will persuasively argue, will become incalculable, if nothing else due to lack of proper data.

Now, once we’ve digested that argument, it’s to each their own as to your viewpoint.

With that out of the way, this post is from here solely related to my domain, which is fitness. That domain is heavily reliant on our country’s big cities -Chicago, Seattle, LA, New York, Boston, Miami- which are on lockdown at this point, with places like New York saying they are on the precipice of a true healthcare disaster. So that’s the background we’re working with.

Context is everything

As I’ve nauseatingly gone over on this site, the most popular trainers, the most popular fitness writing, is from people who work with type A bodybuilders, or pro athletes, or celebrities who get paid millions of dollars to look a certain way.

Besides the fact nobody cares about those people during a time like this -except Tom Hanks. We love you Tom!- this is not the average gym goer.

Short version: the average American is 38 years old. They’re middle aged.

Long version: Personal training clients are way older than you think.

So as you likely already are, and invariably will continue, seeing these insane at-home workouts, remember who it’s coming from and who you are.

Those one-arm push-ups that turn into fingertip chin-ups in your doorway, somersaulting into a burpee with perfect tuck jump form? That ain’t you buddy.

You are more likely,


Not only were you a working parent, now you’re working from home on a couch that makes you want to eat chips and watch Netflix, while tutoring your children hours a day because while your school says they’re doing online learning that really just means they’ve made you a tutor, never mind the constant stress from the uncertainty as to what in the hell happened the last two weeks.


You’re probably not going to replicate the gym at home. It’s fine to give up on it before you start.

A lot of people are trying to figure out how to do their job from home. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen on this is the first inclination to try and replicate the office, but that’s a poor way to do it. When your environment changes, you should probably be changing too.

These guys have been working remotely for 20 years

Here’s a two hour Q&A they did recently to help people make the switch right now

If you’ve been doing a powerlifting style workout at the gym, look, you’re not going to be able to keep that up at home.

First off, no matter what anybody says, you’re not going to be able to replicate the amount of weight you were lifting just by doing bodyweight exercises. I mean, we’ve invented all these pieces of gym equipment, yet once people have to workout at-home, somehow trainers are like “it’s no problem.” There is a reason people go to the gym in the first place. If it was so easily replicated at home we’d all save ourselves the $40 a month and do it at home.

Second, yes, you could buy yourself a bunch of equipment, outfit your garage, etc. But do you really want to take that on at a time like this? A whole lotta people are hoarding cash right now. You’re gonna spend thousands so you can lift at home for a while?

-> I acknowledge and very much respect those who are that into their training. I was once one of those people. What I’m saying is this is not the average person, which is where most of our advice should be, by definition, directed.

Do anything and be proud of it

If you’re a reasonably healthy person*, you’ll be fine if you use some common sense right now to get yourself any workout.

My family has been pretty locked down for about ten days. Here are some of the workouts and exercise we’ve done-

-Run 4 miles on a nearby trail, yelling at anyone within 50 feet of me to “SOCIAL DISTANCE!!!” (I’m kidding…it’s to anybody within 25 feet.)

-Go up and down the stairs around an apartment complex for 30 minutes

-Do 100 push-ups broken up in sets of “feels hard”

-Put one of my kids on their bike, had them alternate chasing each parent through the neighborhood as we did sprints in intervals. 45 minutes.

-Walked a stroller around while doing walking lunges behind it

-Played tag

Is anybody entering a bodybuilding show soon? No.

Is everybody keeping themselves healthy, fit, sane? Yes.

Is exercise recommended by the World Health Organization right now, as a proactive health step for non-patients dealing with this? Yes. Do they explicitly say you need a hip thrust machine? No.

More specifically, my family is trying to make our children part of the workouts, or one parent gets a break to workout while the other watches the kids. We try to go outside, which has not been disallowed, and again, has in fact been recommended within social distancing guidelines (at least in the States. I’m not familiar with other country’s specific guidelines).

Trying to keep your mesocycles as they were, going with undulating volume, trying to exactly match the tension a dumbbell was giving you with the bands you have…for most you are just going to further stress yourself out. Don’t bother.

-> Another big issue with bands I’m seeing overlooked is bands feel very, very different than free weights. A great way to get hurt is to all of a sudden try to match band tension with DB tension. “I’ve been lifting 50 lb dumbbells. The band chart says I should use this band. Easy.” That’s a great way to tear something

The band is likely to throw you all over the place. The tension at THE TOP of the movement may be analogous, but the tension on the way up and the way down will be completely different, particularly to your nervous system i.e. the coordination of it all. Especially if you’ve never seriously used bands before.

-> For the love of god do not use tubular bands or anything you remotely think will snap on you. People really have had these things snap back into their eye. If you don’t have serious bands, don’t do serious training with them.

One of the biggest issues with suddenly having to make this at-home transition is you are going to suddenly be moving your body in a bunch of different ways. Whenever a new movement is introduced, it should be easy, so you can see how you respond to it and not be sore as hell.

“I can’t go outside.”

For 30 minutes alternate squats with push-ups.

“When do I alternate?”

When it burns.

“Squats sometimes hurt my knee.”

Do jumping jacks once they start to hurt.

I promise you’ll get your heart rate going.

One last emphasis here- depending on the personality, sometimes the best thing to do in a time like this is don’t do anything at all similar to what you’ve been doing.

Doing what you’ve been doing is likely to only make you realize how much worse off things are right now.

As a simple example- if you’re very interested in your 1 rep max bench press, trying to do a bunch of moves like the bench press, trying to still either maintain or improve your 1 rep max right now, is much more likely to frustrate you than comfort you right now. You are going to have an awfully hard time working on that without the right equipment. If nothing else you likely need / want a spotter, and having someone above you breathing on you isn’t the best right now. Your general health may very well be better suited to trying to do as many push-ups in a day as you can, or even further from bench pressing, start running. Just think of it as a longer term deload.

*The tougher scenario, and a very real one, is people who have some injury issues and can’t, say, just run.

First, if you can walk, then walk.

If you can walk up a hill? Do that.

Second, think about buying a bike. Walmart is still open.

Third, I hesitate to mention this because of the financial impact of all this, but sure, you may very well want to hire someone, or buy some at-home programs, or peruse Youtube and get some ideas.

Frankly, this is one thing I’ve been working with people on for about ten years now. So look at this if interested: The remote client process.

Yes, I have some clients who absolutely require some fanciness. There are of course better and worse ways to go about this. Things you can do to make life easier on a bum knee or shoulder.

But don’t feel like you HAVE to have that right now. If you can’t workout your upper body without bothering your shoulder because it is MUCH harder to incrementally load without gym equipment, and you don’t want to shell out money because you’re naturally worried about the economics of all this right now, then dude, if you don’t train your upper body for (hopefully only) a couple months, life’s gonna still be fine.

It’s not like I’m just telling all my clients to go run right now. We’re adapting the best we can. I’m genuinely programming exercises named “Propane Tank Lunges.” But if someone says “I have too much going on right now. Can I just jog a few times a week?” I’m not going to give them a hard time about it.

Sometimes one of the best things writing can do is give someone a sense of being given permission to do something they thought they should be doing.

For instance, I saw an op-ed in the New York Times “I refuse to run a coronavirus home school“.

Summary: “we’re playing video games, watching movies, and baking cookies way more than we otherwise would. It’s fine.”

I thought “Hey, great, someone else is feeling like I am” as my kid was playing games on their iPad.

Sure, schools and teachers are trying to do all they can, but if you feel it’s implausible to follow your school district’s sent home itineraries when all of us have every other mind-fuck concern in the world right now, like how your 5 year old is supposed to log on to a website with a laptop you need to work from home to do a job whose dynamics are changing by the hour, then, for your situation, you’re probably right. I mean, we SEND our kids TO school for a reason.

If you lose some muscle right now? Who cares? If you lose 20% on your bench press right now, who cares?

I went to grocery store last week. All the normal fresh food was gone. What am I going to do? Not buy food? Drive around the state hoping someone else has the proper foods to meet my macronutrient profile? No. I bought –gasp!- boxed foods I felt my family would eat, and a turkey sized thing of corned beef. I’m not going to freak out my abs may be less visible because the types of food we’re eating has changed. Fresh broccoli all gone? Well, we’ll make frozen-broccoli-with-who-the-hell-knows-what’s-in-the-cheese-topping work. It’s not like my cholesterol is going to sky rocket tomorrow because of that change.

If you further stress yourself out though? Your heart’s health (which has been found to be critical in coronavirus patients), your mental health, your family’s dynamic, your immune system, really cares.

I really, really, want to emphasize this. Even if you are a very in-shape person, even if you have access to great at-home equipment, you should all but definitely be lessening the intensity of your workouts right now, so you insure yourself against the possibility of doing too much, and compromising your immune system. I have not seen other trainers talk about this, and all I plan on seeing them say is “look how impossible this bodyweight exercise is. Try it and see! Awesome bruh.” Seriously consider the risk of something like that. Such as you screw up the form, get hurt, and need to go see a doctor at a time like this.

“I’m young and healthy so I’m not too worried about this” or “people are overreacting it’s only people with compromised health having serious issues.” I get that…but do remember you can compromise your own health at any time and put yourself in that bucket.

You’re never going to regret you pulled back your workout intensity during this time. You may very well seriously regret trying to do too much.

In regards to the immune system, pushing yourself too much is typically not as much a concern with lifters -though their heart health almost always leaves something to be desired i.e. lifting less; running more right now might be the best thing for you- but runners are notorious for doing so much volume they end up more susceptible to getting sick.

-> Understanding the divergence between athletic and academic performance where I talk about how injury prone athletes can become in mentally stressful times.

Now is not the time be gunning for personal records, no matter who you are.

-> I’m not surprised how many NBA players have tested positive. Their schedules are brutal, like with sleep deprivation.

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