As we evolve, adapt and conform to the new disruptive situation of COVID-19, I see a lot of Trainers and Coaches stepping up with free workout videos and exercises that can be done from home. You are all awesome and it warms my cold heart to see my industry step up the way it has. Whether out of sheer charity or a marketing tool (perhaps both?) we now have countless hours and Terabytes worth of minimal equipment workouts. Wonderful.. Except for one little thing…
Most people won’t do them.
At-home workout videos are the new Fitspirational quotes: They will appeal to the 5% of the already motivated, with those who need them the most getting lost in the shuffle. Especially when coaches feel the need to “ramp things up” by adding jumps/propulsion and otherwise explosive movements that are foreign to many gym goers used to staying on the ground and just moving iron. The single-leg burpee to high jump/push-up look impressive, but 61-year-old nearly-retired Martha from Finance working from home is going to shatter her hip. (Don’t EVEN get me started on the “burpee challenges”). But I digress..
I feel like with any health pursuit, many will have great intentions and high hopes. “Heck, I’m spending 23.5 hours in my home, I’ve got a mat, a shake weight and a Tony Little Gazelle (that I bought 10 years ago that I’ve used 7 times).. But yeah now that I’m at home I’ll be working out 5 times a week.. MINIMUM”
Narrator: “Bob did not workout 5 times a week”.
The problem for most of us is we overestimate our ability to sustain motivation and underestimate the obstacles. This issue is when the cabin fever sets in, certain comfort patterns take hold. Prolonged stress and the feeling of confinement can cause a bit of a psychological regression – a perceived need to conserve and a further dampening of motivation. So if your home wasn’t your personal temple of fitness prior to COVID-19, there’s a very good chance it won’t suddenly come easy now that you find yourself there.. all. The. Freaking. Time. It’s amazing how fast the initial motivation can turn into a giant case of “fu**arounditis” (Expression credit: Martin Berkhan). Mix in the fact that you may be in a work from home situation, kids off school for the next while and suddenly you are doing everything you can to keep yourself from the oreos and the liquor cabinet.
The million dollar question becomes: How does the average Jane/Joe actually DO one of these in-home workouts? In general, there are 2 ways:
- Simplify the process
- Make it compelling and “sticky”
To get into a healthy habit groove the process needs to be simple. The act of being confined to your home can be inherently helpful, but is often not enough as there are many competing forces to contend with. Here are 4 ways to simplify so that you can optimize your at home healthy rhythm.
Engineer Your Home Environment
I preach this over and over to anyone trying to change habits. It’s monumentally important for food consumption as well as exercise and can shape your habits for better or for couch/netflix/Haagen Dazs.
When it comes to doing workouts from home, it has to be top of mind. Is your bike/treadmill in your garage? Move it into your living room. Your dumbbells and thigh master in the closet? Take out the dumbbells (keep the thighmaster there where it belongs). Visual cues that prompt you to exercise should be the FOCAL POINT of your home. Pull out all the stops. Running shoes in plain sight, fitbit on, dumbbells where you can trip over them, Ipad sitting on the treadmill console, old P90x DVD’s out and on the cabinet. Turn your home into one giant guilt trip.
Like the title says, you have a gazillion options when it comes to finding free workouts. This can cause what behavioral economists call “choice paralysis”. Narrow it down. Find something that fits your fitness level, equipment options and personality.
Here’s a list of ways you can avert choice paralysis to make better health decisions.
- Reduce choices in as many aspects of your life as you can (not just with exercise). Focus on only designating mental resources to important choices (like which window you want to stare out of this afternoon, or which soap you want to wash your hands with).
- Do 1 exercise program at a time. By all means, mix up your variables and types of training (cardio, strength) but see one program through for a good 2 weeks at least before switching. Or pick 2-3 go-to workouts that you like.
- Grocery shop from a limited and specific list (more on grocery shopping savvy here).
Automate whenever possible
The same types of strategies can be employed to easily boost your health. These are what behavior experts call “commitment devices.”
Here are some ways you can lock habits into place to simplify your health journey:
- Use push notifications to alert you when it’s time to hit the weights, meditate or start your slow cooker.
- Join an on-line class: There are plenty of online options and committing yourself into 1-2 active sessions per week would help lock this into place.
- Hire a personal trainer who can train remotely: Having an appointment weekly (or 2-3 times weekly) will help ensure those are not only active but supervised/guided.
Shape the Path
The key here is to take the easiest possible step to infuse intentional movement into your day.
Put effort into simplification. Remember that your brain and your body will always choose the path of least resistance. Instead of trying to fight a tendency to conserve, work WITH your brain and implement easier, plug-and-play solutions. Start thinking about how to make things easier targets.
- Does a long run feel daunting? Just put your shoes on.
- An hour long workout feel like too much? Get on the floor and do a few squats, push-ups and some ab work.
- Put shoes on, go outside (away from others)
- Put a mat and some weights down in front of your TV.
For any habit to take shape, you’ll have to find a way to enjoy it—or at the very least not hate it. While you may rarely initially feel like putting the work in, you can and should make the process as smooth, intriguing and joyful as humanly possible.
Here are a few ways to look at making your home workouts both compelling and ingrained.
- Game-ify Your Health
Reframe your tasks so that you see your health pursuits as a game—a winnable game. Can you go that extra mile per hour on the treadmill? Can you go that extra mile on your run? Can you do squats for a minute straight? Can you do half your age in push-ups? Set these challenges up and see them as games—always on the lookout for a new achievement.
And yes many apps exist that can help add an element of fun and “game-ification” to your workouts and health. Some of the more popular ones are:
Burn Your Fat With Me
- Temptation Bundle
This technique involves taking something you enjoy and pairing it with something you should do (i.e. workout or prepare healthy snacks). Here are a few examples of temptation bundling:
- Watch a TV show on a stationary bike. If there is a series you like or if you watch the news, ensure you watch it while on a piece of cardio equipment. Ditto, of course, with the above study using an audiobook or a podcast.
- Put together a great playlist before a strength workout to get into the “zone.”
- You can use the audiobook/podcast TV show idea when you chop veggies or prepare a meal, too.
- Engage the Power of Grown-up Play
For most of us, the end of childhood also signals the end of the instinct to simply “play.” Children innately gravitate towards spontaneous activity and play regardless of the situation. The only thing stopping us from continuing to play into adulthood (within reason) is our own perceptions.
This again comes down to prompting, inserting a trigger or an antecedent. It’s about implanting the instinct to play with your kids or nieces and nephews whenever possible (active play and games). Make use of open spaces (if possible) or your living room. With children everything looks like a playground. Within reason try and frame things this way. Climb stairs as fast as you can, bear crawl or crab walk.
- Add Novelty
While I believe in repeating basics and mastering a few key habits rather than chasing variety, I like the idea of adding something different to a workout that can give things a bit of a boost. Trying different recipes, different spices, different healthy food delivery can break up the monotony. Trying a different class or a different movement at the gym can give that little extra motivator you might need that day.
- Reward the Right Way
Rewards can be a slippery slope but when done right they can work well. Ultimately the reward should be the process itself, but not everybody’s there.
A productive reward might be something along the lines of putting money into a travel fund or an item you like. Open a separate account and stash money in there that would have been spent on a meal out or for reaching a predetermined weight or health goal.
- Repeat the Same Behaviors—Same Time, Same place
Whatever new habit you are trying to adopt, set things up in a way that you can do so in a consistent time and place. This starts with a consistent sleep/wake-up time. Even on weekends, I recommend keeping your sleep times relatively similar to your weekday times. Whether you bike or do online classes, try hitting these on the same times/days whenever possible.
- Include a Meditation/Mindfulness Session
Having a daily mindfulness or meditation session will go a long way in helping develop patience by changing the brain mapping. Meditation and mindfulness can increase awareness, improve concentration and retrain the brain for new psychological responses. It can lead to lasting changes in health via this new structural wiring.
- Engage the Power of Starting rituals
Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habits argues the virtues of “personal starting rituals” to battle procrastination. He notes,
“One way to use habits to fight procrastination is to develop a habitualized response to starting. When people talk about procrastination, what they’re usually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier.”
Rituals can not only help you kickstart healthier habits but they make the actual habit more enriching. Here are some things that you can do to help ritualize your food consumption.
- Say grace or give some kind of thanks before meals.
- Take in the aroma of the food for a minute before digging in—enjoying the fragrance (if there is one associated with this meal).
- Take a sip of water first.
A fringe benefit of ingraining habits is that when life throws that inevitable curveball and you are forced off the wagon, it is easier to re-engage from a brain wiring/habits perspective.
You have everything you need now to get it going. Pick 1-4 workout, set your home up for success and make it as compelling and ingrained as humanly possible. When all else fails, drop and do 10 push-ups and then 20 squats. Repeat 3 times. Get a hype-up mix going, get the family involved and get it done.
You CAN come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic fitter, leaner and healthier.