Never let a crisis go to waste

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Gyms are closed due to the Corona pandemic. The impact of this public health intervention on our daily live is pretty big. Although most of us will agree to the importance and urgency of this intervention for our society, it might also cause stress on an individual level when working out feels like a necessity to stay physically and mentally fit; to enjoy the adrenaline and endorphin rush; and to feel the support of the gym community.

Worrying questions might come to mind, such as: “Will I lose my gains and endurance if I can’t workout at the gym? How do I maintain my weight loss process, or is  weight gain unavoidable during this lockdown? Will I lose my mind if I miss  the destressing effect of working out? How do I motivate myself to keep on track with my health, when I’m home alone without my gym buddies? Will this lockdown have an enormous negative effect on my goals in nutrition and sports? The facts demonstrate there is no need to stress out about the effects of this lockdown on your physical and mental health. You can even benefit from it. As long as you follow these two guidelines:

Guideline 1:  Reset your goals and mind

Working out at home can make you stronger

For those without a professional home gym, working out at home will be different than working out at the gym. Less or no external weight, no pullup bars, etcetera.  he emphasis will be on bodyweight exercises, metabolic conditioning, mobility and maybe mindfulness.

Training differently doesn’t necessarily mean your physical and mental health will  decrease. The lockdown doesn’t have to be a huge set back, if you will not let it be. The impact is mostly in your own hands!

Training in different and less familiar ways can create new stimuli and challenges to  your body and mind. Exposure to new stimuli is exactly what is needed for development and growth. Routine is the killer of health improvement. Training at home can actually make your stronger, physically and mentally (we’ll get back to that later).

Furthermore: training at home can support your regular gym (barbell) exercises.  Improvement of your pistol squats for example will contribute to your barbell squat. Pressing barbell movements will benefit from handstand pushups you can do at home. And basically, all movements will benefit from improvements of your cardiovascular and strength-endurance.

Take a look at the CrossFit pyramid:


The biggest contribution to wellbeing is proper nutrition, followed by metabolic conditioning and gymnastics. All of those things can be done at home without equipment!

Weightlifting at home might not be an option, but throwing might be. Same thing goes for playing different sports. When was the last time you went for a mountain bike ride or played basketball or tennis (you can even do that on your own)?

How to maximize the effect of home workouts

For home workouts to be effective, two things are required:

1. Reset your goals

No need to say that for home workout to be effective, you must give it your all, as you would in the gym. But that’s not all. We need to redefine them from: ‘the next best thing’, to ‘the best thing for now’.

You can feel sad because you’re not able to snatch with a heavy barbell during this  lockdown. You can also seize the opportunity to dissect that snatch into little components and practice fast foot work, strong turnover and tension in  the bottom by using a broom. You can be sure by the end of this lockdown, you will reap the benefits when you pick up that barbell!

It’s useless to endlessly cry over missing out on gym workouts. Does that make you feel better? Does that set you up for success? Don’t think so. Dry your tears and  reset your goals for this lockdown period.

-         What are the goats you can work on from home? Such as double unders, handstand pushups or pistols?

-         What home- exercises can contribute to movements you can only do at the gym? Such as the dissected snatch.

-         What are your desired PR’s in bodyweight exercises or metcons, such as max pushups or 5k run?

-         What aspect of your training needs attention but always ends up at the  bottom of your priority list, such as mobility or mindfulness. You can use this lockdown to start integrating mobility into your daily regime, so by the time the lockdown is over, it has become a natural habit.

2. Reset your mind

The second thing for home workouts to be effective is to approach them with a positive  mindset.

A positive mindset physically affects your performance.

We naturally tend towards negativity when the shit hits the fan. Our body and mind are  connected and the impact of a negative mindset on our physical health is  huge. A negative mindset triggers negative emotions and feelings. That induced  several hormonal processes in our body that negatively effect our performance, strength and metabolism, So a negative mindset can have a physical setback. In the same way, a positive mindset can improve your  physical performance, strength and metabolism.

A positive mindset helps us perform better and to stick to our healthy habits during this lockdown.

A negative mindset triggers negative emotions and feelings and likewise behavior. That makes it harder to execute workouts as intense as possible. Think of it: will you push yourself to the limit if your inner voice keeps telling you live  sucks? Furthermore, a negative mindset makes it harder to keep up the discipline of working out at  home and sticking to our daily healthy regime and habits during this  lockdown. Discipline is like a muscle: it needs to be trained on a daily basis, it’s a matter of use it or lose it. For most of us living a healthy  life isn’t always easy with temptations all over the place, stress from work  and family life, and whatever live throws at you.

What helps us is sticking to certain habits, to a certain internalized regime we don’t have  to think about daily. Such as the routine of packing your gym bag the evening  before, picking up your gym buddy every morning so you know you need to go  to, or prepping healthy meals so you always have something to rely on.

It can already be challenging to keep up our healthy routine in our normal daily life, let alone when things drastically change. This lockdown challenges us for sure. A negative mindset will not make things easier, it’s simply not helpful in any  thinkable way. A positive mindset will!

How home workouts improve mental health

Working out has huge health benefits for our body, but also for our brain. And that is great, since this lockdown can cause stressful situations. Being stuck at home with our family can cause tension, and we have to deal with the insecurity of not  knowing how Corona will develop, how long this lockdown takes, or what additional government interventions will be taken.

Working out stimulates the blood flow in our brain, which improves the performance of  brain cells, the connections between several parts of the brain and chemical  processes inside the brain. It improves especially those parts of the brain related to taking initiative and being motivated to do things (such as working out at home and sticking to your healthy habits!)

There is more: working out increases the levels of hormones that make us feel happy, more confident, less stressed and more resilient to temptation (such as netflixing in stead of doing a home workout, or eating chocolate in stead of a healthy meal). It releases chemicals that help our brain recover from stress and  reduce our risk of diseases such as dementia.

Working out at home has great benefits for our brain and mental health. Not only because of the physical effect of the workout itself, but also because we’re faced with unfamiliar things and the challenge to approach them with a positive mindset.  And this challenges our mental toughness, that by itself has great health benefits. 

Guideline 2:  Pretend there is no lockdown

When you’re stuck at home it can be tempting to become a couch potato with lots of  unhealthy stuff in the fridge. It only takes a few days for your healthy habits to vanish as if they were never there. You can prevent this by simple  act as if there is no lockdown. Might sound crazy, but it works!

If you have to work from home, act as if you would go to work

Set the alarm clock, take a shower, put on your suit and open your laptop. At lunch time,  have lunch. Walk around as you would at the office. Take the stairs although  there is no need to do that, do it anyway. Stay active as you would at the  office. Do exactly the same as you normally would do. Stick to that regime  and behavior.

If you have to work out at home, act as if you would go to the gym

Book your  workouts in your agenda and put on your gym clothes. Instead of picking up  your gym buddy call him/her and do the same workout at the same time at home (you can even Facetime meanwhile). Set goals for your workout: how many reps  do you want to achieve? And share your goals and your results with your gym buddies: virtually high five and support each other. Do exactly the same as  you normally would do. Stick to that regime and behavior.

If you have to eat at home, eat as you would normally do

You’re getting the point: buy the groceries and prep the meals you normally would do. Eat at the same time a day as you normally would do. Don’t buy extra snacks or junk  food and if it’s still somewhere in your home: give or throw it away. Do  exactly the same as you normally would do. Stick to that regime and behavior.

Furthermore: putting reminders in your sight, helps to stick to the regime: Put your gym bag where you can see it. What is in our sight is what gets our attention.

Reset nutrition

Do you need to adjust your nutrition to this lockdown? Not necessarily if there are no significant changes in your activity level. No, you will not gain 10 pounds if things stay pretty much the same. Focus on at least 400 grams of veggies and two pieces of fruit per day, a portion of lean meat, fish of vegetarian/vegan protein source, whole wheat products and lots of water. If you go down from working out seven days a week to zero, you might  want to reconsider downsizing your portions, preferably of the starchy stuff.

Never let a crisis go to waste

The lockdown challenges us, for sure. But there is no need to stress out.  Never waste a good crisis by resetting your goals and mindset, by sticking to your daily routine as if there is no lock down and by keeping up a healthy nutrition. By taking good care of yourself with exercise, nutrition and  relaxation, there is no need to let this crisis go to waste!

Create your own health!©