Choosing the fitness programme that’s the best fit for you is challenging at any time, but during a pandemic when many of us are in lockdown and gyms are closed, it could put you off completely.
It’s well known that January is one of the most popular times of the year for people to set new fitness goals after over-indulging during the holidays.
As if life isn’t overwhelming enough right now, we’ve had to totally rethink how we’re going to get our exercise in. For many of us, this involves turning our living rooms and bedrooms into home gyms.
According to Retail Times, on the day of the most recent UK lockdown announcement, market research showed huge spikes in at-home exercise equipment sales. Compared with last year’s sales, the increase was astronomical. Here’s what they said:
“When analysing sales data from the day that lockdown was announced (4 January), the team noticed a significant increase in interest for products typically associated with home workouts. When comparing current sales year-on-year, weight benches saw the biggest increase, jumping by a massive +5,166%. Dumbbells (+3,464%), kettlebells (+2,482%) and fitness steps (+2,784%) also saw huge growth when compared to the same dates in 2020.”
Moreover, the first week of January saw a huge jump in Google searches for terms like “New lockdown exercise rules”, “New exercise rules”, “Can you drive to exercise in new lockdown” and “Can I exercise with another person”.
I can guarantee that I was one of those people doing the Googling.
Things to consider when choosing a fitness programme
We’re really spoiled for choice. There are so many fantastic programmes out there and instructors have adapted amazingly to the world of online fitness (Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, is a prime example).
After much deliberation and comparison, I settled on a programme for women over 50 that combines Pilates, yoga, cardio and resistance training. It’s called CoreStrength50Plus. I also joined a Facebook fitness group to help keep me motivated.
The aim of the group’s members is to do 221 workouts in 2021 (get it?). These don’t have to be killer workouts, but it’s just a way of making sure daily movement is a regular part of our lives, to cheer each other on and to offer some accountability.
If you’re still trying to decide what’s the best fit for you – whether you’re thinking of buying a programme or creating your own – you might want to check out the below list of considerations and questions before you commit to an exercise regimen. I hope you’ll find them helpful.
Time and commitment
It’s important to find out how long each workout is going to take. If you sign up for a 1.5-hour yoga class twice a week, will you be able to fit that into your schedule? Or if the workout only lasts 30 minutes, will you feel like you need to add something else to your fitness regimen?
If you tell yourself that you’re going to go for a 5-mile run three times a week, how does that work with your other commitments and obligations? And are you disciplined enough to stick to it without outside support or an accountability partner? If not, how will get that support?
On another note, I’ve learned the hard way that a “Get fit in just 20-minutes a day!” claim usually doesn’t account for the obligatory warm-up and stretching afterwards, which sometimes can make the workout twice as long. Apparently, there are a lot of people out there (like me) who are looking to get fit in the least possible amount of time, and fitness coaches often have this in mind when they’re building their marketing strategies.
It’s not just because I need to make the time to fit it into my schedule; I also need to psychologically prepare myself for how much time each workout will last. I’ve learned to ask about this before signing up.
As far as long-term commitment, it’s good to know whether you work better with fixed goals like an 8-week programme or a 30-day challenge, or whether you just want to choose your exercises and do them with no specific end date in mind. Personally, I need to cross a “finish line” to get that sense of achievement.
Injuries & low impact options
I don’t know how many programmes I’ve signed up to where I forgot to email them in advance to check whether they took into consideration injuries (knee, back, etc.) and joint problems.
For example, joining a programme that has loads of deep lunges and squats may not be the best option if you have a knee injury, unless the instructor provides alternative techniques. And if you can’t jump around, it’s wise to make sure that there’s a low impact option available for the various moves.
Some fitness programmes seem too good to be true (see time commitment). As someone who struggles to find the joy in working out just for the sake of working out, I tend to be drawn to programmes that boast how easy it is to get fit.
I remember joining one programme that marketed itself as being suitable for all levels with quick results and simple workouts, but in reality, it was way beyond my fitness level. Inevitably, I quit after a few weeks. There was no scale-down option and it left me really discouraged because I just couldn’t do some of the exercises. And I could barely walk for a week after trying.
Ten burpees in a row may be easy for some people, but not me!
Now I always dig a bit deeper and find out what the workouts are going to be like beforehand. Sometimes this means emailing the coach or customer service team, but it’s well worth it before you part with your hard-earned cash.
Another thing to look out for is the instructor’s personality and fitness approach. Are they bubbly and cheerful, or do they just get down to business? Are you someone who likes fun workouts with lively music and lots of flash, or do you prefer a quieter and more focussed experience?
Do you want someone who takes a warm and fuzzy approach, or are you looking for a drill sergeant?
Also – and I realise this may sound superficial – are you motivated by someone who is painfully gorgeous, perfectly sculpted and 20 years younger than you, or somebody who’s fit and knows what they’re doing, but could be your best mate?
Types of exercises & equipment needed
Considering what types of exercises you want to do in the programme is also critical, depending on your fitness goals. For instance:
- Are you looking for cardio to boost your stamina or lose weight, strength/resistance to build muscle and improve bone health, Pilates to strengthen your core, yoga for flexibility, strength and tone, not to mention the spiritual aspects…or all of the above?
- Do you enjoy high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or would you rather do a steady state cardio workout?
- Are you prepared to use (and possibly buy) gym equipment?
Which leads me to the next point. Think about whether the programme requires you to buy any equipment like Pilates balls, gym balls, medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands, steps, yoga blocks, weights, foam rollers, a mat, etc.
Structure and format
Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to think about how structured you want your programme to be, whether you want to join scheduled classes or do a self-led regimen, and whether you need some monitoring or accountability built-in.
Are you the type of person who likes everything mapped out for you down to the time slot of the live Zoom class? Or do you prefer to have less structure and more flexibility? Can you count on yourself to stick to the plan or do you need someone (or something) to check in with you?
I fall somewhere in the middle. I need enough structure to be told that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’ll be doing the designated workout (following along with a video); on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I’ll be doing my cardio; and on Sunday I’ll be resting.
Beyond that, I can schedule the workouts for whatever time is convenient and I can do whatever sort of cardio suits me. And my Facebook group gives me the accountability that I need – they’re not hassling me, but if I go quiet for a few days, people will check in with me.
Another consideration is the format of your workouts. Do you need live human interaction like a Zoom class, or are you happy to exercise on your own, following a video or even written instructions? I much prefer the latter… Zoom classes freak me out!
What’s your fitness style?
Have you changed your fitness regimen since the pandemic started? What are you doing to keep fit? Let me know in the comments below!