It’s been about a month since social distancing has become largely mandatory. For many people, that has meant an extraordinary amount of time spent indoors and at home, which can be especially emotionally-taxing for those who previously made the gym a part of their daily routines.
And while exercise outdoors like running or biking (while practicing social distancing) are certainly an option, it seems as if there’s been an inordinate amount of rainy days during this, the spring of our discontent. Moreover, many feel they’re missing out on strength-training even on the days when they actually can make it outside.
Now imagine adding in the anxiety of recovering from an illness or injury. Alexis Tingan, MD, is an assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, and he works with these types of patients.
“Primarily, I’m encouraging most patients to not go to a physical therapy office so that they can maintain social distancing,” Tingan said.
To make up for this, he’s referring many of his patients for telemedicine visits and providing them with videos or documents of the exercises they can do at home to continue with their recovery. Overall, he’s trying to reassure his patients that they’ll make it through the current situation, even if they can’t do things exactly as had been recommended before the outbreak.
“Patients should not beat themselves up too much if they are falling a little bit behind,” Tingan said. “We are in an unprecedented time and, for the near future, things are not exactly as they were before the pandemic in terms of access to health providers, therapists, trainers, and equipment. The important thing is to work as hard as you can given what you have: telemedicine with physicians and therapists, and using space in their homes to do exercises and training.”
Mainly, Tingan wants everyone to keep moving at least a little at a time when it’s easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle. He’s concerned that not moving at all could lead to some longer-term health effects.
“Not exercising during this time can lead to weight gain and overall diminished health,” Tingan said. “Staying active also has benefits for mental health and the immune system.”
With that in mind, Tingan shared a simple regimen that people can do anywhere they are, even if they’re keeping themselves to their bedrooms.
Tingan starts with the “tried-and-true” push-up. “These are the best workouts to build upper body and core strength,” he said.
He recommends keeping your feet shoulder-width apart and doing them slowly to get the most benefit out of them.
COMMON MISTAKE: Some people do their push-ups quickly, in a jerky motion, like a jackhammer. “Your motion should be slow and controlled,” Tingan said.
“These are one of the best core workouts around,” Tingan said of planks.
Different than the erstwhile social media fad that involved a person lying face-down and remaining still, plank exercises require holding the starting position of the push-up for as long as a person can hold it.
“You can modify the traditional plank with a forearm plank: lower yourself down until your elbows are flexed 90 degrees, rest your weight on your forearms, and hold,” Tingan explained.
There is also the side plank, which involves turning to the side with one or both feet on the ground, holding the body weight on one fully extended arm while the free hand is extended toward the ceiling. This variation could also be modified into a forearm plank, as well, for extra effort.
COMMON MISTAKE: Don’t hold too long. There is only a benefit if you stay in control.
Mountain Climbers (Running Planks)
“Mountain climbers are a great way to build both core strength and cardiovascular fitness,” Tingan said.
To perform one, start in the plank position but then bring one knee up as far as possible toward the chest, then return it to its starting point. Once you do that, bring the other knee up the same way, then return it, too. Then repeat.
“To increase the intensity and increase the cardiovascular value of this exercise, increase the speed at which you alternate your knees,” Tingan said. “You can even increase to the point of ‘running,’ where you bring one leg forward before you bring the other back.”
COMMON MISTAKE: Doing too much, too fast. “That can lead to pain or injury and discouragement in the program,” Tingan said.
Lunges and Squats
“You don’t need to strap on heavy weights or use a leg press machine to build lower extremity tone and strength,” according to Tingan. “Lunges and squats can do this without the extra equipment.”
Tingan recommends, again, keeping the feet shoulder-length apart to start, for lunges. Then, with hands on the hips and staring at a point directly ahead, step forward with one leg and bend both knees to a 90-degree angle. Hold that position for three to five seconds, then return to the standing position and alternate legs.
For squats, start in a similar standing position but keep the arms folded across the chest. Then, slowly lower the body by flexing the knees to 90 degrees, “as if you’re attempting to sit on a chair.” Once at 90 degrees, hold for one second before slowly rising again.
COMMON MISTAKE: “Lower and raise yourself slowly. You always want to be controlled in your movement,” Tingan said.