Oh 2020, how badly I want you to end now. Amidst this misery, we can at least take some weird pleasure in witnessing many unusual human behaviours during this season—the supermarket panic buying, the IKEA queues for tables and chairs, and the collective mourning of McDonald’s temporary closure.
When it comes to exercising and fitness, this lockdown seems to be more effective than any past New Year resolutions we made. However, for the majority of you who are suddenly buying yoga mats, dumbbells, and kettlebells—when active life before extended CB is literally just walking to and from the nearest hawker for lunch—trying to be active now might not be in your best interest.
While we do applaud your newfound spirit of fitness, if you’ve only started exercising during CB without a proper fitness plan, there’s a very high chance that you’re simply setting yourself up for failure. Pity your usually sedentary heart who now finds itself pumping blood faster and harder with absolutely no easing into such rigour.
For those who do not exercise regularly, this Circuit Breaker gives us an excellent opportunity to start keeping fit. Taking out commuting and our physical, and social life out of our daily routine equation, there aren’t many things to do at home after work and more so, on weekends. Exercising while on lockdown, naturally, is a good way to pass the time and make up for the lack of physical activity.
But, let’s consider reality after Circuit Breaker when our normal life resumes and we have McDonald’s back in operations, our favourite bubble tea stores reopen, and we can reunite with our homies once again. With all these temptations, I highly doubt this fitness regime can stand the test of these external ‘distractions’. How and where can exercising fit in our occupied schedule?
COVID-19 and post-LHL’s announcement has repeatedly convinced us how vulnerable Singaporeans are in falling into the trap of mob behaviour. We see the flock veer from supermarkets to IKEA, and subsequently, to MacDonald’s and bubble tea chains.
Decathlon is not spared Singaporeans’ grasp of panic buying. In over one weekend, exercise mats, regular weights went out of stock. If this herd mentality promotes an active lifestyle, it might not necessarily be a bad thing—at least the crowd motivates them.
Another downside with herd mentality is in figuring out what to do, after CB ends, with all this fitness equipment you’ve procured in your mad rush to blindly follow what everyone else is doing. That dumbbell, yoga mat, and kettlebell will no sooner start collecting dust before you deign to pick them up again.
The power of social media cannot be undermined. The fast-moving social media trends have developed a common intrapersonal trait—the fear of missing out (FOMO). FOMO is the sudden self-realisation of being excluded from a potentially rewarding experience that others are engaging in. Instagram is a vast breeding ground for such behaviour.
We have seen many fitness challenges trending on social media, such as the TikTok plank challenge, where people come in pairs to complete a plank variation sequence set. A more demanding challenge is the wall-supported handstand, where participants put on a shirt while staying in the handstand position.
These challenges are certainly entertaining to watch but even more enjoyable to be a part of. How can anyone decline the challenge especially when tagged by a friend to be part of the sustaining streak? This is the illness of a generation ruled by FOMO.
However, one must realise that these challenges require a good level of physical fitness, like core stability and arm strength. When you attempt challenges like these that are beyond your physical ability, it can lead to needless injury.
With the sudden influx of time and an overdose of boredom, we tend to incorporate exercise into our daily routine simply to kill time. For regulars, they reap the benefits of exercising—improved cardiovascular health, a good dose of happy hormones, and growth in muscular strength. However, for people who are used to a sedentary lifestyle, this radical change in lifestyle exposes them to bodily harm.
Even pre-recorded workout videos can be harmful, especially, with no professional trainers physically present to correct your form.
Also, bear in mind that exercising builds muscle fatigue, and the lethargy that comes with strenuous activities usually takes a couple of days to wear off. Repeating a similar daily routine consecutively means you are exercising through the soreness, which is a slippery slope of compromised forms and even more injuries.
Professional gyms have a broad range of equipment that caters to various physiques and fitness objectives. However, with the lack of proper gym equipment at home, most people can only rely on body weight. As much as I love bodyweight exercises, I must admit that in the absence of exercise modification knowledge, people with pre-existing injuries are vulnerable to aggravating old wounds.
Besides bearing the brunt of physical injuries, the sustainability of the mind should not be neglected.
“Since I have a lot of time at home now, let me exercise more so I can get fitter and lose some weight during Circuit Breaker.”
Exercising is great, but it is highly unrealistic if you have not been exercising regularly before. The sudden immense pressure is going to overwhelm your body and cause undue stress on your mind—more so when your body is unable to keep up to that frequency and intensity, it discourages you even further.
I know a friend who, in a bid to lose 20 kg in 6 months, embarked on an intense fitness regiment that sees him running, swimming, and jumping rope consistently over a week. Did he lose the weight? Yes. But, he also developed an ACL tear in his right knee, which means his days of running, and jumping rope is permanently behind him. Is it really worth losing a huge mass of weight that you can’t really sustain for a disability that stops you from being active?
But all the precautions I’ve listed should not stop you from embarking on a fitness journey today. If you’re serious about being active and keeping fit, you must take into consideration that your body is a temple—for some, it’s an old temple that hasn’t seen the light of day in a while. It benefits you, in the long run, to be more considerate about your physical condition, and understanding that this newfound motivation is a marathon, not a quick sprint.
Your body isn’t a machine. Rather than doing a full 30-minutes workout class, increase your workout duration progressively to gradually build muscle endurance.
Instead of running 5 km every night from the get-go, increase the mileage gradually over a couple of days or even weeks. It’s alright to start with a brisk walk over 1 or 2 km before progressing to a slow jog. Be proud that you have turned up instead of reprimanding and pushing yourself excessively to do more. Set realistic goals but do not pace yourself with someone else, especially when you are only just starting to work out.
Workout smart, not just hard; by planning your exercise schedule. While it is good to be physically active regularly, set recovery days in your calendar to dedicate time to stretch your muscles to release the tension, aid muscle recovery, and enable you to perform better.
Sure, running every day might seem a possibility, but remember that burnout is real. You’ll be active this week, but how likely are you to maintain that intensity if all you remember is the physical lethargy of working out? Slow down. Habits take a lifetime to cultivate.
Lastly, be mindful of your diet. Diet plays a more significant role in weight loss than mere exercising. Studies show that 80% of weight loss is attributed to the food on our table. Therefore, rather than just being excessively enthusiastic about working out, why not start by relooking your diet? Remember the golden food triangle we learned back in school? Time to revisit that.
It’s very tempting to stock up on snacks while working from home. If you find yourself feeling peckish for something sweet in midday, how about reaching out for some fruits instead of chips? Remember that you’re currently living a very sedentary life with lunch, toilet breaks, or a sip of water in less than 20 steps away. Being aware of your diet during this time will reap great dividends far beyond this Circuit Breaker period.
Remember that you are only human and you need time to learn a new skill and adapt to a new lifestyle and habit. So take heart, my friend, pace yourself, and don’t succumb to failure with unrealistic goals and numbers. Here’s to emerging from this Circuit Breaker healthier and with a long-term view of a lifestyle that is active and healthy.
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