My history with exercise is a winding and emotional saga. There was my childhood as a provincial champion rhythmic gymnast (sorry, I don’t give autographs) and then nearly two decades of next to nothing. There was 18 months of passion about eight years back when I decided, hey, maybe I can be a person who likes the gym! That was followed by six months of tumult as I moved provinces and went back to school at 30 in an attempt at a career switch. (A major life change that threw my hard-earned healthy habits into the abyss.) There have been flirtations with spinning and a couple of dusty gym memberships in the intervening years but it wasn’t until about three months into lockdown that I tried home workouts and, this time, the habit stuck.
Was I transformed suddenly into a Person Who Works Out Daily and who has great core strength? Absolutely not. But does my mental and physical health feel better since I started sometimes trading lifting the chip bag for bicep curls? 100%. Maintaining the habit also gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride (it’s 2020, yes I deserve a trophy for moving my body). I’m not entirely sure why the habit has stuck this time after many early summer failures-to-launch but I can credit it, at least in part, to a combination of anxious motivation to not die a sloth, finding workouts that are challenging enough without making me feel like a total failure and gathering a small collection of items that *actually* makes me excited to get a sweat on in my home gym (AKA the area in my living room that’s big enough for jump squats if I push my coffee table alllllllll the way back).
To be sure, getting a cute and functional home gym situation set up doesn’t necessarily come cheap, but I decided that while I’m lucky to still be employed, funnelling some of the cash I used to spend in the Before Times on dinners out, bi-weekly gel manicures and regular shopping excursions into my health was a worthwhile swap.
Here, I round up the things, from workout subscriptions and ankle weights to excellent ear buds, that have helped me stay motivated to move my body in quarantine. If I have one piece of amateur advice to offer, it’s this: If you think a sassy matching workout set, pair of adorable baby yellow weights or a cool marble-patterned yoga mat will inspire you to exercise, and you can afford it, just do it! (Is that where the popular slogan comes from?! I knew there was an athlete in me!)
The HIIT workouts that changed everything
Gabi’s Fitness Studio, $15 USD per month, gabisfitness.com
Personal trainer Gabi Garbarino is a native Montrealer like moi whose fitness ethos is all about sculpting lean, not bulky, muscle. TBQH, at the beginning of this quarantine experiment, my fitness goals were small and achievable: 1) get through the entire 40- to 45-minute workout. 2) Don’t drop dead. The first eight videos in Gabi’s repertoire set you up with the proper form and guide you through her training format (a combination of tabata and HIIT circuits) and as of video nine, they become “live” style which means that Gabi is working out alongside you—counting you down, reminding you about the correct form and encouraging you with useful prompts. I still curse at my screen with every jump lunge but I can’t get enough of Gabi’s videos; plus, she uploads a new one every Monday and Wednesday so things stay fresh.
The matching workout set that doesn’t roll
Everlane The Perform Legging, $87, everlane.com, and The Perform Bra, $48, everlane.com
I have tried a lot of different workout leggings and sports bras in my day and this matching set is truly special. It is primo from a performance standpoint; the high waistband doesn’t roll, even when I’m doing things like mountain climbers, and the bra provides a solid amount of support without feeling suffocating. It’s also ridiculously comfortable (everything stays put without digging into any wobbly bits) and it’s just plain cute. I feel good in it. Never have I ever wanted to gallivant around in nothing but a sports bra but 2020 has been nothing if not surprising in every possible way.
Read this next: How to Start Running If You’ve Never Run Before
The Instagram ankle weights that really *are* that good
Bala Bangles Classic 1lb, $69, shopbala.com
Yes, I absolutely decided I wanted, nay NEEDED, these chic bracelet weights after spotting them all over Instagram and on the ankles and wrists of some of my favourite fitness pros. When I saw they were frequently sold out, I of course wanted them more. I finally managed to get my hands on a pair, and when I say they don’t disappoint, I mean it. I’ve never owned a pair of ankle weights that aren’t both hideous to look at and uncomfortable to wear. Aside from being easy on the eyes, they don’t slide around the wrists or ankles or scratch. Sayonara, shitty 2004 Jillian Michaels ankle weights that left little gouges on my delicate ankles!
FWIW, I also tracked down the new Bala Bars ($78, shopbala.com) after attempting to purchase some basic 3lb free weights online and being laughed off the internet. Did you know lots of people also started building their home gyms during COVID?! These are not cheap but at press time, the cheapest ’80s-style dumbbell I could find on Amazon was going for around $50. And these smooth little babies are infinitely more comfortable to hold than the plastic 5lb monstrosities I bought at a garage sale a hundred years ago. Plus, they remind me of Tic Tacs, which brings me joy. Small pleasures!
The sun protection you need even for, yes, indoor workouts
Clarins Dry Touch Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+, $32, clarins.ca
Yes, you *do* need to wear sunscreen indoors every day, even if you spend 23 hours inside and the pandemic has you skater jumping in your living room. I’m partial to this antioxidant-rich SPF that keeps my money maker safe from the sun’s harmful rays and has the most divine smell—an intoxicating blend of tangerine, orange, blackcurrant, peony and sandalwood—that reminds me of summer.
The fitness tracker to beat them all
Apple Watch Series 6, Series 6 with GPS starts at $529 CAD, and Series 6 with GPS + Cellular starts at $659 CAD, apple.com
If the Fitbit was my gateway drug to fitness tracking (oh, the thrill of getting those first 10,000 steps!), the Apple Watch got me all the way addicted. The start of my lockdown fitness journey directly coincided with me getting my first Apple Watch and it is proved to be a game-changer for me. I’m obsessed with tracking every workout and closing my activity rings (do not mention August 23 when I forgot to put my watch on in the morning and didn’t close my Standing Ring) but the new watchOS 7 has even more features that keep me on track. The Workout App now has four new workout types—Core Training, Dance, Functional Strength Training and Cooldown—supported by heart rate monitoring and custom motion algorithms to make sure your exertion is tracked as accurately as possible. The Dance type, which was tested with Bollywood, cardio dance, hip-hop and Latin dancing, is especially cool: The watch uses advanced sensor fusion, combining data from the heart rate sensor and inputs from the accelerometer and gyroscope, that accounts for the unique challenges of measuring different body-to-arm motions typical with dance. Science! Has this inspired me to try Zumba? I’ll never tell.
Read this next: Here’s What to Expect When Your Gym Reopens
The low-impact Pilates flows for when you want something chill
Melissa Wood Health, $9.99 USD per month, melissawoodhealth.com
The MWH method is a series of controlled, low-impact movements that combines yoga and Pilates, but don’t be fooled by the whole “low impact” thing. You *will* sweat like a donkey following her flows that range from eight to 40 minutes but there’s nary a jump in sight. She drops a new flow every Monday along with a suggested workout schedule. A sweet bonus is the MWH app that lets you easily take the workouts on the road with you (if you’re, say, safely staying in a hotel) or cast them on your larger screens at home. She also offers lovely guided meditations for when you need an extra dose of zen.
The yoga mat that doubles as a cool runner
Design Lab 3.5mm Combo Mat – Geo, $106, yogadesignlab.com
Listen, aesthetics aren’t everything but when your apartment is your home, office, gym, restaurant and movie theatre, it really helps if something is nice to look at. In the words of André Leon Talley, my eyes are starved for beauty! Thankfully, this mat is not just aesthetically pleasing, but technically superior and made from conscious materials—a layer of natural tree rubber is bonded to an absorbent recycled microfibre towel layer so you don’t need a separate mat and towel. Bonus points for being free of silicone, toxic glue and phthalates since, you know, you put your face on this thing.
Read this next: These Canadian Gyms Are Offering Free Live-Streaming Workouts
The wireless ear buds that stay put
Google Pixel Buds, $239, store.google.com
These ear buds get top marks for comfort and staying power—they sit comfortably and unobtrusively in your ears and don’t budge, even when one might be flailing around in some torturous burpy-plank-squat move designed to kill a person. (Just kidding, Gabi!) Plus, they’re sweat- and water-resistant which makes them ideal for getting your schvitz on.
The neighbourhood walk pick-me-up
Fenty Beauty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Blush, $26, sephora.com
Hear me out! On the days when the thought of a plank or crunch make me want to go fetal, I listen to my body and hit the pavement instead. When I feel like a slug that just crawled out of a gutter but don’t want to put on makeup (remember daily makeup? LOL), I tap a bit of this creamy miracle on my cheeks after doing my skincare and it’s an instant pick-me-up for what is likely my big outing of the day. Let me have this!