Creative Alternatives to Fitness Routines During COVID-19

Lifting weights at home


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Key Takeaways

  • Your regular workout may be unavailable or unsafe during the pandemic.
  • You can still maintain an exercise routine while staying at home and staying safe.
  • Try home-based versions of weight-training, cardio, and stretching exercises.

If you’re the type of person who likes routine, you may have a regular time and place you work out, as well as a favorite go-to form of exercise. Perhaps this looks like consistent visits to a gym or fitness center or a jog on a well-worn path. But now that gyms are closed and some outdoor activities are restricted due to COVID-19, many of us are having to tweak our usual fitness habits.

There’s no denying it’s tough to find a new workout rhythm, especially when challenging circumstances may be sapping your energy and motivation. But remember that staying active can help counteract the stay-at-home blues (and help mitigate the effects of overdoing it on quarantine snacking).

Until times change and gyms, hiking trails, and bike paths reopen, we suggest giving these alternatives to common fitness routines a try.

Weight Lifting

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a gym rat to get an effective weight-based workout!

Body Weight Exercises

Even without machines or free weights, you can use your own bodyweight to create the resistance that builds muscle.

Arms: Try planks, pushups, tricep dips, and burpees.

Legs: Try squats, leg raises, lunges, and calf raises.

Back and Core: Try planks, bridges, and supermans

Get Creative With Household Items

Alternatively, to continue strength training without actual weights, simply look around the house. The more you view your household possessions with a focused eye, the more you may notice how many everyday objects can be used for reps.

Get creative by using water bottles, canned goods, or even a rolling pin as lighter weights. To take it up a notch, books or filled gallon jugs can work for heavier lifting. (Just use caution with anything oddly-shaped.)

For DIY resistance bands, reach for something long and stretchy, like a flexible belt or bungee cord.

Home Weight Set Up

If you’re still craving the feel of pumping real iron, consider investing in a home weight set. (Order online to minimize social exposure.) Many dumbbells and free weights retail for inexpensive prices, with a variety of options for sizes, textures, and colors. Even kettlebells and curl bars often sell for less than you might pay in a month for a gym membership. Bonus: Once you’ve purchased these items, you’ll have the option to strength train at home, even after the gym opens back up.

However, during the pandemic, many online sites are sold out of fitness gear or delaying shipments. Check your local big-box store; they may have inventory, as well as contactless pickup options. Sites like Craiglist are another alternative—again, if you can arrange contactless pickup. Be sure to disinfect anything you purchase.

Cardio Classes

Cardiovascular exercise comes with innumerable advantages: it burns fat, strengthens the heart, reduces stress, increases lung capacity, and promotes better sleep…what more could we want right now?

Online Classes

Attending in-person cardio classes also offers social interaction and a sense of community—so it’s understandable if you’re bummed about having to miss your regular aerobics or kickboxing class at the gym. Still, the closer you can get to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, the better you’ll likely feel.

There are plenty of excellent—and convenient—ways to get your heart pumping during quarantine, even though they may not look the same as attending a class.

For one thing, in light of stay-at-home orders, many gyms, influencers, and fitness apps have begun offering free streamed videos of their in-person classes. (Check here for a list.) YouTube is a treasure trove of free cardio content for all fitness levels. And if you are an Amazon Prime member, you have access to thousands of free fitness and exercise videos.

Dance It Out

Remember, too, that a stay-at-home order can’t keep you from dancing! Put on your favorite playlist and dance out your stress for thirty minutes or so. This makes a great activity to do with kids. Make a family dance party your nightly after-dinner routine before turning on screens.

Cardio Cleanup

If having the whole family home is increasing your housecleaning tasks, try converting household chores into a cardio workout.

Set a timer, crank up some upbeat music, and get to work on higher-intensity chores like vacuuming, mopping, and cleaning shower walls top to bottom. Not feeling the burn? Do jumping jacks or jog up and down the stairs between each chore. 

Circuit Training

Circuit training typically combines weight-bearing exercise and cardio in small spurts to make a cohesive workout. Fortunately, this type of exercise doesn’t require a large space or special equipment, making it ideal for quarantine.

To get ready for an at-home circuit, make a list of about 10 cardio and strength activities you can confidently do for 30 to 60 seconds at a time. Squats, jumping jacks, cherry pickers, mountain climbers, you name it! (See examples here.) Set a timer or watch the clock as you cycle through each burst of activity. Repeat as necessary to reach your target workout length. A good circuit workout only needs to last 20 to 30 minutes, as long as you're keeping your heart rate and intensity up.

Exercise Machines

Sometimes it seems like gym-goers are divided into two camps: the class attendees and the exercise machine folks. If you’re in the latter group—but don’t have gym machinery at home—you may need to try a creative approach to recreate the experience of a stair climber, stationary bike, treadmill, or other apparatus. 

Obviously, the physical activities of climbing stairs, biking, and running existed before gym equipment, so perhaps it’s time to get back to those basics. Use your home staircase or nearby bleachers for a DIY stepping workout. Haul your bike out of storage and hit the road to get some fresh air on two wheels. Lace up your running shoes and go for a jog on a low-traffic path where you can keep social distance.


The beauty of a yoga practice lies in its flexibility (no pun intended!). As with cardio classes, many yoga studios, gyms, and apps are currently offering free online versions of their in-person sessions, so take advantage of these offers to keep your practice strong. You may find that trying a different gym or teacher exposes you to a new form of yoga you’ve never experimented with.

Even while sheltering in place, everyone from complete beginners to seasoned yogis can tailor their own stretching workout that loosens stiffness, builds muscle, and cultivates inner stillness. If you’ve been practicing for a while, you might focus on poses you don’t usually get to savor in a guided class or spend more time on refining difficult poses you’ve always wished you could do.

What This Means For You

While you may need to change your exercise routine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you definitely don't need to give it up. There are many weight-training, yoga, circuit-training, and cardio options you can do at home or (safely) outside.

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