‘One press-up is better than none’: How Mr Motivator and other fitness gurus stay healthy at home

These are trying times. Children run between rooms as parents on video calls shush them in vain; millennials in cramped house-shares attempt to carve out space to work from home. Gyms and leisure centres have closed, and elderly and vulnerable people may feel worried about venturing outside to exercise. So how can we stay active as we hunker down and ride out the coronavirus pandemic?

During the coronavirus crisis, we have all got to stay motivated to work out. One way to do this is to focus on your blessings. Every day when you wake up, think of five reasons to be grateful.


Mr Motivator … ‘Imagine there’s an orange between your shoulder blades.’

Mr Motivator … ‘Imagine there’s an orange between your shoulder blades.’ Photograph: Donal Moloney

Then put your trainers on. Not your slippers. Walk around your house and put music on. Headbanging music, funky music – whatever gets you going. Now you’ve got your trainers on and your music pumping, you can have some fun. If you’re a young buck, start running on the spot. If you’re older, hold on to a chair or a work surface and bring your knees up and down in front of you. Now pretend you’re sitting on the loo. Then it’s time for squats! Lower yourself down, control your stomach, tighten your thigh muscles and squeeze it all in.

For older people who aren’t as active, sit straight-backed in a chair and imagine there’s an orange between your shoulder blades. Now squeeze the juice so it runs down your back.

If you have kids, hide things around the house for them to find. That will wear them out. Or ask them to lie on the floor and spell out the letters of the week in the air with their legs. If they knock over some of the furniture, it’s no bother. It’s all part of the fun. As long as they stay safe.

When your kids are at home, it’s important they stay active. My son and I go for long walks with the dog – honestly, our dog has never been walked so much in her life! She’s beside herself.

When things started getting really serious with coronavirus, I made a free fitness programme, Own Your Own Goals, for people to use. I wanted to do something to help. While we’re all still allowed out by the government, I’d recommend a power walk – on your own and far away from other people. Sunlight and fresh air are good for our mental health.


Davina McCall … ‘If you don’t have weights, improvise with a good old can of baked beans.’

Davina McCall … ‘If you don’t have weights, improvise with a good old can of baked beans.’

Lots of people worry that they will annoy their neighbours if they exercise inside, but you can do most toning stuff inside without making any noise. Biceps curls and shoulder presses are good for toning. If you don’t have weights, improvise with a good old can of baked beans.

There are so many things you can do in a plank. Mountain climbers (where you drive your knees into your chest in a plank position) or spider-mans (where you raise your right knee to your right elbow in a plank, then switch sides) are fantastic.

During this pandemic, I’m going to be making sure that I have a daily routine. Without it, you lose purpose. Wake up at a reasonable hour, enjoy being able to spend more time with your family – and try to fit in 20 minutes of exercise every day. It will make you feel happier.

Lizzie Webb, former TV-am presenter and the creator of Joggy Bear

One positive thing to come out of the coronavirus crisis is that people often have more time to focus on themselves and their bodies. But be sensible: if you aren’t a regular exerciser, don’t suddenly go mad on a programme. Ease in gently. There’s no rush. Every day, increase the number of repetitions or exercise for a little longer.


Lizzie Webb … ‘The best bit of kit in your house is a chair.’

Lizzie Webb … ‘The best bit of kit in your house is a chair.’ Photograph: Ilka & Franz/The Guardian

I’d recommend exercising with the children – they’re going to be home with you, so why not? I’m a big fan of getting them to learn their times tables – but not sitting down at a desk. Instead, sit or stand the children opposite each other and have them throw a ball to one another while doing their times tables. The person who gets the highest is the winner.

The best bit of kit in your house is always a chair. Hold on to the back of it at waist height, and use it as you would a ballet barre. Put your feet at hip-width apart and do squats. If you’re strong enough, hold the “barre” with one hand while squatting.

If you’re not very mobile, there are lots of things you can do in a chair. Make sure you’re sitting with a straight back. Hug each knee to your chest, then put it down. You can even grab some bags of sugar or bottles of water to use as light weights: sit on the edge of the chair and do biceps curls.

On TV-am, I would always make a point of saying: “Clear your space.” You don’t want to hurt yourself. I remember one viewer writing in to tell me that she was doing my exercises in a caravan. And, obviously, wear comfortable clothes. You want to have freedom of movement.

Shona Vertue, yoga teacher, YouTuber and fitness influencer

Coronavirus has had an impact on my motivation to train – even I am having to use my own videos to motivate myself. I have been running live workouts on my YouTube channel, and yesterday I had 120 followers waiting to work out with me. I sat on the mat and told them the truth: I feel heavy, but I know that I’m going to feel better after we exercise together. And I did.


Shona Vertue … ‘Make it social: afterwards, talk on FaceTime about how much you loved – or hated – it.

Shona Vertue … ‘Make it social: afterwards, talk on FaceTime about how much you loved – or hated – it. Photograph: Sophia Spring

Working out virtually with other people in real time is the best way forward, especially if you usually go to classes and find it hard to motivate yourself on your own. Make it social: arrange a virtual date with friends to train together and afterwards talk on FaceTime about how much you loved – or hated – it.

If you can get your hands on some weights or kettlebells, I recommend weight-training at home. The resistance is beneficial for bone density and helps to reduce the effects of muscle loss, which is important as many of us are likely to be sedentary for long periods of time under lockdown.

At the end of the day, we’re going through a global pandemic. No one gives a toss about abs. Aesthetics are out of the window. What you should think is: OK, movement is going to support my brain function, it’s going to help me feel better and release endorphins.

Normally, you would exercise for long-term health. This is different. Now we are training to not get ill. The stronger and fitter you are, the more likely you will be to fight coronavirus off, and your recovery time will be shorter. You are less likely to end up in an intensive care unit bed, and if you do end up in one, more likely to get out of it sooner – freeing it up for someone else. So try to do something.

There’s another good reason to exercise, which is that humans are inherently social animals. We depend on other people for our happiness, our wellbeing, advice and reassurance. Right now, we’re cut off from other people. So exercise is crucial to maintaining mental health.

If you can, leave the house regularly and go for walks, but stay away from other people. Download a step counter on to your phone and aim for 10,000 steps a day. Or do a basic circuit at home. My only word of caution would be that your home is not a gym. Be careful. You don’t want to get injured and put the NHS under more strain.


Xand and Chris van Tulleken … ‘You don’t want to get injured.’

Xand and Chris van Tulleken … ‘You don’t want to get injured.’ Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty Images

There’s a thing in geriatric medicine called pyjama paralysis. It’s when you admit older people to hospital, and they stay in bed all day in their pyjamas. It’s really bad for them: they lose muscle mass fast. So getting dressed in the morning is a good start.

Walk up and down your stairs five times. If you have a garden, buy a skipping rope online and go outside and skip. Find a fitness YouTuber you like the look of, and copy their videos. It’s so easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of exercise: how much should I be doing and what should my heart rate be? Do I need the advice of a doctor? But it’s not complicated – just aim to get out of breath for a few minutes every day. That’s it.

If you can, do a simple circuit of press-ups, sit-ups and squats. I stand by the view that something is much better than nothing: one press-up is better than none, and five are better than one. If you don’t know where to start, look up the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises. They were devised in the 1950s, and are just as relevant today. It’s a great set of movements.

The Guardian

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