What the lockdown period has taught me about exercise

We’re currently undergoing a lockdown period in the UK to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and it’s more important than ever that we stay home. But one privilege we have been granted is the freedom to exercise once per day outside our homes.

Before this, I had been deep in preparations for my first half Ironman in June. I worked a busy job in central London. I took the tube to work, changed at one of the busiest underground stations (Bank, if you know you know) and spent a great deal of travel time with my face smushed into someone’s arm pit in a packed underground carriage. I would run around one of the Royal Parks close to my work place during my Wednesday lunch break, I’d visit spin studios, travel for parkrun tourism, do three swim sessions a week, enter races and participate in a weekly social speed session with my triathlon club. It was very much all systems go and the lockdown period turned my active and fast paced lifestyle on its head.

Next came the cancellation of my race, and rightly so, we must do everything to protect our NHS and the vulnerable members of our community (not to mention ourselves). I felt a sense of relief upon receiving the email I almost knew was coming and seeing the words- cancelled. Whilst many questioned if their training had gone to waste, I decided to ask the questions what has my training taught me and what am I learning from the lockdown period?

Exercise is a privilege: I’m so grateful we can still exercise outdoors. Many countries restrict this, and whilst I won’t get into the politics of if it is the correct decision, or how long/far we should be running, it’s taught me that above all it is a privilege to go for a run and something I’m immensely grateful for. When I run I think about how lucky I am. How I’m blessed to be healthy. How thankful I am for our keyworkers who perhaps don’t have time to workout (utilise their Boris Breakout, exercise token or whatever you want to call it). Don’t take it for granted.

Exercise is a mental and physical activity: I’m now acutely aware of how intrinsically linked my mind and body are. Running really is keeping my spirits up. Running in the morning helps keep me focused the rest of the day and gives me a much needed dose of mental clarity in amongst all the haze and uncertainty. It settles my brain and helps me adjust to the new norm. Whilst everything has been so up in the air running has been the one constant for me.

Running solo doesn’t mean running ‘alone’: yes that’s a contradiction, but whilst we must be physically distant, we can still be virtually together. Lots of virtual run clubs, races and groups have popped up meaning you can still feel connected to your running friends or clubs. I’ve had the chance to connect with new friends, set up a Saturday fake parkrun community ‘fakerun’ and participated in a virtual race which was lovely as it started at my front door and there weren’t any toilet queues.

My rest days never were rest days: yes I would take a day off from the gym or my training plan, but I was never truly rested. Mentally I had loads going on and physically I was still very active clocking up over 10,000 steps on my commute/ workday alone. Working from home has taught me just how much rest I really need and that for one day a week I need to stop walking up the escalators in the tube!

I’m enjoying running more than ever and I’m achieving some of my best times: my training certainly hasn’t gone to waste. Perhaps it’s the extra rest detailed above, but at the moment I’ve ran my fastest ever mile and my second fastest 5km time (my actual fastest time for 2 years) and I am loving it. I have a whole new appreciation for running and it’s rekindled the love that got me started in the first place.

Everything I’ve learned about mental resilience during training and racing is helping me cope. I somehow feel prepared for the mental and emotional slog that lockdown brings.

Just because you’re working out at home doesn’t mean it’s easy: some of the toughest workouts I’ve done have been my recent home ones. From sessions with my kettlebell to very sweaty turbo intervals. You don’t need a gym to work hard. There are also loads of genius hacks for working out at home. I’ve seen water bottles being used for weights, barbell plates made from concrete and loads of body weight exercises.

Rest is important too: just because you’re not going to the gym doesn’t mean you don’t need a day off from it all. Similarly just because you have an exercise token to cash doesn’t mean you need to use it for a workout. Instead mix up your time out with walking, just being out is good for your mental health but once you’ve done your one exercise it’s so important to stay home.

Nutrition is still important even when your workout is indoors: I swapped my cycling sessions to indoor turbo sessions, however I did keep the same nutrition strategy. You’re still expending energy even if you’re going nowhere. I use gels and bars on long cycles and hydration tablets in my water when working out on warmer days.

Navigating the world of fitness can be confusing and overwhelming: there is currently a plethora of workout videos out there, most done with kind intentions (and a lot of hard work) but only some shared by professionals. I’ve largely avoided online workouts, I prefer to do my own thing, but my one piece of advice would be to use ones produced by industry professionals as these will give you a good workout and help prevent injury by correctly demonstrating good form and a reasonable number of reps/combinations.

There’s no right or wrong way to approach your fitness regime. You have to do you. Some people seemed to have nailed lockdown life, I on the other hand have nailed how to make a crisp salad (throwing loads of different packets of crisps into a freezer bag and having some weird crazy mix). We’re all just getting by. Exercise is personal to you so don’t compare yourself to others.

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