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The NUS Students' Circuit Breaker Guide: At-Home Exercises

This is the first in our series: the NUS Students' Survival Guides to COVID-19. First up: Exercise! With gym outs and CCAs cancelled, what can you do to keep active? We present a basic manual to training up between your zoom classes. Little to no equipment needed, and the small space of your dorm room will suffice.


Hey readers!


The coronavirus has affected everyone to varying degrees, but everybody’s generally staying home more and refraining from gathering outside (at least, I hope so). One implication is that less people are hitting the gym (which is a festering bacteria-growing petri dish on the best days) and playing sports (especially since club activities are severely limited or cancelled). Therefore, I’ve put together a little guide on working out at home so you can stay as active as possible even if you’re not able to leave the house or exercise as you’re used to.


First thing’s first, let’s determine what kind of exercises we’ll need to do.


Any decent exercise plan should have: (1) some cardio (running and jumping) to get your heart pumping and burn fat; (2) strength training (like push-ups or lifting weights); and (3) stretching (to keep your body limber).


(1) Cardio: personally, I think going out to run for half an hour should be OK but if you can’t we can still have a good cardio workout at home by doing cardio on-the-spot or making your strength training more cardio-intensive (e.g. by doing it as a circuit).


(2) Strength: obviously, you’re not likely to have much equipment like dumbbells lying around the house (although I think it’s a good investment) so we’ll focus on bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats, and supplement that with exercises using things you might have at home.


(3) Stretching: this shouldn’t be too complicated since you can stretch your body anywhere.

Next, let’s sort out what we’ll do in each of these segments.


Cardio


Assuming you can’t go out and jog, you can still have a good cardio workout on-the-spot. I recommend doing a 20-minute burpee workout, which you can do while watching TV.

How it works is you set up a timer to go off every minute. When the timer starts, you do 10 burpees then rest until the minute is up. When the timer goes off, you do 10 more burpees and rest until the next minute is up. You repeat this until you’re done with 200 burpees, which should be as good as going for a reasonably fast 20-minute run, with the bonus of training almost all the muscles in your body!


For the avoidance of doubt, this is a burpee:



Although I think burpees are the best exercise for this because it uses your whole body, you can try doing them without the push-up (step 3) or jumping squats instead if your arm/shoulder is hurt or you’re already tired from doing push-ups, for example.

If you find this too difficult, you can do fewer burpees a minute or set a longer timer. If you find it doable, maybe try doing more burpees a minute or doing more burpees (build up to 30 minutes and 300 burpees!).


I wouldn’t recommend this if your knee or foot is hurt, since burpees are quite taxing. I don’t think this method works with other exercises like push-ups because they don’t use as many muscles so you’ll lose the fat-burning aspect of this workout. Not to worry, you can still burn fat through strength training!


Strength


Since you’re working out at home with limited equipment, I don’t think a “gym-bro” type workout where you smash specific body parts is going to work, since you need big weights to do that. Instead, we’re going to do a full-body exercise to work your chest, back, shoulders and legs. Since we’re already doing so many body parts, we’ll do just one exercise per body part, otherwise the workout will take too long. We also won’t be focusing on our arms because the other exercises will be working on them and we don’t want the workout to be longer than it already is.


Let’s go through the exercises.


Chest:


My favourite chest exercise is the push-up! Here’s how you do it:



If you can’t do that (no judgement), you can do it from your knees instead, since that places less weight on your chest and arms:



Back:


My favourite back exercise is the pull-up! Here’s how you do it:




If you can’t do that (that’s OK, I used to be really bad at pull-ups too), you can jump to the top position and lower yourself down slowly.

I understand that not everyone has a pull-up bar (although I think everybody should invest in one), so here’s an alternative exercise: the bent-over row. Normally, you do it with a barbell or with dumbbells, but you can do it with a backpack filled with heavy stuff (boys will remember this from the new Soldier-Strong Combat PT).



Make sure you use a strong bag since it’ll need to be quite heavy. You can either make it heavy enough to do just 8-12 times before you have to rest (to build muscles) or about 20 times (to burn fat and improve your endurance).


Shoulders:


Without dumbbells, I think the best exercise you can do is a pike push-up, which is basically a push-up with your butt in the air:



If you can’t do that, you can try lifting the heavy bag you used for the back exercises over your head like so:



Legs:


To train our legs, I recommend doing two exercises – squats and hamstring bridges.

Just in case, here’s how you do a squat:



Squats train your whole leg, but some say that they focus on your quadriceps (the front of your leg). To even it out, you might want to do hamstring bridges as well to train your hamstrings (back of your leg):



Core:


To train our core, let’s do sit-ups!



I think sit-ups get too much hate – they aren’t bad for your back if you do them slowly instead of slamming your back onto the floor, and they’re good for training your hip flexors (the muscle that runs along the front of your leg). If you can’t do them without someone holding your legs, just put them under a heavy bag or a bed or sofa or something like that.


So now, we’ve got to put it together into a workout:


The first option is to just do each exercise separately. The good thing is that you can give your fullest attention to each exercise, at the expense of more time. Do three sets of each exercise and each set consists of as many repetitions of the exercise as you can do within 1 minute. Between each set, rest for 1-2 minutes.


The second option is to do all the exercises together as a circuit. The good thing is that you train your endurance and it keeps your heart rate up so you burn more fat, while saving you time. However, it might be too difficult and you could get injured if you use poor form when you’re tired, so you need to be disciplined to do the exercises slowly and with good form throughout. You do 1-minute sets of as many repetitions of each exercises (push-ups, pull-ups/rows, pike push-ups/bag lifts, squats, bridges, sit-ups) one after the other without rest until you finish all the exercises. You rest for 2 minutes (or more, if needed) then repeat for 3 cycles total.


Both options require you to perform the maximum repetitions in 1-minute sets. Don’t rush to do more sets – the point is to perform them slowly and with good form. Stop when you need a short rest, take a few breathes, and try to do a few more repetitions. That said, it’s a good idea to GRADUALLY try to do more repetitions in each set when you get stronger.


Stretching


Stretching is probably the most underrated part of working out, but it’s really important because it strengthens your joints so you don’t get injured so easily! I recommend doing all the exercises in this routine for about 30 seconds each.



Lastly, let’s put everything together.


Option 1: Stretch every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to bed. Perform the strength training every other morning and do your cardio that night (or vice versa, my point is that you should perform the strenuous exercises on the same day and alternate your workout days with rest days). The good thing is that you only work out every alternate day so the other day is totally free for you to do something else.


Option 2: Stretch every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to bed. Perform the strength training and cardio training on alternate days. The good thing is that you spread out your exercise so you move about a little every day. Also, if your fitness isn’t that good, you might not be able to workout in the morning and at night, so spreading it out allows you to do both more effectively.


I hope this gives you some ideas on working out in a confined space!

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