The COVID-19 pandemic has globally affected lives in an unforeseen manner. The new-normal has not only changed our social life but has also altered the landscape of fitness and physical health.

A research study published in the early stages of the pandemic by Cambridge Engage highlights that weekly physical activity reduced by 32.3% among previously active participants due to pandemic-related restrictions. Although not all weight gain can be considered unhealthy, studies reflect a correlation between weight gain and physical inactivity during the lockdown months.

The general population has gradually shifted to home workouts to continue their fitness journey, leaving us with two recent data sets in hand. While one indicates a shift towards home workouts, the other indicates increased weight gain, raising concerns over the effectiveness of home workouts: Can it ever replace a gym? Are we diagnosing and addressing the impediments to home workout fat loss?

Home workouts have their pros and cons. While it is convenient for exercising, it can also get boring and monotonous. Their effectiveness depends on the intensity and range offered. Also, when it comes to heavy muscle training with an array of equipment targeting specific body parts, a home set up cannot replace a gym.

However, if the goal is to get an athletic build or to lose fat, a customized home workout plan, addressing a few common mistakes is more than sufficient.

Science of Fat Oxidation

Scott Powers and Edward Howley discuss an interesting case study about fat burning and fuel sources in their Exercise Physiology. Fats act as a primary fuel source for muscle during low-intensity exercises, while carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for high-intensity exercising.

Also, during prolonged training of moderate-intensity (greater than 30 mins), there is a shift from carbohydrates to fats as the dominant fuel source. Both low-intensity and moderate-intensity exercises (>30mins) use a high percentage of energy expenditure derived from fat oxidation. Therefore, they are useful measures for burning fat and are best suited for working out under lockdown conditions.

Factors impeding fat loss 

  • Exercising alone is not sufficient to burn fat. A healthy diet is equally important. It is best to avoid artificial sugars as much as possible and maintain control over the consumption of fats.
  • Weight loss and toning depends heavily on high-intensity cardio and not on abs exercises. It is possible to grow abs, but one needs a body with low-fat percent for the abs to be visible, which could be achieved by optimum cardio training.
  • An often-discounted factor during the lockdown is the loss of step counts and daily physical movements due to the pandemic (catching a shuttle, taking your pet for a walk, moving around in the office). Thus, exercising first compensates for the loss in daily movements and then to burn fat.

Tips to maximize gains and efficiency of home workouts

  1. It is best to split 60, 75, or 90 minutes (or more) of the daily workout into two sessions of morning and evening. One session of stretching and cardio for 15-30 minutes, and another elaborate session for 45-60 minutes. The second session can consist of at least 30 minutes or plus of muscle training, bodyweight exercises, abs workout, followed by a 15-minute high-intensity cardio training. (A recommended resource for muscle training without equipment is Jordan Yeoh’s YouTube channel)
  2. Also, between the two main sessions, add 2-5 light sessions of low-intensity exercises. These light sessions are significant to keep the body physically active, compensate for the loss of daily movements, and target fat oxidation. Each session could be 1-3 minutes long, with an hour’s gap. They can be 10-20 pushups, 20-30 skipping ropes/ 20-30 high jumps or both.
  3. For the lower belly fat – hanging leg raises, reverse crunches, and ab wheel works well when performed with proper posture. Also, abs exercises followed by high-intensity cardio increases effectiveness.
  4. One of the best forms of cardio is running. However, if one is hesitant to move out, there are several alternatives:
  • If there is sufficient space, even 20-40 meters in the front yard, backyard, terrace, or around the house, use them to run 20-50 laps. Set achievable targets, and do not hesitate to stop if tired, especially at the beginning of the training.
  • In case of space crunch, place 5-7 sticks (or a scale) each 1.5-2 feet apart for a ladder circuit training.
  • If you have a basketball or a football, there’s a lot you can do. Befriend the wall, make mental cues, and train hard. Also, circuit football training is highly effective. (agility cones can be replaced with water bottles)
  • High-intensity cardio training can be achieved by stationary workouts too. One can choose 4-6 exercises from these- mountain climbers, jumping jacks, butt kicks, high knees, burpees, reverse burpees, sprawls, frog jump, and squat jumps and perform them for 30-40 seconds each, completing one cycle. A minimum of 2 cycles is necessary.

The efficacy of home workouts, to a large extent, depends on your input, intensity, and dedication. It requires some guidance, a scientific basis, and most importantly – an understanding that fat accumulation is a gradual process over several months. Hence, it is both harsh and naive to demand immediate results of the body. Adapting to the new-normal workout situation could be time consuming and painful, but as one gets a firm grip, it is a self-satisfying process.

Author Bio: Dennis Wesley is an independent educational researcher. He mainly 
writes about physical and mental health, academia, and humanities. Dennis is 
also a fitness fanatic who loves nature runs. He has been in the fitness industry 
for six years and loves experimenting with his body. You can follow his blog and
Twitter here and here, respectively.
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