How to make use of a home gym … when you don’t have a home gym

It’s challenging to stay in shape during COVID-19 isolation with gyms closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and maintain your workouts.

Just because gyms are closed doesn’t mean you have to complete shut down your workout routines.

Last week I blinked and realized it had been exactly two months since the coronavirus pandemic forced us into isolation. Two months.

Aside from running out to the grocery store or farmers market every week or so, I’ve been homebound. I’ve certainly saved money on gas fill-ups for my car, but my body could use a refuel.

My bones are stagnant and my muscles and joints are stiff and sticky. 

Some of that is surely a result of not having to move my legs very far to the home office. And anyone that was a regular at their local gym two months ago certainly hasn’t been since St. Patrick’s Day.

So how can you stay in shape? How can you try to replicate the workouts you used to get at the gym?

Since my most active body part in the last 60ish days has been my social media thumb, I came across an instructive video on this topic via an Instagram account of my friend and former Philadelphia Daily News co-worker Tom Reifsnyder, a sports writer intern-turned-strength and conditioning coach pursuing a master’s in exercise science.

In the video, Reifsnyder showed off exactly what someone without the use of their gym’s dumbbells can do at home. In 30 seconds, he walked viewers through a backpack bent-over row, in two variations.

He simply took a standard backpack, filled it with a few heavy texts, adjusted the shoulder straps, and knocked out a few reps with ease.

“One issue that many run into with home workouts is that although you can cover your legs, chest, shoulders and triceps with squat and push-up variations, which don’t necessarily require extra equipment, there aren’t many simple bodyweight exercises to perform for the back muscles,” Reifsnyder said. “One of the best tools for addressing the back muscles at home is a backpack … I personally fill the backpack with books, but you can really use anything to add more resistance. You can either perform a bilateral (two-arm) bent-over row or a unilateral (single-arm) bent-over row, depending on preference and the amount of resistance you have available to put in your backpack. 

“With knees slightly bent, torso slightly above parallel from the ground, and your back flat, you’ll grab the straps of the backpack and pull toward your midsection until you reach full range of motion. I recommend adding enough weight in the backpack to make performing 10 to 20 reps moderately difficult, and to do roughly three to five sets within a single workout depending on your own preference and fitness level.”  

Easy enough, right? And it actually looks fun, since it’s something different.

Just as we have to think outside the box for things to keep us busy when we’ve run out of games to play or books to read in isolation, you have to expand your mind and consider your surroundings if you’re trying to exercise without access to your gym. 

Or, as Dong Lien put it more succinctly: “Be creative.”

Lien is the Assistant Major League Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s in his 16th year in the organization and has worked with the major league team since 2008, helping the likes of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Aaron Nola, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez, some of his most diligent baseball gym rats, stay in peak physical condition.

Last week Lien, while home with baseball on hiatus, used a mixer from the kitchen for a squat and overhead press routine. When it’s not an impromptu piece of exercise equipment, his wife uses it for baking.

“The first thing she said to me was, “Don’t drop it,’” Lien said with a laugh. “Not even for the fact that I could get hurt, but because it was an expensive piece. But it was heavy and it provided some resistance for me with the exercise program that I wanted to do.”

Lien also tried a squat with the family dog and got encouraging results: the 60-pound pooch wagged her tail throughout.

But the lesson from Lien isn’t to find the most ridiculous thing and see if it works. It’s to make the most of your home environment, no matter if you have a home with a large garage or basement or a smaller apartment.

Phillies Phitness at Home presented by GIANT

Stay fit while at home with this Phillies Phitness workout circuit.

Posted by Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Everyone has grocery bags laying around, right? You can fill those with books the same way you can fill a backpack. 

“It wasn’t until something like (a pandemic) occured that allowed for us to be creative and use our space,” Lien said. “You can load up (grocery bags) with two to three textbooks, a large gallon of vinegar, windshield washer fluid. Those add up to a certain amount of weight quickly. Even paint cans. I have paint cans lying around my garage, I can add that to the bag or put it in an IKEA container box and then lift that up and down or squat with it. With the bag example, you can do rows with it, you can do lunges with the bag … You can do some bent over rows, reverse-flies on it for shoulders. Squatting. 

“There’s a lot of options. You can have fun.”

Sturdy chairs and couches can be used in place of a bench. You can load up a smaller, carry-on suitcase for exercises. I’ve actually used Tide containers for minimal weight resistance (and which Lien smartly pointed out can be refilled with water to continue using when the detergent is gone).

Like Reifsnyder, Lien has used social media to help people figure out how to make the most of their space. So get online and then get active: your limbs will thank you when isolation ends and your regularly scheduled  workout routines return.