This piece is part of Bustle’s All Levels Welcome, a column about making fitness culture as accessible and inclusive as possible.
In the beginning of quarantine (which at this point feels like the beginning of time), you were pretty good about getting in your daily jogs and Pilates sessions. But 10 weeks in, you've drained the internet of all its exercise videos, and even when you've paid to join a new Zoom workout, you just don't have the mental energy to get started. As quarantine fatigue has set in, and you're falling out of your workout routine, you might find yourself sorely missing the mental health boosts from exercise.
"Working out from home is tough for anyone, particularly the motivation to start," says Bethany Stillwaggon, a certified personal trainer and master coach for boutique fitness concept Row House. It might be general quarantine fatigue, or it could be the specific ways the pandemic has disrupted your routine. Even when your brain knows that exercising every day will help regulate your mood and give you a jolt of happiness hormones, it can feel impossible to get started again once you lose momentum.
Stillwaggon suggests asking yourself specific questions to help figure out why you can't bring yourself to exercise even when you want to. "Is it that your home is chaotic or messy? Is it just setting aside the same time every day for your workout? Is it knowing where to start or what to do? Or is it just to even work out at all?" If you need to do a bit of household decluttering before you exercise, try clearing one area to work out in first, to help prove to yourself that you can indeed tackle the kitchen next. If you can't find the time, don't know where to start, or straight-up don't have the energy to move, meet yourself where you're at and take it very slow. Just a little push to get yourself into a single stretch can go a long way toward getting those daily mental health lifts again.
My own personal training clients have found it helpful to tie physical activity to things they already do every day. Try a few arm circles before brushing your teeth, and shake your wrists out (all that typing!) every time your phone buzzes with a notification. You might be turned off by the idea of running outside with a mask, but you can still stand by your window and reach your arms toward the ceiling to give your rib cage a nice stretch. While you're waiting for your life-saving coffee to brew, grab the kitchen counter and send your hips back with a neutral spine, creating a deep stretch in your hamstrings. These moves might not be complete workouts on their own, but putting them together throughout the day can help you feel steady enough to exercise more fully.
Even if you're used to more heart-pounding workouts, those stretches between emails definitely "count." Stretching brings a surge of nutrients and oxygen to your muscles. The extra blood flow can improve your mood and increase your energy levels, and who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired enough to drop into a squat or two.
That may be all you need to get going. "You don’t need much equipment, space, or time to get in a mini strength and mobility workout that will get your blood flowing and your energy up," says Nate Helming, co-founder of the training community The Run Experience and strength coach for the running app Strava. All you need is the random few minutes you're stuck with before your next Zoom meeting — and let's face it, you could use a mood boost before the seventh virtual meeting of the day.
"Try doing a ladder of squats and pushups," Helming suggests. "Start at two reps of each, then do four reps of each, and work all the way up to 10 reps of each (for 30 reps total). Feel free to modify the movements, drop the reps to eight, or add in more rest breaks. The victory is that you took five to 10 minutes to move your body in a positive way that will not only add to your fitness, but to your general mental health and well-being throughout the day."
Start small, Stillwaggon says, and celebrate successes on your own terms. If getting out of bed to get a glass of water is the most active you can get your body to be today, that's OK. Make it a goal to get up for two glasses of water tomorrow. Phone a friend for accountability and support if you need to, and keep breathing in that sweet, healing oxygen.
Bethany Stillwaggon, certified personal trainer, master coach for Row House
Nate Helming, co-founder of The Run Experience, strength coach for Strava