How to Get off the ‘Rollercoaster’ of Quarantine-workouts, and Keep Climbing! – Patrick Dolan

If you haven’t bought equipment for your “home gym” by this point in the pandemic, I doubt you’ll need it just for a final few weeks of lockdown (please hopefully). Save your money for that vacation we are all longing to take. Moreover, consider donating towards many vital and ongoing causes found on the Register of Charities.

Anyway, for those of you have been on that rollercoaster ride of quarantine-workouts over the past 12 months, here are 5 necessary pillars to get you back on top, and keep you going!

1. Prioritize a Schedule

If you haven’t been following Simon Harris’ journey on #100daysofwalking it’s not too late to start, walking that is. He tends to get his steps done in the evening (fair play, he is busy off doing great things for all of us), but me, I like getting them in first thing. I end each night on my ‘weekly planner’ notepad, marking down what lies ahead tomorrow. The first bullet point, “Walk”. From there I jot down each morning task needing completion after my morning steps. The afternoon? I have a 35 minute at-home workout routine I complete at 12:00pm, Monday through Friday. Each day would be a bit different, some days harder than others. My afternoon tasks are now easily completed without that extra coffee because I’m operating off both the endorphins and gratitude of my earlier investments. Personally, if my workout times aren’t blocked off, and the workout programme already set before the day begins, it’s not getting completed. So write it down the night before, or better yet every Sunday for the week. Which leads me to another thing I recommend writing down, your goals. [See Meyer et al. 2020 for associations between COVID-19 restrictions and increased sedentary time, higher negative mental health, lower positive mental health, and severe anxiety and depressive symptoms. Exercise safely during restrictions, but definitely exercise].

2. Process Goals, Not Outcomes

This is really just an extension of your schedule. If you want to start taking your fitness more seriously, whether it is because you want to boost your immune system during the era of COVID-19 (and thereafter), look better this summer on the beaches of Spain, or simply better your odds of living longer, having goals is important. Writing them down, probably more important. So now, what to write? SMART goals have been recommended for decades, however, a 2017 experimental study showed that those who used ‘Open goals’ reported feeling “higher confidence, and feeling more optimally challenged” compared to those with ‘Specific goals’, who actually reported a lower perception of performance. Keeping in foot with walking, a recent study looked at different types of goals ahead of multiple walking sessions, finding that all groups who used goals regardless of type, walked further than those without goals. Interestingly however, like the prior study mentioned, the ‘Open goals’ group reported a greater perception in performance compared to the ‘SMART goals’ group, as well as less “Pressure/Tension”. ‘Open goals’ also reported higher “Effort/Importance” than ‘SMART goals’. Finally, a greater “Interest in repeating the session” was seen in the ‘Open goals’ compared to no goals at all, whereas ‘SMART goals’ held only the same interest in repeating the session as ‘No goals’. So instead of stating: “I am going to lose 6kg in 6 weeks” consider saying, “how many workouts can I execute this upcoming week?”.

3. Start Patient But Be Progressive

So you have set some process goals and held yourself to a consistent standard. Now, you can start to be a bit progressive in your workouts. ‘Progressive overload’ would be a foundational principle in exercise science and any strength and conditioning programme. Without boring you with the story of ‘Milo of Croton’ and the calf, just be sure to increase your workloads every few weeks. You can increase your loads by increasing volume or intensity, or both. For example, if you have been completing x4-30minute bodyweight workouts consistently each week, shoot for x5-30minute workouts for a month, or alternatively, increase to 40/45minutes during those x4 days. If you’re sitting there saying “but my current schedule only allows for those x4-30minute sessions”, no problem, increase your sets, reps, weight or distance, whatever metric you can during the allotted time. All that matters is that every few weeks you add a bit more stimulus through volume or intensity to keep those gains coming! Lastly, evidence would point to greater frequency being more beneficial than fewer sessions with longer durations throughout the week. So put down the screens and try to prioritize your schedule to open up more time for physical activity!

4. Methods & Resources

First things first, make sure that your workouts are enjoyable and sustainable. Once you have been consistent, have applied progressive overload a few times, and surpassed several goals, you can have a quick look at the 2020 WHO Guidelines for Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour. This resource addresses minimum recommendations for different populations: kids, adults, elderly, pregnant women, those living with chronic disease and disability etc. However, if you’ve reached consistency, been progressive, and made strides towards your goals, your output may already exceed these recommendations. Are you feeling mentally and physically stronger than three months ago? Great, but don’t slow down, keep driving forward, further increases in health and even greater happiness are around the corner. You might be ready now for some new methods to keep things fresh and effective. If you’ve been running for 30 minute blocks, and have successfully increased your distances, now consider doing a fartlek ladder or tabata session, changing speeds for shorter intervals within that 30 minutes. Or if you have been doing bodyweight circuits for sets of x10 at each exercise, consider implementing high intensity interval training (HIIT), completing as many reps as you can in 40 seconds, resting only 20 seconds, and repeating for 2-3 sets before moving to the next exercise. Finally, you may be interested now in setting new goals, but feel you have maxed out progress relative to your knowledge and resources. In today’s virtual world, many qualified coaches have started operating online, it tends to be more time efficient and cost effective for the client, so shop around, do you research on them, their credentials, and keep pushing your fitness forward with an expert! Recommended coaching qualifications would be the ‘National Strength and Conditioning Association-CSCS’ or ‘iTEC-Level 3 Personal Trainer’, in addition to a BSc or MSc in a related exercise science or physical education degree.

5. Nutrition

I am going to keep this section short, because everyone knows it, but hates to acknowledge it: “You cannot outwork a bad diet”. Maximize your workout efforts by making the right choices in the kitchen, and firstly, in the grocery store. We all indulge from time to time, but I’ve been quite surprised at the drive through lane at McDonalds lately (someone else told me I swear), so first and foremost be sure to prioritize cooking your own meals. Just like you don’t have to be a certified personal trainer to take control of your own fitness, you don’t have to be a registered dietician to audit your current dietary habits, so again: “can I cut my ‘after dinner snack’ down from every night, to x3 nights a week?” or portion them out instead of aimlessly putting the entire bag on your lap.

#ExerciseIsMedicine, both physically and mentally, but be sure to consult your doctor if just setting out on your journey. Let these remaining weeks in lockdown be a great kick-start (or continuation) for healthy habits as we “return to normalcy”. Get that body ready for those adventures you’re dreaming of.

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Patrick Dolan is a PhD Researcher for the Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) Project in partnership with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) focusing on measurable strength and conditioning strategies in order to reduce the rate of injury occurrence and severities. A native of the US, Patrick is a Sports Science network professional for US Soccer, providing support in strength and conditioning and sport science to US Youth National Teams during domestic and international training camps and matches.   Patrick is an Approved Mentor for the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa),  a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach (RSCC) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  Contact Patrick via email at, his profiles on ResearchgateLinkedIn.  Follow Patrick on Instagram and Twitter @coachpdolan

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