I consider myself an athlete, but I don’t engage in any particularly impressive physical feats. I am not “cut” or “swole.” My superpower is consistency. Barring the rare knee surgery or birthing the occasional child, I have worked out daily for more than 20 years.
If you get discouraged because you’re not meeting specific strength or weight loss goals during this pandemic, I encourage you to reframe those goals. I work out because I don’t want to injure myself when picking up my kids, and because physical activity is how I combat anxiety and depression. Over the past two decades, I've tried almost everything—from climbing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu to Jazzercise—at least once. That makes me, the world’s most mediocre athlete, qualified to help you get moving.
If you’re starting from square one, I can help you. I can also help if you’re a gym rat. For more suggestions, I enlisted the help of Cassey Ho, the animating spirit behind the wildly popular Blogilates fitness platform, as well as Ben Musholt, physical therapist, parkour coach, and the author of The Mad Skills Encyclopedia (disclosure: Ben is a friend and I used to work out in his garage).
Most sports manufacturers won’t tell you this, but you don’t need anything, not even a pair of fancy leggings or shoes, to start working out. Just do a couple of push-ups in your pajamas every time you pee, and congratulations! You’re on your way.
Still, a basic kit may help you establish a routine. Fitness expert Cassey Ho recommends starting with a yoga mat. “Obviously, a lot of us don’t have space for our own home gym,” she says, but a mat can help you define a workout space within the chaos of your living room floor.
A yoga mat will cushion your joints and keep your feet and hands secure. Parkour enthusiast Ben Musholt also notes that for apartment dwellers, it will dampen the sound of your footfalls for your downstairs neighbors. Ho uses her own Popflex mats; I have a basic Gaiam mat, but I also recommend the dense, recycled Suga mat, though it's pricier.
Many free online workout tutorials will also feature workouts that use weights, like small dumb bells or a kettle bell. Musholt likes a versatile piece of equipment called a Lebert equalizer, which can be used as an overhead weight, a step stool, dip bars, and so forth.
These are nice to have, but body weight exercises will suffice for most people. You probably also have a lot of alternative weights in your house. I have danced around in my living room swinging cans of beans, jugs filled with water, and a backpack filled with books. A 3-year-old clinging to your ankle also works.
Musholt also notes that viewing your home as a parkour practitioner can help vary your workout. “There’s opportunities all around,” he says. You can do tricep dips off chairs or step workouts in a stairwell. I’ve also found this Ikea stepstool to be a surprisingly useful piece of workout equipment.
The best way to start working out consistently is to find something you like to do, and then do that—whether that’s running, walking your dog, or roller-skating on your street in melancholy, social-distancing circles.
Luckily, there is a veritable smorgasbord of free streaming workout services right now. First, I recommend The New York Times’ efficient, strength-building 7-minute workout. Musholt also devised a quick starter whole-body workout for WIRED readers.
There are hundreds of free workouts on YouTube and Instagram, but a few that I like are Blogilates (try her free quarantine workout), Fitness Blender, Sydney Cummings, and Yoga with Adriene, which is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Yoga teacher Adriene Mishler has a theater background, an exceptionally soothing voice, and excellent taste in dogs.
If you’ve been curious about a specific trendy workout and never had a chance to check it out, now is the time. The Peloton app is currently free for 90 days. Orangetheory, the coached (and frankly cultish) boutique fitness studio, is offering free videos on YouTube, too.
On the off-chance there are any new moms reading, the MuTu system is the best online core-building workout, which I used to restore core strength after I had both my children. MommaStrong is also popular and cheaper, but I found the MuTu instructions to be clearer and easier to follow.
If you're interested in barre, or ballet-based workouts, I must first tell you that it's one of the hardest workouts I've ever done (and I have climbed 900-foot rock walls and herded cattle on horseback). Pure Barre, The Bar Method, and Barre3 are all offering free trials. The popular fitness platform Obé Fitness also has a free trial. They have both live and recorded workouts that are chunked in efficient, yet painful, sub-30-minute videos. If you have a Samsung TV (2018 or newer), you can access many of these services, like Barre3, Calm, Fitplan, and Echelon, for free.
Got a fitness tracker? An app might be the most convenient way for you to both access and record your workouts. Nike Training Club and Aaptiv are both hugely popular. But if you have a Fitbit like the Versa, I love the convenience of being able to select a workout on the Fitbit Coach app on the watch and do a quick exercise in my living room while following along with a tiny person on my wrist.
Your gaming console is also a workout opportunity. For example, on the Nintendo Switch, our team likes Just Dance, Ring Fit Adventure, and Mario Tennis Aces. The Switch and some of these games can be hard to find now, though.
If you attended fitness classes before the pandemic closed all the studios, I encourage you to contact your instructor directly. Many of them probably need employment, and a few of my now-former instructors are offering private Zoom classes for a nominal fee.
And finally, if all these resources have turned your head inside out (I was tired just writing it), WIRED senior editor Michael Calore likes Your Video Gym, a website designed by artist Jenny Sharaf, who has painstakingly curated free online videos into an easy-to-navigate online platform. I particularly like the celebrity and retro sections. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time during quarantine than to have Cher whip me into shape.
If working out with Jane Fonda on a daily basis isn’t enough of an incentive for you to get off the couch (now seems like a good time to bring up the fact that the best Hemsworth has also launched a workout app), you can try other simple tips to jump-start your exercise habit.
- Set a recurring appointment in your calendar app.
- Make sure you have clean, comfortable workout clothes.
- Start small. Don't injure yourself.
- Try a lot of different things!
For Ho, putting an appointment in your calendar means you'll mentally set aside the time for working out and get a reminder about it. Making a date with a friend is another incentive—nothing will make Zoom more appealing than seeing your best friend (and Chris Hemsworth) at the start of your day.
Your workout apparel can also be minimal, especially if you're staying inside your house. But it may help you to get motivated if it's clean, organized, and fits well. The less time and energy I put into digging through my laundry basket for a clean sports bra or matching pair of socks, the fewer excuses I have for ditching my plans, and the more time I have for actually working out.
Finally: This is the worst possible time to go to a hospital. While most coaches recommend consulting a doctor before starting a new routine to rule out possible heart or respiratory problems, that’s obviously not possible at the moment. You do not want to injure yourself as you’re starting a new workout routine. Musholt has a simple rule of thumb:
“If a movement is hurting, that’s the biggest indicator that you should stop,” he says.
It’s normal to be sore afterward, but a motion shouldn’t hurt while you’re performing it. For example, if you're a new runner and you feel pain in your shins, stop running. Walk home and try again later. Modify instructions according to your fitness level, whether that means transferring a push-up to a chair instead of the floor, or doing half-burpees instead of full ones. Ho also recommends building in warm-up and cool-down times to stretch before and after workouts.
“You never want to just jump into something,” she says.
My advice: Cross-train, or engage in various activities. If you’ve discovered you like running, throw in a few of Runner’s World’s 7-minute strength training sessions. If a barre workout has your glutes burning the day after, go for a walk with your kids, partner, or dog.
“In times of uncertainty, what makes us feel better is when we have a plan of some sort,” Ho says. Right now, there’s a lot going on that you can’t control. But for the next 30 minutes, you can do whatever you want—whether that’s a jog around a forest while listening to a podcast or a dance around your living room with your kids. This much, at least, is up to you.
If you're looking for gear ideas in a specific sport, I encourage you to check out our running gear guide, as well as our guides to the Best Workout Headphones and the Best Biking Accessories. If you need a device to stream some of these free workout services to your TV, take a look at our guide to the Best Streaming Devices too.