With gyms shutting down worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic, there are still plenty of options to exercise at home or outdoors while practicing social distancing. You don’t need need an expensive home gym, but you would need a few equipment and imagination to stir ideas for creating your own workout.

1. Bodyweight exercises

The most economic option, of course, is just using your own body weight as resistance. Classic exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, step-ups, lunges, and sit-ups can be starters for many beginners. If you have access to a pull-up bar or a similar apparatus to do pull-ups outdoors, great. But if you’re stuck at home or do not have such access, installing an indoor pull-up bar could be an option.

woman pull-ups outdoors

Pullups can be done in a variety of ways. Sometimes you have to improvise. Screenshot: Ashley Victoria

But if you do not wish to do install one, another option would be something like portable parallel bars that allows you to strengthen your back muscles.

lebert equalizer home exercise

Photo: Courtesy of Marc Lebert

(By the way, lebertfitness.com is offering 50 percent off of the pink and green Equalizers and 20 percent off on all other products during the coronavirus quarantine.)

Other tools that can help with your bodyweight workout include elastic bands, aerobic steps, agility ladders, stability balls, the BOSU, and plyoboxes.

man pistol squats with elastic band

Screenshot: Nick Ng

2. Free-weight exercises

If you already have a set of dumbbells, kettlebells, and/or barbells at home, then you already have the basics of a typical gym workout.  You can do most of the lower-body bodyweight exercises while carrying a weight in each hand. With a barbell, you could hold it on top of your upper shoulders or hold it in front of you near your clavicle.

US Marine barbell lunges

Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Kim, a flight clearance chief with Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., executes a squat lunge with barbell during a High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) level 1 instructor’s course at the station gym aboard MCAS Yuma, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (United States Marine Corps photo by: Pvt. George Melendez/ Released)

You can even do multiple body parts at once such as the squat press, lunge press, standing curl and press, and kettlebells swings and snatches.

Since most of these products are made of cast iron, they will last you for decades with proper care and storage.

3. Combat-based exercises

If you are already training in a martial art or a combat sport, use what you already know as part of your daily exercise routine: Katas, weapons training, shadow boxing, bag punching and kicking.


martial arts staff exercise

Screenshot: Nick Ng

If you are into the grappling arts, like judo and jiu-jitsu, and yet you are practicing social distancing and have no sparring partner, rolling and tumbling exercises could be options.

4. Dance and dance-based exercises

Perhaps it’s time to find those old P90X and Tae Bo workout DVDs? If you don’t like lifting heavy stuff—and with the extra free time you have—you could learn to dance. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits of the typical aerobic workouts, you will learn to move to music with rhythm.

You can find many YouTube videos that offer dance and dance-like aerobics. But in social dances, like swing and salsa, lacking a partner and feedback from an instructor would be a drawback, but when the coronvirus pandemic is over, you should be more familiar with the dance when you go out to take actual lessons—an advantage over a complete novice who has not watched a single video and practiced.

5. Reps and sets per exercise

The number of reps and sets you do depend on your goals: strength gain, muscle hypertrophy, For bigger muscles, current research finds that six to 20 reps are an optimal range, but that data is mostly for younger men.

Although researchers are not sure what is an ideal range for most women and older adults, most would agree that other factors—such as intensity, speed of muscle contraction—would affect the number of sets and reps.  A qualified personal trainer would be able to help you find your range and the best formula for your weight-training workout.

6. Rest intervals between exercise sets

Sixty seconds is the typical recommendation to rest between sets of weight training if you are aiming for muscle hypertrophy. But if your goal is to gain maximum strength, however, recent research finds that there is not much  differences in strength performance between those who rested for one minute or less than those who rested longer than one minute.

study in 2009 pooled data from 35 studies that examined acute responses and chronic adaptations to high-intensity strength training. The researchers found that high exercise intensity requires three to five minutes of rest between sets to maximize strength production in the next set. This rest period also “produced greater increases in absolute strength, due to higher intensities and volumes of training.”

This long rest period may tempt you to check your phone for social media or coronavirus updates, so don’t lose track of time.

7. The great outdoors.

golden ears provincial park

Photo: Jenny Slauenwhite

While many countries have already issued a stay-home order, it does not mean that you’re under house arrest. You can still take walks around your neighborhood or hike in nearby trails in the mountains or lake. However, you still need to avoid crowds and still practice social distancing during the quarantine if you are outdoors with someone.

8. Interval training

For those who wants to go “Hard” mode, interval training is where you perform one exercise at high intensity for a shout bout of time followed by another exercise at a lower intensity. Also known as “HIIT” (high-intensity interval training), this training targets your heart rate to about 80 percent of your maximum capacity. While gauging what 80 percent is like can be difficult, using apps like a heart rate monitor or FitBit could help.

You can use almost any exercise for an interval training session. For example, you can sprint for 30 seconds at your maximum speed followed by one to three minutes of walking or jogging. Then you repeat the process two, three, or more times, depending on your ability.

With weight training, you could do a heavy dumbbell squats followed by jump-rope skipping or moderate-intensity shoulder and arm exercise. The combinations are almost endless.

9. Sleep and exercise

Although sleep researchers are not sure how exercise affects sleep quality, they do know that exercise can improve mental health, which in turn could improve sleep quality and quantity. Because of mixed research methodologies and different populations respond to exercise differently and have different sleep qualities (e.g. obese, teenagers, post-partum women), there is no consensus on a general guideline of exercise to improve sleep for everyone.

However, current research suggests that most adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep, even though there is “no magic number or ideal amount of sleep to get each night that could apply broadly to all.”

10. Just play!

man running dogs exercise

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony/Released)

Sometimes you may not feel like exercising, but play makes you forget about your heart rate, what muscles you’re working, and other things that you may think of during exercise.

Play frisbee with a friend or a dog. Shoot a basketball in a variety of ways. Play hopscotch at your driveway or sidewalk. Experiment with different types of stretching.

If you are an experienced dancer or marital artist, play with the basics of what  you already know.

“Play is the ideal context for practicing new skills or trying out new ways of doing things precisely because play has no real-world consequence,” said psychologist Peter Gray of Boston College, who is the author of “Free to Learn.”

“With freedom to fail comes freedom to experiment. The play world is a simulation world, a safe and fun place to practice for the real world.”


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A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.

An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.

When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.