It’s now week three of lockdown and it’s plain that exercise will be massively important in helping us all get through a truly strange and unique experience. Even by the end of the first week, one colleague was describing how she had worked out using tins of tomatoes, while another kindly told her to stick several of them in bags so she could lift more and work harder. Helpful or vindictive? I couldn’t quite decide. Funniest of all, another colleague inflicted the bleep test on her children, and I think that was only day one of home schooling. They’ll be on one-arm press-ups by now!
Why work out?
I’ve always exercised regularly. I love and play team sports as well as general fitness, but guide runners or tandem pilots can’t get within the two metres prescribed by social distancing and leisure centres have shut. What’s worse is that the normal ways some of us would work out at home have suddenly become dull as ditch-water, simply because we can’t pick and choose. Others of us just need people there. It turns out complete strangers suffice to motivate us.
There are a number of lessons I’ve taken from this so far. First, we don’t have any choice in the matter. We can’t sit still for two months. If you do, you’ll soon notice that going up a flight of stairs gets you out of breath. Second, almost any movement is healthy and counts as exercise since lockdown is forcing us to be nearly static, or to feel like we are.
The fact is, we just need to be a bit creative. Try things we’d never have done before or simply broaden what we would previously have called a workout. This isn’t training advice, I’m not qualified for a start, but it’s clear some conscious effort is called for.
The obvious point is to make best use of what you’ve got. In my case, I’m lucky to have a rowing machine. Believe me though, that’s already getting boring. I got so angry with the tedium the other day that my technique went to pot and the whole machine started walking jerkily across my spare room carpet. I failed to notice this of course until it worked itself perilously close to an open wardrobe door and nearly sent me lurching backwards into my shirts.
I generally just set a timer on my phone and go for ten to fifteen minutes. I might then work in a series of two or three sprints, maybe for a minute or thirty strokes each with a good gap in between. I know few people have these machines, but you can follow a similar pattern on a bike or just running on the spot. If you’ve never done it, don’t do too much to start with, but it’s a really good way to work out quite quickly, provided you warm up first. A three-minute jog would do.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
If the above doesn’t make sense, just look for a definition of HIIT online. This one might help. This page also gives tips on who should not do HIIT so do read the whole article if you are worried about your suitability for this kind of exercise. It also rightly emphasises that you don’t have to go crazy from the get-go.
The same goes for core training. You’ll have heard of squats, planks, crunches and so on. All help with core strength and so can be done at home without equipment. Just take time out to make sure you are doing them correctly as you only need to research this once. If you have someone with you, they can help you ensure your back is straight – this is important for almost all core work. This is great for posture, balance and even the mild lower back pain we can all get from too much time at a computer. Put simply, core work strengthens the muscles in your trunk. Follow this link for some decent verbal descriptions of exercises you might try.
For more structured options, the Eyes Free Fitness YouTube videos really deserve a special mention. Created by a blind American woman called Mel Scott some years ago, these online sessions are particularly strong. They include cardio and weights workouts, even yoga and Pilates, which are all specifically designed for blind and partially sighted people. That might sound a bit too tailored for some, but accurate language for directions and positions is vital to staying safe and a lot of online instruction doesn’t do it well enough. Even the likes of the popular Joe Wicks take advantage of the fact that people are watching him on the screen. It’s risky to guess this if you’re a beginner and, what’s more, badly worded sessions are really irritating. I’ve stood still for half of the videos I’ve checked out recently. Except that’s not exactly what happens. Instead, you’re rigidly expectant, poised like an athlete on the blocks who doesn’t realise the starter has walked off before firing the gun, just for a laugh.
Working out with other people (at home!)My totally blind partner and I did one of Mel’s sessions together the other day, called sculpting with weights, and it was much more motivating to have company. Admittedly, you do need to plan a bit better than we did if neither party can see. Our first effort was a bit more like British Bulldog, but with fewer rules. Do check you have enough space! Knuckles and furniture don’t mix!
If you just want to go through some stretches, the parasport workouts are also very clear and the site is super easy to access.
Last but by no means least, you must check out this link to the home exercise pages of the Metro Blind Sport website. This page provides links to a variety of different options, including sources for working out with your kids.
The key is to find something that suits you. You won’t like everything, but you can always check some of this stuff out before you try it. Everyone can afford to use former commuting hours to check out an online session before trying it. Please don’t discriminate against American sites and videos either. You might prefer a British voice, but many of the resources from the States are just too helpful to be ignored.
Andy Law, London Vision Development Manager, 3 April 2020