Be smart and stay safe while working out at home

Posted on: December 11th, 2020 by Cort Lawton, MD

Working from home has become the new normal for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, people have gravitated toward working out from home to stay compliant with imposed restrictions and recommended precautions.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many gyms and fitness centers closing, forcing people to maintain their health and fitness with home-based exercise programs. Even when restrictions slowly lifted, many individuals decided to continue their home-based exercise routines. Reported benefits include reduced COVID-19 exposure risks, increased efficiency by eliminating a commute, and decreased cost due to the lack of a gym membership or class fees.

This has resulted in many individuals experimenting with new ways to exercise at home. Many have become creative, resulting in a wide range of new fitness routines ranging from taking a walk around the neighborhood to developing an at-home gym with equipment such as an exercise bike or those hard-to-find dumbbells.

As the weather turns colder and we navigate a more complex flu season, more people are likely to maintain their at-home routines. Let’s review some advice to consider before developing a home-based fitness program.

Start simple

Try not to get overwhelmed at the mere thought of working out from home. Health benefits can be gained with as little as 30 minutes of exercise three days per week. Working out from home means less time spent commuting, and therefore a smaller commitment to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As your stamina improves and your body becomes more conditioned to regular exercise, a more dedicated home exercise routine can be molded to accommodate your lifestyle.

Modern technology has aided the development of many high-quality, free workout resources ranging from workout tutorials on YouTube to applications such as Couch to 5K designed to guide you through a running routine. A variety of resources are available to assist you in developing a home-based exercise routine. I would encourage you to review this list of free home workouts to find a routine that best fits you. Additionally, it is important to stay safe, and I would encourage you to review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on maintaining physical activity while social distancing.

If you’re just starting out, keep it simple – both to maintain your motivation and reduce your risk of injury. Listen to your body, and ramp up your routine as your fitness improves. Make sure to speak with your doctor before starting a new workout routine if you have suffered an orthopedic injury or have previously undergone surgery.

Don’t ignore pain

Soreness is to be expected after working out, especially after beginning a new routine. However, soreness or pain in a reoccurring location that does not improve after a few days of rest may be a sign of an overuse injury that should be evaluated by your orthopedic physician.

If you have been diagnosed with knee or hip arthritis, you should avoid impact activities such as running or jumping exercises, which can worsen your pain in these joints. Furthermore, deep squats and lunges should be avoided if you experience frequent hip or knee pain. Alternative low-impact activities include swimming, biking, body weight exercises, and resistance band work.

Remember to stretch for at least five minutes before and after your workout to give your body time to warm up and cool down. Staying hydrated and supplementing your fitness efforts with proper nutrition will facilitate recovery and propel your fitness goals.

Get creative

It’s normal to miss the treadmills, ellipticals, and resistance machines at your local gym. Fortunately, some of the most effective strength and conditioning exercises can be done with resistance from your own body:

  • Squats (use a chair to practice/maintain proper form)
  • Push-ups (start against the wall if getting on the floor is too difficult)
  • Sit-ups (try crunches at first, then ramp up to full sit-ups)

Many of the previously mentioned workout routine resources focus solely on body weight resistance.

Because of that previously referenced national shortage of dumbbells, get creative and use household objects – canned goods or books – for strength training and balance exercises.

Once you’ve made exercise part of your regular routine, determine if your budget can afford paid personal trainer-led workouts like those through Peloton and invest in an at-home exercise bike or treadmill. Many national gyms like Planet Fitness are affordable and offer at-home workouts through their applications. Additionally, local gyms and YMCAs are now offering similar virtual fitness classes.

Mix it up

I strongly encourage cross training and downtime as part of your workout routine. At OrthoIllinois, we commonly see patients presenting with overuse injuries from a lack of diversity with their exercise routines. Pick different workouts you enjoy and mix them up from week to week. Also, schedule regular downtime to allow your body to recover.

Finding the motivation to start a workout routine can be challenging, whether that’s at a gym or at your home. Commit to blocking off time in your schedule to initiate a regular workout routine. As you make progress and your fitness improves, you can invest more time and diversify your routines. Remember to start slow and progress over time to avoid discouragement and overuse injuries.

Most importantly, have fun! Regular exercise is the best investment you can make to ensure a long and healthy life.

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