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How to Skip the Gym and Still Stay Fit

Even if you keep your distance, wash your hands, and avoid touching your face, you may still feel inclined to skip the fitness center during flu season or viral outbreaks. These tips will help keep you fit without hitting the gym.

By
Brock Armstrong
7-minute read
Episode #478
The Quick And Dirty
  • Regular exercise can boost your immune system but exercising too long or too hard can impair it temporarily. 
  • If your illness is above the neck, you can continue to exercise. If it's below the neck, it's best to rest.
  • No matter what, don't go to the gym when you're sick to avoid spreading your illness to others.
  • If you are avoiding the gym, working out at home using your furniture as equipment, following online workout videos, or by simply moving your body outdoors are good options. 
  • No matter where you are (but espeically at a public gym), wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and maintain social distancing from people who are coughing or sneezing.

A while ago I wrote an article about whether or not you should exercise while you are sick. During the current COVID-19 outbreak, it seems like a good time to review. 

In my article, we learned that while regular exercise can boost your immune system, exercising too hard or for too long can actually impair your immune system, at least temporarily. We also learned a good guideline called the “neck check.” This guideline tells us that if your symptoms are mainly above the neck (stuffy nose, sore throat), you can continue to work out. If you symptoms stray below your neck (body aches, chest congestion), you should skip the workout and get some rest.

If you're sick, stay the heck home. Don’t go to the gym and cough and sneeze all over the gear and your fellow exercisers.

And most importantly, if you're sick (whether it is above or below the neck), stay the heck home. Don’t go to the gym and cough and sneeze all over the gear and your fellow exercisers. Do the polite thing and work out at home or, weather permitting, exercise outside where the fresh air will whisk your germs away. 

Aside from looking after yourself and looking after your fellow exercisers, there are a few other important considerations to keep in mind as well. Here are three important ones from the World Health Organization (WHO). 

1. Maintain social distancing

Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) of distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. 

According to the WHO, when someone coughs or sneezes, they spray tiny liquid droplets from their nose or mouth. Those droplets may contain a virus if the person is contagious. If you're too close, you can inhale the droplets. 

For some of you, this intel may be enough to keep you out of a gym setting altogether. For some of us, it means we'll choose which area of the gym we're willing to use. Occasionally, seeing someone who appears sick at the gym might dictate how quickly we turn around and head back home.

2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

Let’s face it, our hands touch many surfaces and pick up bacteria and viruses—that’s just how it goes. Once your hands are contaminated, they can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth. And from there, according to the WHO, the virus can enter your body and do its best to make you sick. 

I keep my hands away from my face at the gym because no matter how diligent I am at wiping the equipment down, there's always some clown who isn’t as meticulous. So, be safe and don’t count on others being as considerate as you. If you're using shared equipment, don’t touch your face until after you hit the showers. 

I keep my hands away from my face at the gym because no matter how diligent I am at wiping the equipment down, there's always some clown who isn’t as meticulous.

Good news though, sweat doesn't carry the virus. Natasha Salt, director of infection prevention and control at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, told Global News “Sweat is definitely not infectious. We’re spreading germs through our unclean hands and going into these shared spaces when we’re actively sick.” So, that sweaty guy at the gym (who looks a lot like me) is one less thing for you to worry about. 

3. Wash your hands frequently

Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds takes care of the virus that may be on your hands.

Actually, let’s make it simple and just say it—washing your hands is a good idea. Always.

This is another one that you should practice anytime you frequent the gym, community center, or rec center. For that matter, let’s throw in the bus, subway, grocery store, public bathroom and so on. Actually, let’s make it simple and just say it—washing your hands is a good idea. Always. 

So with that out of the way, let’s look at a few ways you can stay fit while you're actively avoiding public spaces. 

Use Your Furniture as Exercise Equipment

Let’s face it, a gym is a great place to work out mostly because it has all the gear you don’t have. Not many of us have all the weight plates, elliptical machines, medicine balls, kettlebells, and other gear our gyms have. But your home does have furniture, walls, and a floor. Many of the exercises you do at the gym can be done with a little ingenuity and some basic furniture. 

Chairs

Chairs can be used to support your hands during Tricep Dips, your feet during elevated push-ups, or one foot during Split Squats. You can use a chair for balance while practicing some challenging one-legged Pistol Squats or single-foot Calf Raises

Couch

Your couch isn’t just great for napping on; it can also be used as a support for your legs during a Bridge or a Single Leg Bridge. Or you can flip around and use it to support your back while you do some single or double leg Hip Thrusts. You can even use it to make Mountain Climbers or Burpees more fun and challenging. 

Stairs

Stairs can be helpful in many ways too, even just a single flight can be useful for sprinting up and back down. They can provide an excellent platform for increasing your range of motion during Calf Raises. Or they can be used to jump off of when doing Depth Jumps or for practicing your Step-Ups.

Walls

You can even use something as static and boring as a wall to do work out your legs doing Wall Sits. Or you can put your hands on them to work on increasing the number of Push-ups you're able to do, or you can put your feet up the wall to do some Inverted Press-Ups safely. 

Floor

This is a no brainer—the floor is the home of so many exercises. Sure, you may want to protect your hardwoods, carpet, or delicate spine by placing a foam or yoga mat between you and the floor, but once you have done that, the world is your tumbling mat. If you need some inspiration, check out some of my YouTube videos at brockarmstrong.com/youtube

Do Online Workouts

We live in a time in history when any type of workout we want to do is just a search query away. Whether it's yoga, pilates, bodyweight, dance, senior fitness, kid fitness, or anything else you have a hankering for, you can pretty much find it. And yes, this is a blessing and a curse. With that much to choose from, it is hard to narrow it down. How do you know if a specific workout is any good? Well, I say, by trying it!

For the majority of us, there's not much difference between doing a specific individually crafted workout and simply getting a workout done. So, please, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Don’t get hung up on trying to maximize every single aspect of your workouts. For the majority of us, there's not much difference between doing a specific individually crafted workout and simply getting a workout done. So, please, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

The main criteria I have for whether a workout is worth doing comes down to two things:

  1. Is it fun? Will I enjoy doing it or at least enjoy how I feel when I'm done?

  2. Is it appropriate? Does it align with my current fitness level and mobility or will I hurt myself?

While you're hung up on finding the elusive "perfect" workout, you're wasting precious workout time. Just pick something. Give it a try. If you like it, bookmark it!

Exercise Outside

I have written about the concept of Green Exercise in the past. Simply being outdoors can lower our levels of stress, our pulse rate, and even our blood pressure. And exercising outdoors can do even more!

A 2017 paper from the University of Pennsylvania discussed the benefits of playing and exercising outdoors for children. But these benefits extend to us adults, too. And don’t think outdoor exercising only applies in the summer months—winter fresh air is just as good for you! It is indeed never too cold to exercise outdoors, as long as you're dressed for it. 

Even my own Canadian Government’s public health website suggests that we “opt to exercise outdoors instead of in an indoor fitness class” during the current outbreak.

In the UPenn paper, the researchers say that “Playing outside allows your child an escape from indoor germs and bacteria. This will not only be good for the healthy bunch; the sick kids benefit from the fresh air as well. Just make sure they are properly bundled up and moving around to capture and generate warmth. Studies have shown that children in rural areas or those who are active outside have the best overall health.” Even my own Canadian Government’s public health website suggests that we “opt to exercise outdoors instead of in an indoor fitness class” during the current outbreak. 

So if the gym isn’t an option for you, you've used every piece of furniture in your home, you've done all 150 Body Groove videos, and you are already as bendy as Abi Carver from Yoga15, then get outside and play on some playground equipment. Go for a long walk or a jog, ride your bike, go cross country skiing, play some hockey, or enjoy whatever outdoor activity strikes your fancy.

If it's flu season, there's an outbreak of some gastrointestinal bug in your area, or if you live in an area where there's a COVID-19 outbreak, there could be a chance of contracting a virus at your gym. If you opt not to go, you don’t have to throw your fitness goals in the trash along with your used tissues. Simply opt for one of these alternatives, use your imagination, and don’t forget that simply remembering to get out of your chair and walk for at least 2 minutes, every hour you are awake, can go a long way.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.