A woman doing arm exercises with hand weights.

If you’ve been avoiding the gym for fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 (or if you’re using the coronavirus as an excuse to skip your workouts), take heart. There are plenty of simple ways to stay in-shape, from the safety and convenience of your own living room or street. No fancy home gym or equipment required. All you need is a little self-motivation.

Alexis Shoope, physical therapist with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, offers tips for staying in-shape—and staying safe—during the pandemic and beyond.

1. Start slow.

“If you haven’t run in six months, don’t set out on a three-mile walk or run,” says Shoope. “Avoid injury by listening to your body. Start at a reasonable level and gradually work your way up. Before starting any new exercise regimen, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor.”

2. Base your workout on your goals.

“If your goal is to increase strength through strength training, and you don’t have a lot of weight options at home, you can challenge your muscle by doing 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps with heavier weights. If your goal is to increase endurance, do 2 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 reps. If you’re using your body weight (in lieu of weights), you can also employ a technique called ‘time under tension,’ which involves slowing down the motion so that you increase the time the muscle is under tension, or working.”

3. Create a ‘starter kit’ of basic exercises.

To get a good full-body workout, Shoope says you’ll want to work your shoulders, biceps, triceps, chest, back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves and your core.

Here is Shoope’s go-to lineup:

  • Shoulders: shoulder presses, lateral raises, sidelines and side extensions
  • Biceps: bicep curls
  • Triceps: tricep kickbacks
  • Chest: pushups (from knees or feet)
  • Back: single-arm rows, Supermans
  • Glutes: hip thrusts (with body weight or band)
  • Hamstrings: bridges
  • Quads: squats, lunges
  • Calves: calf raises, with or without weights (can use curb for greater range of motion)
  • Core: front and side planks, from your knees or feet

4. Create a simple in-home exercise toolkit.

While many of these exercises can be performed leveraging your body weight, some require—or can be enhance by using—a few simple tools, which can be sourced online.

Shoope recommends:

  • Pair of 5-pound dumbbells (for upper body workouts)
  • Pair of 10-pound dumbbells (for upper body workouts)
  • One 20-pound dumbbell (for lower body workouts)
  • Resistance bands (smaller, 6-7” loops for upper body workouts plus larger/woven ones for lower body workouts)
  • Yoga mat (for floor work on hard surfaces)
  • Foam roller (to roll out sore muscles)
  • Tennis or lacrosse ball (for breaking up muscle tissue)

5. Don’t forget your cardio!

“For a quick and effective cardio workout, try EMOM, which stands for Every Minute on the Minute,” suggests Shoope. “In an EMOM workout, you begin a prescribed number of reps of an exercise at the top of a minute (without losing form) then rest for whatever time you have left until the next top-of-minute. If you’re just starting out, you can start with two rounds (one minute each of two exercises) or do fewer reps of multiple exercises to allow for more rest/recovery time between exercises.”

6. Switch it up.

Stuck in the same routine? Try something new. “Shaking up your workout is a good thing. If you’ve been working out with weights, for instance, and want to take up running, great. Just start slow with the new thing. Just because you’ve become proficient at one thing doesn’t mean you’ve already mastered the other,” says Shoope.

7. Work activity into your everyday.


8. Put in your time, every week.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides evidence-based guidance to help Americans maintain or improve their health through physical activity. Among the recommendations, the guidelines suggest that adults do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity a week, or an equivalent combination of the two, preferably spread throughout the week. Shoope points out that the 150 minutes can be achieved through five half-hour brisk walks a week, or three more intense 50-minute sessions.

9. Hydrate!

To avoid dehydration (and the serious health complications that can arise from it), Shoope cautions to make sure you stay hydrated. “Fluid intake requirements vary based on several factors, including intensity of workout, environment, clothing worn, etc. At a minimum, I suggest consuming at least four to five glasses of water a day,” says Shoope. “And get some form of protein in within at least five hours following your workout.”

10. Listen to your body.

If you’re not up to your planned workout, don’t beat yourself up, says Shoope. “If you just don’t feel great—maybe you haven’t gotten to eat that day, or you didn’t sleep well the night before—don’t feel like you have to push through.”

For more tips on ways to safely get—or stay—in-shape, schedule an appointment with a Memorial Hermann physical therapist, strength coach or affiliated sports medicine specialist at https://www.memorialhermann.org/services/specialties/ironman-sports-medicine-institute or call (713) 222-CARE (2273).

The information in this article was accurate as of July 14, 2020.

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