Coping with COVID-19: The Ultimate Fitness Guide

You’re probably hunkered down at home with no clear end of this in sight.

And you’re likely wondering how on earth you can make it to the end of your quarantine with your sanity and health in tact.

I know I am.

I’ve befriended one of my dumbbells – let’s call him Weider – who has kept me company when I need a break from the kids.

He calls me out if I don’t lift him enough. I tossed him outside after he got on my nerves and immediately regretted it.

Here’s how it went down from my recollection:

Weider! WEIDER I’m sorry! Weider, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! WILSON! I mean… Weider. I CAN’T! WEIDER! WEIDER!”

Long story short, I’m never watching Cast Away while in my own isolation again.

While you may be feeling stressed and anxious about what the future holds, there is always a silver lining.

I’m going to give you your “silver linings playbook” so none of those dumbbells in your basement collect dust (don’t worry, you don’t have to give any of them a pet name). Easily the No. 1 complaint I get from clients is the amount of social and work functions that lead to hard-to-track calories and poor food and drink choices.

Dining out, work lunches and events, social functions.

Well, guess what? Those are currently off the table. This is a “forced” boot camp where you control what you eat. You have a serious opportunity (once you figure out a routine with the kitchen three steps away and the kids at home) to make a lot of progress.

Diet Tips Under Quarantine

You’ll need to control your food environment to make this work. I’m still figuring this out.

Normally I work from home but I’m in “work mode” until the kids come home and I don’t spend much time in the kitchen.

Now I’m preparing their meals and snacks at all hours of the day, and it’s the little bites I’m taking that add up.

Here’s how to setup your environment:

If it’s not immediately in your environment, you’re probably not going to eat it: So keep it out.

Yes, you may need to stock up on snacks for the kids.

But limit your exposure to your kryptonite foods. For example, I have a hard time moderating red velvet cake, so the rule is if it doesn’t come home with me it won’t get in my mouth and lead to weight gain. Problem solved.

If it has to be in the house, put up “walls” in front of it. Make it harder to indulge. Keep the junk food in less visible and less convenient locations.

For example, if you need it in the house for your kids, keep ice cream in the downstairs freezer and hide it under a stash of frozen vegetables if necessary.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, take down the “walls” in front of making healthy food choices.

For example, keep a fruit bowl out on the counter, not a bowl of candies.

Keep refrigerated vegetables on the front and middle shelves of your refrigerator, and keep more “off plan” refrigerated items near the back (or perhaps in the drawers).

Keep to a schedule of planned dinners you prepare and food prep some lunch essentials ahead of time (particularly proteins and starchy carbs, which can’t really be figured out on the fly).

Exercise Tips Under Quarantine

Just as muscle mass is not gained quickly, it is not lost quickly either. It takes a prolonged period of inactivity to lose a noticeable amount of muscle mass. So if you can’t hit the gym as regularly, it’s not doomsday here.

You can get moving by walking around your neighbourhood (if you avoid crowded spaces, don’t touch things and wash your hands before and after).

Then, if time allows, you can do a lot with limited equipment or simply your own body at home.

The six movement patterns to focus on are:

  • Vertical Push
  • Vertical Pull
  • Horizontal Push
  • Horizontal Pull
  • Hip Hinge
  • Squat

A pair of dumbbells will allow you to accomplish all of these movements in some fashion.

Here’s a quick example dumbbell only workout.

Circuit 1:

A1. DB Presses Overhead – 15-20 reps (Vertical Push)

A2. Pull up (or assisted pull up using bands or a chair) – 10-12 reps (Vertical Pull)

A3. Goblet squat – 12-15 reps (Squat)

Go through the entire circuit once and rest for two minutes before repeating the circuit again for a few more rounds.

Once you’ve completed all the rounds, rest for two minutes before moving onto circuit two below.

Circuit 2:

A1. DB floor press – 12-15 reps (Horizontal Push)

A2. DB Single Arm Rows – 12-5 reps per arm (Horizontal Pull)

A3. DB Romanian deadlift – 12-15 reps (Hip Hinge)

Go through the entire circuit once and rest for two minutes before repeating the circuit again for a few more rounds.

No dumbbells? No problem.

There are a variety of bodyweight-only exercises you can do to perform these movement patterns, just consider increasing the rep range to up the degree of difficulty if necessary.

A1. Push up – as many reps as you can (Horizontal Push)

A1. Bodyweight Squats or Archer Squats– 15 reps (Squat)

A3. Inverted Rows (using towel or bed sheet) – 12-15 (Horizontal Pull)

A4. Pike Push Up – as many reps as you can (Vertical Push)

A5. Chin Up (or assisted chin up using band or chair) – 6-10 reps (Vertical Pull)

A6. Single leg or dual leg Hip Thrusts – as many reps as you can (Hip Hinge)

An easy way to do this circuit is to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and do as many rounds as possible before the buzzer sounds.

Lifestyle/Immune Boosting Tips During Quarantine

There is no food, diet, or supplement that will prevent you from catching the virus or curing it if you’ve caught it despite what the hucksters are pedaling on social media.

However, you can help ‘maintain’ your immune system. Aadam Ali shared these guidelines from The International Society of Immunonutrition:

The general advice is to eat a diverse and well-balanced diet rich in coloured fruit and vegetables (to increase the intake of antioxidant and associated nutrients) to support immune function.

Specific advice in relation to the elderly is to increase the intake of Vitamin E (134 mg – 800 mg/day), Zinc (30 mg – 220 mg/day), Vitamin C (200 mg – 2 g/day) and particularly for those people with low serum vitamin D status, Vitamin D (10 μg – 100 μg/day).

These nutrients have been shown to enhance T cell and B cell (antibody) immunity in human studies including in the elderly.

There is no specific evidence these nutritional measures can help protect against, or even lessen the effects, of, COVID-19 infection.

Stating the obvious, but intelligent weight training and regular cardiovascular exercise will take you far here. However, there is a point of diminishing returns.

Just as too little movement has a negative effect, so too does too much. Taken to extremes (ultra endurance training) may compromise your immune system for days afterwards.

In the end, do not give into the temptation to eat junk, binge-watch TV, get into social media fights, go to bed late and skip out on exercise.

You must control what you can (your physical and mental diet and daily habits), you must cope with what you can’t control (take the right precautions to deal with the outbreak), and you must concentrate on what counts (your family, your future).

Go to bed on time. Get up on time. Walk. Continue to work (read, study, think).

In my client coaching groups, we’re doing a daily five-minute “body” workout (physical) and a daily five-minute “mind” workout (meditation, reaching out to a friend in need, gratitude) over the next 30 days.

Sticking to these daily habits will get you through these moments stronger, safer, and saner than anything else.

Just as your muscles need daily work to prevent atrophy, your mind needs the same. It defaults to negativity if you let it. Plant good things early.

Read or listen to positive information in the morning, move your body, do things that bring you joy.

Get out in nature with sunshine – socially distanced, of course – when possible. Twenty minutes a day of fresh air makes a significant difference.

Breathing work is the most overlooked wellness “secret” in the world.

You can control your body’s physiology and feeling simply through how you take in air through your nose and exhale from your lungs.

Slow things down for at least five minutes. Something like inhaling for four seconds through your nose, seven-second hold, eight-second exhale, rinse and repeat.

It’s a good idea to find little things to be grateful for, too. It’ll help your mental state. Every day list 5-10 things that make you thankful. A roof over your head. A healthy family.

You can choose to see the worst of this or find a silver lining and make the best of it.

You have a real chance here if you look at this with the proper mindset and framework.

While your friends will come out of this with the “Quarantine 15” (you can send them my way when we’re back to normal) you’ll be going the other, positive direction. A positive outcome amidst the chaos and disruption.

Some will do this. Some will not. Those who do will be rewarded.

Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based weight loss coach. He’s a regular contributor to Men’s Health and Muscle & Fitness, among others. If you’re ready to work directly with him, he’s running a “Coronavirus Quarantine Challenge” coaching program for those stuck at home who want to reduce stress and stay fit (physically and mentally) without leaving the house. Email with the word “Interested” in the subject line to get more information.


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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.