Home Gym Advantage

In Many Places, Gyms are Opening After Shutting Down Due to the COVID Pandemic, But Your Home May Still Be the Ideal Place to Maintain Your Fitness

As gyms and fitness centres reopen, they must follow strict guidelines for sanitation, social distancing, occupancy, and more. Even if these facilities are considered safe by most standards, their patrons still may not feel comfortable, especially older adults and others who are at a higher risk for COVID.


So how do you maintain your fitness when you can't follow your usual exercise routine?


One solution is at-home workouts. Yet this, too, is difficult if you don't have the right equipment and proper guidance.


"People usually approach home exercise as an adjunct to a therapy program, or when they can't do their usual routine," says physical therapist Denise Frost, director of movement health at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Outpatient Center Brighton. "However, approached the right way, home exercises can present an opportunity to make your exercise program more effective and complement your other physical activities, now and when the COVID crisis eventually ends."


You don't need much equipment to do complete gym-inspired home workouts. "You want equipment that can mimic the effects of most gym exercises," says Frost.


Many basic home workouts can be performed with a pair of dumbbells and your body weight. While this is an excellent and simple way to maintain fitness, you can achieve more with a little upgrade.


Two excellent purchases for improving at-home exercises are a stability half-ball (Bosu, for example) and a set of resistance bands. Each is versatile and easy to use. "They can help replicate most machine or hand weight movements," says Frost.


Another advantage of these tools: they can train the body and the brain at the same time. "Both help strengthen isolated muscles and entire muscle groups as well as encourage greater attention and awareness during movements," says Frost.


If you are not familiar with the stability half-ball and resistance bands, here's a closer look at each and examples of how to use them. Check with your trainer or fitness coach on how to incorporate them into your regular workouts.

You also can learn stability half-ball exercises in Core Exercises, and resistance band workouts in Strength and Power Training for All Ages, Special Health Reports from Harvard Health Publishing (www.health.harvard.edu/shr.)


This resembles a stability ball cut in half. It has a hard plastic bottom with indentions on the sides for easy gripping. It may not look like much, but the half-ball can provide a whole-body workout. It is excellent for exercises like bridges, push-ups, step lunges, squats, and sit-ups.


"Its soft and unstable surface challenges both coordination and strength," says Frost. This helps with the repeated movements of daily life, like bending, lifting, stretching, twisting, and squatting.


Stability half-ball lunges. This move adds a challenge to the traditional lunge that helps hone your balance as well as your muscles.


1. Stand behind the half-ball with the soft side up. Place one foot on the center of the ball.

3. Keeping your spine straight, flex your knees until they both reach a 90° angle. Place your hand on a wall or chair for support when moving into the lunge, if needed.

4. Hold for a few seconds, and then return to the starting position.

5. Repeat five to 10 times, then switch leg positions and repeat.


These lightweight elastic bands come in various thicknesses and lengths for different degrees of resistance. Some are continuous loops that resemble giant rubber bands, while others are thin tubes with handles on the end. There are also plain flat bands and plain tubing without handles. They all work fine, so choose the style you find most comfortable.


According to Frost, bands can replicate most gym weight machines and dumbbell exercises to improve strength and range of motion.


"They're the ultimate in versatility," says Frost. "You are forced to keep one body part still while you move another. This helps you target specific muscles more effectively while simultaneously improving stability." There are band exercises to target nearly every muscle group: legs, core, and upper body.


Biceps curls. These work the arms without placing stress on the wrists from holding weights.


1. Stand on a resistance band (or tube) with your left foot.

2. With your left arm at your side, hold the handle in your left hand (or grab hold of the band). The band should be taut, but not stretched tight.

3. Slowly pull the band toward your shoulders. Keep your upper arm in place and move only your forearm.

4. Once you reach the top of the movement, pause and lower your hand to the starting position.

5. Repeat 10 to 20 times. Switch to the right foot and repeat with the right arm. Work up to two to three sets.