COLUMBUS, Ohio — Like many Americans, Donna Reda struggled with maintaining a workout routine last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down fitness centers.
“I had all kinds of little exercises on my iPad, and I would just look at them and turn it off and walk away,” said the Upper Arlington, Ohio, resident. “It was easier to sit in a chair or read a book or eat something than to go stand and exercise for an hour.”
The solution turned out to be one door away. Her neighbor, Olga Stavridis, had been undergoing physical therapy. When Stavridis found out the therapist also was a personal trainer, she and Reda decided to hire her.
For the past several months, Caitlin Kennelly, personal training manager for Columbus Fitness Consultants, has come to Reda’s garage twice a week at 7 a.m. There, Kennelly puts Reda, Stavridis and Stavridis’ daughter Maria through an hour-long rotation of exercises.
The neighbors pooled the equipment they had: 5, 8 and 10-pound dumbbells, an exercise ball, resistance bands and yoga mats, as well as a 25-pound weight that Kennelly brings.
They do squats, lunges, crunches, step-ups on the stair between the garage and house, and whatever else Kennelly dreams up.
“I’ll admit to sometimes using four-letter words,” Reda said. “I’ve never been pushed like she has pushed us.
“But at the same time, it has been wonderful. I can’t even tell you what a godsend it is to my mental health. I said to her, ‘If I didn’t have this to look forward to, I don’t know what I’d do.’”
Hiring a personal trainer may not be for everyone, but experts say most people can maintain an adequate workout routine at home with minimal cost.
And that’s good news as the pandemic has surged in recent months. Even if gyms have reopened, many people may not be comfortable returning.
Dr. Craig Pulliam, fitness team leader at the OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center, said about a third of the center’s members have not returned to the gym.
Dr. Brian Rue, a primary care sports medicine doctor in the Mount Carmel Health System, said he would not recommend working out in a gym at this point.
“There are so many variables, with air filtration systems, with other people not wearing masks properly, and of course, you’re touching a lot of different surfaces,” Rue said. “In general, the safer thing to do is work out at home.”
So what does one need for an effective home workout?
Pulliam said the first priority is finding the right space in your house that you dedicate to fitness. Next, he said, is deciding what type of workout you would enjoy (strengthening versus cardio, for instance) and will therefore be more likely to stick with.
As for equipment, Kennelly, Pulliam and Rue all said resistance bands may be the best investment one can make.
“They’re the most versatile thing you can purchase,” Pulliam said. “You can anchor them to many things, and they replicate the robust cable systems we have in the gym.”
Rue said, “Their uses are limitless, you can work out pretty much any muscle in the body using them.”
To make sure one is using proper form during these exercises, Rue also suggested having a mirror in the workout space.
A variety of lightweight dumbbells, such as the ones Reda and her neighbors use, also are useful, they said.
But people have been finding it difficult to find those in stores during the pandemic, so the good news is there are household equivalents.
Kennelly said a large can of soup can weigh up to three pounds. A full gallon milk jug weighs about eight pounds, she said.
Rue suggested paint cans or milk jugs, “or you can use a chair as an elevated surface and do tricep dips. You can use the things around you pretty well, and really, you can do a lot with your own body weight.”
As for cardio, of course there are treadmills and rowing machines and stair-climbers. But again, your home may provide some of what you need, particularly when bad weather keeps you from going for a jog or bike ride.
“I like to do stairs,” Kennelly said. “I’ve done this thing at home where I go to the basement and then take two stairs at a time from the basement to the second floor and jog back down again. I’ll give myself 30 seconds to rest and then do it again.”
The only drawback, she said, is “it drives my dog crazy.”
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Pulliam said he recommends not doing strength-training on consecutive days.
Rue said he describes moderate exercise as an activity that someone can do, “while talking in mostly complete sentences, but not singing.”
Rue said any amount of exercise is helpful though. He did not want to discourage anyone from working out for 10 or 15 minutes a day if that’s all the time they have.
For Reda, her 120 minutes a week with Kennelly have been plenty. She has enjoyed it enough that she’s not sure she will ever return to her gym.
“I haven’t addressed that yet, we’ll see what happens when this (pandemic) is all settled down,” she said. “I’ll keep Caitlin as long as I can.”