It's gym, but not as you know it: How people are keeping fit in lockdown

From running laps in the driveway to exercising vicariously, the Sunday Times Lifestyle team shares ideas for working out at home

12 April 2020 - 00:00 By staff reporters
YouTube exercise classes and online sessions with trainers are proving popular in lockdown.
YouTube exercise classes and online sessions with trainers are proving popular in lockdown.
Image: 123RF/Dmitrii Shironosov

If you don’t want to emerge from lockdown looking like the ‘after corona’ part in a meme, you’ll need to get your workout in somewhere between the front gate and upstairs loo.

From running laps in the driveway to exercising vicariously, the Sunday Times Lifestyle team reveals how they're keeping fit while housebound:


Honestly, curtailing my access to the gym has been the easiest coronavirus-related inconvenience to deal with. That's mainly because gyms tend to be filled with vain people and perverts who enjoy grunting loudly to make sure you can see them lifting heavy objects and discussing the lofting of these objects while standing a pubic hair's breadth away from you in the locker room, starkers.

So to keep myself tasty during this global timeout we're on I have adapted a few Nike-inspired home workouts.

The first focuses on abs - those will be important when the lockdown gets extended and I have to sell images of myself shirtless to survive. Start off with knee hugs, hip lifts and leg raises. Throw in some planking. Add three sets of leg bicycles. Next is three sets of dead bugs (check Google for instructions). More planks. Hold for 1:30 three times.

Take a break and eat a sandwich.

Next comes three sets of pendulum legs (Google again). Followed by lots of situps, but you do them sitting on your coccyx.

You're done and your stomach hurts, so wash your progress down with a glass of wine. After that, do pushups until your arms don't work. Congrats, you should have officially used up 20% of your day.

Good luck with the rest. 


My furry ears are coming in nicely - it's another day of my hamster life and I am living large. I run 5.5km religiously every day in the driveway. My neighbour spotted me in the midst of my laps from across the road. This is a chap who's barely made eye contact over the years - he wanted to know how I was doing. "Going loopy," I said, "quite literally."

Then there are the virtual classes. My pilates teacher, Taniel, has probably seen more of all my angles than she bargained for. Isaac, one of my boxing coaches, is trying to work on my technique, while coach Andy is sending ever more intense thrice weekly workouts.

Let me tell you about the cleaning! I now understand why the domestic goddesses of the '50s were all minuscule
Aspasia Karras

I have signed up for two remote HIIT sessions with Morne. And then there is the cleaning - let me tell you about the cleaning! I now understand why the domestic goddesses of the '50s were all minuscule - I have their vintage dresses for proof. Those ladies were busting a gut - nothing like scrubbing the floor to activate the core.

So, yes, it seems that I am keeping up with my exercise routine. I own the Lycra I am wearing from dawn to dusk - own it, I tell you. 


Motivating myself to exercise is a gruelling task on any given day. On a bad day in lockdown it's near impossible. To counter this I think of the "before corona/after corona" memes doing the rounds: if the ripped guy doing sexy Latin dancing can slide into a world of unsightly fat rolls, what's to become of me?

Sharing sweat with hundreds of people at the gym - those machines are gross - has never worked for me, but I can get stuck into the classes. Zumba has been one of the most enjoyable, blending ab-crunching moves with spirited tunes. Stuck at home, I'm doing Zumba in my living room, adding the occasional weight to keep flabby arms at bay.

But when I'm not in the mood for Zumba, I can comfort myself with the fact that I live in a duplex and the more glasses of wine I drink, the more trips to the toilet at the top of the stairs.

I find it easiest to exercise vicariously. For this, the latest season of Survivor Winners at War is the best. Watching four people scale a mountain to retrieve a pile of 20 logs at once really gets your heart rate up. And if you swap your pyjamas for gym gear, the imagined results are guaranteed to double. 


I have to own that I'm constitutionally stationary. I always have been. I didn't even crawl as an infant, I just dragged myself around, half-sitting, presumably only when the impetus was great enough. Naturally, then, my parents are exercise fiends.

My mother is a runner (of marathon proportions); my father cycles in what looks to me like a wrestler's leotard, and takes special relish in lifting heavy things. In short, the lockdown affects them in a way that it does not me. They repine without regular intervals of enervating activity. I don't.

I'm worried about staying fit, in a manner of speaking, though. I may not be worried about losing muscle tone, per se, but three or four hours of The Sims, played in unbroken succession without so much as a concession to reality, cannot be altogether good for my brain. And I worry about my brain, I do. She was expensive.

If you're concerned that your current routine is gnawing away at the last vestiges of your intellect, you needn't despair: I have solutions. Not unlike doing squats on your balcony or running in place, some of these require a modicum of self-discipline - but if you're typically happy to be unhappy in the name of exercise, you should be able to extend your mind and your memory the same grace.

Here are some lockdown-friendly foils to mental inertia:

Try your hand at a new language. Apps like Duolingo have made it fun and free for you to expand your linguistic horizons, and you can spend as little as 10 minutes a day placating cartoons in a language of your choice. Studies have shown, moreover, that grammar and vocabulary drills of this kind have a beneficial effect on both your attention span and on your long-term memory.

Read. Read long-winded nonfiction and tawdry romance novels alike. Read for longer than is strictly comfortable or pleasant, even if you're not a reader. Forego television series for books, because reading is a rare form of escapism that actually strengthens neural pathways, affects emotional catharsis, and won't prevent you from being able to get a good night's sleep. Unless you favour Stephen King.

Take up old hobbies. Adopt the habits of a post-war pensioner: do crossword puzzles. Bake. Knit. So many of the things we did as children enhance the strength and speed of our recall. Paint badly. Become unabashedly creative. And try to do some of this without a tablet, TV, or screen. 


I'm not much for organised exercise under lockdown (or out of lockdown, for that matter). So far my recipe for exercise success is the following: one nine-year-old boy (soaked for a few hours in screentime); one out-of-sorts ridgeback; a garden; a sprinkling of cabin fever, and liberal doses of parental anxiety. Mix them all together and shake. When done, you should find yourself running around said garden playing games you haven't in years - like catches and Running Red Rover. The dog always wins.

It also helps to live with two "boys" - every pair of underpants picked up from some random location is a squat; every dirty plate carried in a huff from the coffee table to the sink is a few more steps towards one's daily quota. 


Matthew Mcclure, Wanted managing editor: I pack a backpack with bricks to get in some weighted cardio. It's about 30kg, which I load onto my back and then do luges, squats and steep stairs up and down at my block of flats.

Leana Schoeman, Home editor: Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. There are different practices for every need, plus no squeaky American voice or esoteric bullsh*t (and I love her dog Benji). I also do skipping and lots of dancing.

Sharon Armstrong, Fashion director: Zoom Pilates with my regular instructor twice a week - a class of three or four. It works better than YouTube as I still get personal instruction. E-mail

Jennifer Platt, Books editor: Creating a trench garden to grow veggies. I didn't think it would be as tough as it is, hacking through hard soil and chipping at rock despite the drenching rain we've had. Can feel it in my core and I'm knackered after just half an hour of digging. At this rate the trench will be done in about two weeks' time. My partner is very suspicious though ...

Andrea Nagel, Lifestyle editor: Table tennis. It's high intensity; provides a great arm workout, aids mental functioning, is competitive, and keeps the kids amused and not nagging for a moment. Thereafter, a compulsory swim for winners and losers.

Toni Singer, Digital editor: Walking to and from the fridge a lot. Does that count?

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