A Guide to Staying Physically Fit in the era of Physical Distancing

My Guide to Staying Physically Fit in the era of Physical Distancing

Featured image: slightly, but not fully physically distant, early March, 2020, Washington, DC USA • with fitness instructor / coach Mike Wilkinson

2020.03.19 DC People and Places, Washington, DC USA 080 30041
You can’t go to this anymore. Don’t react, innovate. (View on Flickr.com)

I’ve been asked by a few people to detail options for staying physically fit when our normal outlets are either closed or off limits.

This post isn’t going to be very useful if you’ve figured this out for yourself. If you have figured this out, feel free to add your ideas/experience in the comments.

Let’s go in reverse order: How, then What, and the Why.

Reminder that I don’t endorse third-party products or services here, these are just what I use.


Tools to create resistance

  • Resistance bands – these are amazingly light and strong pieces of rubber that come in versions with handles and without. I had no idea all of the ways they can create resistance based on positioning. You can include a piece of tough nylon that will wedge in a door hinge to expand your possibilities.
    • Resistance bands (with handles) – with door attachment – Amazon link
    • Resistance bands (without handles) – Amazon link
  • Household items – containers filled with water, heavy books (remember Robbins’ Pathology? Give it a second life…)
  • Furniture – A chair, for tricep dips, a couch/bed for hip thrusters, a counter top for tricep extensions…. let your imagination and comfort be your guide
  • Your body – no matter what, you always have this, and the heavier you are, the greater the resistance

Technology supports

  • A good countdown timer app. I use Seconds Pro. It allows for interval training and helps manage form with nice slow countdown timers that are narrated with a pleasing Siri-like voice. You can program your own music in the background. I was using this app way before physical distancing to manage my form and timing.

  • A fitness tracker or heart rate monitor – I use Apple Watch and MyZone depending on the workout. This helps me know if my heart rate is in the target range. Totally optional (your body doesn’t care if you’re wearing one or not).

Social media to the rescue

  • YouTube – has an amazing plethora of workout coaches, who have all pivoted in unison to providing home workouts. The variety is endless. Here are a few channels worth looking at:
    • Athlean-X – led by a physical therapist, so a very good focus on form and safety. These workouts tend to be on the challenging side, again, confirming that being at home is not a limitation to building strength and size. The workouts can get a little complex as they are not always demo’d on a timer like some others do.
    • Scott Herman Fitness – A variety of difficulties, and latest workouts have Scott doing the timed workout with you, so they are easy to follow.
    • Chris Tye-Walker – Probably on the more challenging side, engaging approach and human – his children are often in the room bouncing around with him while he’s teaching 🙂

YouTube premium comes in handy here – no ads, able to run with your phone/tablet screen off + YouTube music thrown in as well.

  • Facebook
    • Your favorite fitness instructor or the gym you’ve been paying dues to has likely set up a home program. Ask about this, and support them in the ways you can, from being in the audience to paying dues.
  • Instagram / Instagram TV
    • Barry’s at Home – from the iconic boutique fitness chain. These are nice, 20 minute, higher-intensity workouts. Some require resistance bands, some are body weight only.

See my caveats below about all of the above.


  • Resistance
    • Your muscles need to see resistance and ultimately resistance to failure in order to grow. From the literature I’ve read, they ultimately don’t care about the amount of resistance per rep, or at what speed. They don’t know if they’re in a gym or in your house, whether you’re wearing a fitness tracker or not.
  • Set and Setting
    • There’s probably something about “set” and “setting” that make some of us stay fit – the action of getting into gym clothes and going to a room with weights in it. Since you’re not paying a gym to do this for yourself, you need to DIY it. Set aside a time of day, a room in your home, and wear the clothes you’d wear to the gym, or a set of clothes that are different than your stay at home clothes. You will replace the habit / dopamine release of going somewhere to workout with doing the same without going somewhere. Our brains are amazing that way.
    • Among the options above, live training may be more motivational – if you have to be somewhere at a certain time to engage you will. This is probably we don’t like watching reruns of anything…
  • Safety, Comfort, and Enjoyment (in that order)
    • The tools and guides above have varying levels of fit within your life, health status, and physical environment. Many of the workouts above involve a lot of plyometrics (jumping) which may not work in a situation with neighbors. There are tons of substitutions. Same goes for heavy objects not intended for muscle resistance.
  • Be critical, use common sense
    • Do not take any of the workouts above at face value. I don’t. Not every YouTube instructor is qualified – be critical. Within each regime there are exercises that are more comfortable and get the results I like. That’s what matters to me.
    • The instructors also tend to have another part of their business related to diet and I’d say I have less interest in this part of their teaching, which may not be their core competency. See my notes about diet below.


The most important why I’d say is “because you want to.” And fortunately you can. It’s important that we practice physical distancing during this time, and fortunately we can do that and innovate for our health.

  • You can hang on to strength and size
  • Calorie burning – not as essential
    • There’s pretty good evidence that exercise does not result in weight loss – “eat less, move more” has not been proven, or if anything, has been proven wrong. Exercise has many many other benefits, though. For some people (me included) some amount of calorie burning feels better, perhaps based on ancient (20th century) programming. It’s useful to know that walking 3 miles and running 3 miles burns the same calories. If you don’t believe, me, head over to your nearest metabolic calculator.
  • Gyms – essential or not?

A part of resilience – a few editorial comments

  • I practice a low-carbohydrate, healthy fat dietary approach, which I’ve continued successfully during this time. These are difficult times to be sure. For some, I notice, using unhealthy food (ultra-processed grains, high-carbohydrate or artificial foods) may be a way to cope. I see mainstream publications supporting this idea, which is unhelpful in my opinion. I feel it’s possible to engage in a satiating and enjoyable meal routine that’s healthy. Here’s an example for me. I will post meals like this to counter-balance all of the confectionery out there 🙂 – metabolic disease is not destiny.
  • I also practice kindness to myself and fellow humans. Doing the above is not easy every day, and involves going through change, which is loss, and loss usually involves grief. I have observed people react with everything from smugness to despair to anger. All of these reactions are normal and happen in unpredictable cycles.
  • covid-19 is not the flu. It never was. I take it seriously and I avoid discourse that suggests otherwise. I’m also purposefully avoiding discourse that states that a low-carbohydrate, healthy fat diet is a covid19 prevention mechanism, or discourse that uses covid19 as a platform to advocate for this diet. When we’ve reconciled the depth of the tragedy faced by our communities we should talk about our metabolic readiness for threats like this. In the meantime, the snooze, unfollow, and mute buttons on various platforms are great tools in my doctor’s bag. Empathy, humanity first.
  • Never skip is the motto I use. That’s what I’m telling the world in my role as a volunteer photographer for Capital Pride (@CapitalPrideDC). For as long as we can, I/we will help people to control their health destiny and live long, healthy, productive lives as their authentic selves. That’s the ultimate why.

I’m happy to entertain questions/comments in the comments.

Credit to my fitcoach for many of these ideas and encouragement. He’s also encouraged me to quote him here, which I will, when he said, “I’d expect nothing less than your usual nuttiness” as I put this together. Was he right? 🙂

Ted Eytan, MD