Hack Your Fitness: Online Exercise in the Time of Social Distancing

MeaganGeneral, Hack Your FitnessLeave a Comment

Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve posted because, like many of you, I’ve been distracted by, and working to adapt, to the new world order brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. I’m a scientist and research lab manager, so that has included figuring out how to work remotely without access to the lab, and balancing work and childcare schedules with Steve while our daycare is closed. Additionally, I recently got over being sick for a couple of weeks, and with everything going on, it’s been a bit difficult to focus on getting back into training, meaning that blogging also took a backseat. Long story short, I hope to get a few posts out over the next couple of weeks, including my wrap up video of the No Added Sugar Challenge I did in February, and an overview of my thoughts so far on using an algorithm-generated half marathon training plan.

Recently, I’ve talked to a lot of friends who say that they struggle to complete workouts at home, and/or who miss group exercise, either in the form of classes or group runs/rides. For me, running and other forms of physical activity, even just getting outside to walk the dog, are crucial for mental well-being, especially when it comes to reducing stress, which is definitely at a high for a lot of people right now. So, before I get to the posts I mentioned above, I wanted to put together a list of virtual services that may help you stay active, motivated, and social during this time of social distancing!

Screenshot from a recent group run I completed on Zwift.

1. Zwift: If you have access to a treadmill and/or bike trainer, Zwift is an excellent option for a social exercise experience while you are stuck indoors, and is my number one recommendation for at-home exercise. You can “meet up” with a friend who has an account (either at a scheduled time or just join them if you notice they’re online when you log on), and Zwift also offers group runs/rides (called Events), including virtual races. In my experience, the events have been very congenial, and it’s fun to chat with other runners from all over the world (pro tip: voice-to-text is your friend while trying to send messages during a run). Additionally, I like to follow a few professional athletes on there to marvel at how fast they run/ride (for example, Eric Lagerstrom and Paula Findlay, professional triathletes, who, by the way, have an excellent YouTube channel documenting their training and races), and sometimes Zwift even hosts events led by a professional athlete or trainer!

There are a couple of things you should note, the first of which is that it does cost money to use the cycling side of Zwift – $15 per month after your first 25 km. The running side, though, is free and just as fully featured! Second, to access several of the social features and to get more stats while you run, you will need to download the Zwift Companion app on your phone. It pairs to whatever device you are using the main Zwift client on. Finally, while many treadmills can connect to third-party services directly via Bluetooth these days, you should check to see if you’ll need a sensor to record your speed/incline. If you’re cycling, you’ll definitely need a cadence/power sensor. Luckily, there are several good ones on the market, or you can buy them directly from Zwift.

2. Virtual Races/Challenges: If you’re the competitive type and miss racing, there are several services that allow you to participate in virtual races, competitions, or challenges. For virtual races, check out Gone for a Run, runDisney, and New York Road Runners (the group that hosts the NYC Marathon). Many virtual race options offer swag such as shirts and medals (the runDisney medals are particularly cool), and some donate at least a portion of their proceeds to charity. It’s also nice that virtual races offer flexible scheduling in terms of the dates/times that you need to complete your chosen event, so for those of you who may not like waking up super early to run on race days, or if your schedule is a bit up in the air right now, they are a great option. The half marathon I’m doing in May has actually been converted to a virtual one that can be completed over a range of dates for those of us who can’t reschedule for October.

Check out the super cool Marvel medals that will be available for completing runDisney virtual races this summer!

If you aren’t into racing, many social running/cycling/exercise platforms offer challenges users can complete or compete in. On Strava, for example, you can work towards monthly distance or accrued time challenges, or battle it out for top slots or KOM/QOM (King of the Mountain/Queen of the Mountain) on segments. The Conquerer offers a different type of virtual challenge, in which any distance-based activity (running, walking, cycling, swimming, etc.) counts towards a distance goal, such as completing the length of the Appalachian Trail. The start date and time limit for this goal is up to you, and you can complete it with a group of friends if you’d like! You even get a medal and, if you pay a little extra, a t-shirt, when you finish.

3. Nike Training Club: This is a sister app to Nike Run Club that is designed for strength training, calisthenics exercises, and yoga. What’s more, Nike has made premium access free until further notice! There are also other similar apps/services that offer subscription services (that usually come with a free trial), including Daily Burn, Aaptiv, and The Run Experience (this one offers training plans for running in addition to strength and stretching exercises!).

Screenshot of some of the Nike Training Club app features from https://apps.apple.com/us/app/nike-training-club/id301521403.

4. Check your gym! Most gyms are closed across the country, but many are offering online versions of their classes, either for free on social media, or via other digital platforms that their clientele can log into. It’s a great way to get that group class feeling without having to be in a group.

5. Video or voice chat with friends while you exercise! This one is simple and obvious, but just because you can’t hang out in person with your workout buddy doesn’t mean you can’t still exercise together! There are tons of different options for video chat services that can be used for this. I’ve been enjoying Houseparty as of late. Running “together” while chatting is also great way to make sure you are staying at a conversational pace if you’re doing an easy run!

That’s all from me for now. If you have any tips or tricks for staying active and social while staying at home, feel free to drop them in the comments or reach out on social media! Stay safe and healthy out there, and keep washing those hands.