12 months ago we went into lockdown to “flatten the curve”. With the hope and expectation that doing so would get us back to normal fairly quickly. Little did we know that a year on, we’d be back in a lockdown, though this time we have a vaccine being rolled out and things are looking brighter for a reasonably swift return to meeting up with friends and family, going to cafes and restaurants and getting back into the gym to lift heavy things once again.
With all the changes and restrictions to our normal lives, we have had to make substantial changes to how we do most things, from working at home, homeschooling (I’m glad I don’t have that responsibility and have the utmost respect for those that have had to deal with Maths, History and the rest!) and home workouts. Some of these changes have been positive, making us re-evaluate our priorities and habits, some have been negative, forcing us to make do with less than optimal situations for a long time. But with all that’s gone on, I think it’s important to look back over the year for what we can take away from the experience. And with that thought, here are 12 lessons I’ve taken from the last 12 months.
Environment is everything.
Put your hand up if you’ve struggled a bit with home workouts. *raises hand*
Switching all of your main activities from the environments you’re used to and that are designed for the tasks done there is a major kick in the brain box. All of a sudden we found ourselves working, living, relaxing and working out in the same spaces, and often with no distinction between how the spaces were used. So all the tasks that we now had to do at home were all done in 1 or 2 rooms, making task switching far more challenging due to the muddle of signals we were getting.
Doing different tasks in different places allows us to more fully engage in the activities we do. And if you’re not fortunate enough to have separate study, gym, and family spaces, then you need more energy and focus to switch from work to training to relaxing, making it a lot more likely that you’ll let some things go and other drag on longer.
If you are finding this an issue, as many of my clients are, then here are 2 tips to help a little:
- If you’re using the same room for multiple uses, have clear changeover times, and clear your stuff away when you’re done. For example, you finish work at 5, you clear away your laptop, files and anything else you use. Then you bring out your KB, bands and mat to start your workout at 5:15. This makes it easier to task switch and focus on what’s coming instead of having that email from Bob at work shouting for your attention from your laptop.
- Have a more rigid schedule. It’s tempting to allow work to creep into times that it wouldn’t normally get to, just because the opportunity to get a little more done is there. But this lack of a clear boundary eats into time you want, and need, to use for things other than work. Chances are, it’s nothing that can’t wait till tomorrow to be dealt with and you know that getting a workout in is going to make you feel a thousand times better than answering Bobs email, so set more time boundaries and stick to them. Structure equals freedom.
Training at home isn’t about “optimal”
Training at home isn’t about getting things perfect. It’s about doing the best you can with what you have in order to maintain as much of the hard-earned progress you’d made before March 2020. Optimal would include a gym with a great environment. And a range of equipment to create an all-around training experience designed to get your ever closer to the performance and body composition outcomes you want.
Training at home, unless you’ve got a pretty well set up gym or are pretty new to training, isn’t going to make you a load of progress. Even with the hardest variations of bodyweight exercise, eventually, you get to a point where there isn’t enough stimulus for building more muscle or strength. And while light weight and high reps certainly can help you build more muscle, eventually the rep counts needed to challenge you enough get so ridiculous you don’t have the time to use them.
So instead of focussing on building more strength, or worrying about whether your training is optimal, shifting your focus to maintaining the lean mass you have, working on improving some exercise techniques, and trying a couple of different approaches will give your training some much needed direction.
This can be a challenging mindset flip for many of us. Going from chasing performance outcomes to being stuck in a holding pattern, trying to find newer and ever more creative ways to minimise the loss of progress. So shifting your focus from purely outcome-based to more of a process-based one can make a world of difference to your consistency and motivation to train.
Training your back at home is hard
On the theme of training at home, if you can’t do a pull-up, and don’t have much equipment, training your back is hard. Having a couple of resistance bands handy makes it a little easier, if not exactly optimal. Here are 5 options you can use to target the big movers in your back.
Note: Make sure your chairs aren’t going to tip up and deposit you ungracefully on the floor.
These can be done with wide elbows as in the video, or with your elbows in tight, depending on what your target is.
Note: these can be done with band, a DB or KB, or a combo of weight + band.
Like I said, not optimal, but good enough.
Too much screen time does you no favours
We know this is true, but when you’re working from home, with your face in front of a laptop screen all day, and no real gap before you fire up Netflix to watch The Last Dance, The Tiger King or The Boys, before you know it, 14 hours has gone by with you bombarding your eyeballs with fake light and then wonder why you can’t get a good night’s sleep.
Splitting up your day to include some time outside, particularly if you have to have a lot of laptop time, is essential for a number of reasons.
- You limit some of the blue light exposure you get from your screens.
- You get natural light in your eyes. Helping with the regulation of your circadian rhythm, which in turn makes sleep easier.
- You get to look at something further away than 18 inches for a while.
- Getting out of your seated posture more regularly each day helps your back and shoulders not feel like trash.
- You get a little more fresh air and movement, both of which have been shown to improve focus and performance. So you get more done, done better, and done more quickly.
If you struggle to fit short breaks in throughout the day, do a fake commute before and after work. It might only be 10-20 minutes, but it’ll make a big difference. And if you can, get outside for a little while at lunchtime too.
Getting outside more is a good thing
Speaking of getting outside…
Since that was one of the few options we had over the last 12 months, getting out for a daily walk, whether in one big chunk or 2 or 3 smaller ones, is a habit I hope we can all stick to. Since our commute is now going from the kitchen to the livingroom or spare bedroom and back again, the daily step counts we took for granted have all but disappeared, making us even more sedentary than before and adding the depressing potential to be stuck within the same handful of rooms day in, day out. And over the last year, whenever I’ve felt a bit crappy, or was getting a bit of cabin fever, I got outside for a 20-30 minute walk and felt significantly better for doing it.
It’s easy, when options are limited, to get into a cycle of getting up, getting stuck into work or TV, migrating 10 feet to eat a couple of times a day, then back to sitting down inside for more work or Netflix until it’s time for bed. Feeling gradually worse, our moods darkening and our energy levels plummeting. But getting outside for even 20 minutes each day can help reverse that. You get natural light, valuable for all the reasons mentioned above. You get your blood pumping a little more, improving your aerobic fitness. You take the pressure off your back, hips and shoulders. You also boost your mood, increase your creativity and give your mental health a much-needed boost.
Setting minimums is valuable
One of the tactics I’ve started using myself, and recommending to clients who’ve been struggling with motivation, is that of setting achievable minimums to do each day. By setting these minimums, the tasks are more achievable, less daunting and, because taking action leads to increased motivation for that task, more likely to lead you to doing more than the expected amount.
You have set your expectations of workouts having to last 60 minutes. This often means that you feel that anything less than 60 minutes isn’t a proper session and therefore not worth doing. So if you are feeling tired, stressed, or short on time, it’s easy to skip your session. But if you set an expectation that you will perform some kind of workout for a minimum of 15 minutes, then you’ve taken the barrier to entry down significantly. Not only that, but quite often, after your 15 minutes is up, you are more likely to do a little more.
The same is true in many areas. I’ve started using this technique with meditation, reading, workouts, work, cleaning and more. And, so far, it’s working great. Often I get to the end of the minimum time I’ve set myself (for example 2 minutes of meditation, 20 minutes of reading, etc) and I’ll push further on because having achieved the goal I have more motivation to continue.
Here are a few examples of some minimums you can try:
15 minutes of walking outside
15 minutes of workout time
10 minutes of mobility work.
15 minutes of screen-free time mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
If there are areas you struggle with, try setting minimums where appropriate and see how it helps your consistency.
Here endeth part 1. Initially, I’d intended it to be all in one post, but it’s getting a bit too long and unwieldy, so part 2 will be with you next week!