Sure, all of us are dealing with bigger concerns right now than whether we can maintain our muscle mass during a pandemic, but for me, going to the gym isn't just part of my routine, it's a key component of maintaining my mental health.

One of my first big concerns about how day-to-day life would change while riding out the coronavirus pandemic at home was whether it would be impossible to stay in decent shape.

That’s not as shallow as it might seem on the surface. Sure, all of us are dealing with bigger concerns right now than whether we can maintain our muscle mass during a pandemic, but for me, going to the gym isn’t just part of my routine, it’s a key component of maintaining my mental health. 

Five or six times a week, almost every week since my early 20s, I’ve tried to do some type of weightlifting or cardio. It relieves stress. It makes me feel better and more energized. I don’t like skipping days because I know how easily bad habits can spiral: One day off leads to two, two leads to a week and then you’re inventing excuses not to work out at all. 

Over the years, I’ve gone to some fairly extraordinary lengths to maintain that consistency. When traveling for work, I’ll book hotels that I know either have good facilities on site or are close to a location of the gym chain I have a membership to at home. Even on vacation, I’ll usually find a place to get a lift in most days. 

So the prospect of going weeks or months without being able to go to the gym was fairly daunting. But as I’ve realized in recent days, the biggest hurdle to staying fit isn’t the fact that I can’t get a squat rack or bench press into my house. It’s simply my attitude.

Instead of resigning myself to losing whatever strength I had, I’m trying to embrace it as an opportunity to work out in a new way, hit muscle groups that I had neglected and maybe even break through some plateaus after admittedly doing the same routine for years.

Granted, I’d prefer to be back at the gym every morning, but I’ve quickly learned you don’t need much equipment to get a really good workout in at home. And in a way, it feels kind of good to break out of the rut.

One thing I’ve heard a lot the last couple weeks is that gym equipment has been really hard to come by for people looking to buy something for their garage or back yard. But one thing you can still find on Amazon are resistance bands, which have become my best friends.

Fortunately, I already had a set stored in my basement that I had purchased six or seven years ago along with a DVD set of the P90X workout program, which I believe I used twice and completely stopped. I also, despite that aborted takeoff all those years ago, never took down the overhead pull-up bar that I had installed as part of my plan to add P90X to my routine.

Now, I realize why I didn’t stick with P90X in the first place: It’s really hard. If you follow the instructions from Tony Horton in the videos, you’re going to get a high-intensity cross-training workout that forces you to rep to failure and immediately pivot to a different muscle group before coming back and doing another set.

There’s nothing really complicated about these exercises, but between the moves that use your body weight and others with resistance bands, I’m exhausted and dripping with sweat by the end of the 50-minute workout, which includes a warm-up and cool-down stretch period. 

And because of how consistently sore I’ve been 24 hours later with the muscle groups targeted in that day’s video, I know I’m getting a great workout and really pushing myself — probably more than I have in the gym lately. 

Hopefully, that will translate to being in better shape when the world finally returns back to normal. No, I won’t be able to do heavy lifts for awhile, but with a simple mental adjustment of my goals, I can use this time to get leaner and more flexible and possibly even stronger. 

As we buckle in for at least another month of social distancing, hopefully that’s enough to keep me motivated and coming back to those DVDs and resistance bands every day. I miss the gym for sure, but this isn’t so bad for now.

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