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Gyms and fitness studios closed en masse during the pandemic, but exercise is part of self-care and has strong stress-relieving benefits.
I asked my colleagues to share the 23 things that helped them get moving in quarantine, from great gear and equipment to engaging online classes.
In 2020, many of us had to approach exercise in a different direction.
As gyms and studios closed, people turned to at-home options like Peloton and Tonal and apps such as Aaptiv and Daily Burn. Affordably priced dumbbells and resistance bands became scarce as their supply chains stalled and demand rose, and favorite workouts with cult followings tested out digital versions.
Our exercise options shifted, but so did our motivation. It turns out that months of isolation - under the omnipresent anxiety of a pandemic - can put a damper on the human spirit. Sometimes, we didn't want to move; We wanted to sit on the couch until we melted into it. As Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos told me earlier this year, sometimes we simply crave junk food - be it mental, emotional, or deep-fried. Getting through 2020 was an accomplishment enough without self-improvement plans.
But, here's the thing: it feels good to move - to stretch, walk, and release endorphins. And it can feel especially satisfying to connect to our bodies now, at the very least, when we can't so easily connect with our loved ones. So, for the sake of our mental health - perhaps even more than our physical health - we found new reasons to move. And, on the days when we needed to rest, we rested.
To offer a variety of tried-and-true options, I asked my colleagues to share the things that have helped them to get moving this year. You can find our favorites below.
23 products that motivated us to move our bodies during quarantine:
My partner and I got really into SoulCycle at the beginning of the year, and when the studios started shutting down in March, we panicked and bought the brand's at-home bike (which happened to launch at just the right time). We did the math and found that it would ultimately be more affordable in the long run to have the at-home bike and just go to studio classes one time a week instead of two or three. The monthly membership to access at-home classes is $40, which is less than a single class costs in Brooklyn.
Seven months or so later, I'm still so glad we bought it! I of course worried that it would just be a shiny new toy that lost its glow after a month or two, but I still find so much joy in taking spin classes and building my strength at home. Also, the fact that we spent that much money on it keeps me committed.
The big benefit of buying the SoulCycle bike over Peleton is that we can take classes with some of the same teachers we've met in studios across the city. We know who to go to if we're having a hard day (Ariel Padilla!), and we know whose classes are going to kick our butts (Junior Kennedy!). If you were enmeshed in the SoulCycle community before the pandemic, you'll likely love riding on this bike and having the option to take classes with familiar instructors. Plus, the bike now has the option to stream Netflix, Disney+, Spotify, and more in the new Free Ride mode, and you can take live-streamed classes, too. — Sally Kaplan, senior editor
Giro Cadet Road Cycling Shoes
If you're going to invest in a spin bike, be it a Peloton, a SoulCycle At Home bike, or a NordicTrack, you'll need a good pair of spin shoes to go with it. I've been testing nearly a dozen pairs for an upcoming overhaul to our guide to the best shoes for spin class, and the Giro Cadet shoes are the pair I keep coming back to for personal use. The BOA closure allows you to twist a dial that uniformly tightens your shoe across your foot, ensuring even support without any hotspots or pain points. A secondary velcro strap above your toes provides additional support to keep your foot from sliding around. And the padding around the ankle and in the footbed makes for a comfortable ride without making the shoe feel bulky.
Though many sites split this shoe's sizing into men's and women's, the Cadet is unisex with no design differences in the shoes. Cycling shoes should fit snugly, but shouldn't feel too small or painful. I found that Giro's shoes run small, so consider sizing up a half size. One last note: cleats (the hard plastic pieces that allow you to clip your shoes into the bike pedals) aren't included with many spin shoes, so you'll need to buy them separately. I like these, and they're not expensive. — Jen Gushue, editor
Barry's At Home
I know that when I'm in an in-person fitness class, I can count on the instructor's energy to push me through a difficult set. I was skeptical about how a communal experience and the spirit of an instructor would translate through a screen, but I found myself pleasantly surprised during Barry's at-home classes.
Conducted over Zoom, they were well-organized, featured fun and enthusiastic instructors, and had enough participants working out with their cameras on that I didn't feel self-conscious about turning mine on. The bodyweight classes — though only 45 min long including warm-up and warm-down and less intense than the Barry's in-person studio classes — still kicked my butt every single time. But thanks to the encouragement and sense of community in these Zoom sessions, I actually looked forward to working out a few times a week.
There are a lot of classes and instructors to choose from, and it took me a few classes to figure out which instructors were my favorite. I also shared my credits with friends, so we could bond and make new memories together, even while miles apart. — Connie Chen, senior reporter
Nike Run Club App
I only run once a week, usually to clear my head, but the Nike Run Club app has been a great way for me to track my progress and keep me accountable. It's easy and intuitive to use, and there are a bunch of guided run programs if you're not sure how you want to run today. I try not to focus too much on numbers and times, so I like that the app only talks in your ear to let you know your mile splits and is otherwise quiet. I like anything that spits my data back out at me in a digestible way, and the app makes it easy to look back at all your previous routes, how many runs you've completed, and personal records (like longest run, farthest run, and birthday run). — Connie Chen, senior reporter
Jaybird Tarah Pro Wireless Headphones
I've used these headphones nearly every day for more than two years. I love their sound quality, consistency, and comfortable feel, plus they charge super quickly so I rarely have to embark on a walk or run without my precious music and podcasts. They also stay very snug in my ears no matter what kind of workout I'm doing, be it running, jump-roping, or weights. Once they've connected automatically to your phone, you can skip, pause, play, and adjust the volume of your audio simply by pressing the buttons by your right ear. When it felt like there were so many other things in the way of building a consistent fitness routine this year, these earbuds proved to be the reliable rock I needed. Full review here. — Connie Chen, senior reporter
Mirror Workout Mirror
I'm not going to pretend this is an affordable device for most people, nor a necessary one. If you can self-motivate, you can get a great workout in at home by streaming inexpensive classes to your TV or computer — and save yourself a lot of money. But, I've been using the Mirror for a few months now, and it has been a particularly useful tool for motivating myself to work out. Firstly, it's thin and inconspicuous — so it's one of the only workout tools that fit in my small apartment — and secondly, its prime location and plethora of diverse classes, which I can access at any time of day, has greatly improved my workout consistency. It's next to my bed, so I got into the habit of doing a stretchy yoga session before work or during lunch every day, and it's been wonderful. You can find my full review here. — Mara Leighton, senior reporter
Manduka Pro Yoga Mat
I've noticed consistency and enjoyment in my workouts share a direct relationship — so I invest in good gear without much guilt. This hot yoga mat is a great example; it's dense and thick, and it doesn't move once you've heard it "smack" against the ground. The GRP is designed for sweaty hot yoga, and it's the only yoga mat I've comfortably used in one of those classes without a towel. It's not perfect, and I've still lost traction sometimes, but it's better for slippage than all the other mats I've used. And now that I'm not going to hot yoga classes, I've had more time to enjoy its thick, cushiony protection against my hardwood floors. I've owned it for a few years now, and it's worth the investment. — Mara Leighton, senior reporter
NordicTrack Commercial 1750
The other tools help to motivate me, but having a treadmill in the house is what makes all the difference. I save the best audiobooks, TV shows, podcasts, and playlists for the end of the day, and I listen or watch while I exercise. It's a nice break for some "me-time" that signals the end of the workday. Not only is an indoor exercise machine pretty indispensable for isolating in Minnesota in January, but it's also so convenient to customize; I walk or run depending on how I'm feeling, and I change the speed and incline frequently to cater to my energy that day. There's no pressure. — Mara Leighton, senior reporter
The Be.Come Project
In adulthood, it's gotten easier to design my life, and that autonomy has allowed me to more-or-less remove many of the people and platforms that promote body shame. I've replaced them with ones that reinforce the belief that exercise is best done for health, endorphins, and giving thanks to a body that never needed to look a particular way to deserve love. For me, one of those platforms is "The Be.come Project" on Instagram. You can do its "approachable, inclusive, and body-neutral" workouts ($35/month), or simply follow along for opportunities to rewire your thinking. It's one reason why, when I do work out, I can connect to my body with less and less judgment. And it's so much more fun and fulfilling when you can work out for yourself — and not because you feel like a never-ending project. — Mara Leighton, senior reporter
My Fitbit has helped me turn working out into a low-stakes game with a built-in reward system. If I'm having a sedentary day and don't feel like exercising, I ignore its prompts to "move" — or turn the notifications off. But, more often than not, the Fitbit's fireworks when I hit my daily goals (which aren't extreme) are enough to incentivize me to work out or "get some steps in." It makes my efforts feel tangible and long term as well as accessible (I choose my own goals). And, when it's not being used for fitness, it reminds me of the other aspects of my well-being — like the quality of my sleep. But, my Charge 2 is pretty old, so I'd suggest investing in a newer Fitbit.
Audiobooks and Masterclasses
I can't focus on my work and listen to the podcasts or audiobooks during the day, so I save them for my evening run or walk — which keeps me motivated. I typically end up forfeiting a book or MasterClass and listening to music if I'm not already hooked on the story, but podcasts work well (sometimes I listen at a faster speed than the default setting). I like to listen to thrillers for the extra adrenaline on upbeat walks and, for music, I recommend giving in to the worst, most indulgent pop music you can find. I guess the key is making a workout feel like a treat, whatever that means for you. For audiobooks, I'd suggest checking out Scribd, which has a huge library for a low fee, or Libby — which lets you get in line for e-books offered by your local library. — Mara Leighton, senior reporter
Waterproof Running Armband
I'm someone who takes forever to notice when something feels uncomfortable or inconvenient, hence why I kept running with my phone in my hand for years. Because I'm also a choosy workout song listener, I eventually missed a crack in the road when I was looking down at my Spotify and ended up with a bloody knee that was worse than all my childhood playground injuries combined. Anyway, this armband was $17, stores my phone and keys, and makes running with music less needlessly cumbersome, so it definitely helps me do it more, especially since I've been exclusively running outside during the pandemic. — Julia Pugachevsky, editor
Patagonia Houdini Jacket
After eyeing this jacket for months — and continually seeing it on "best running jacket" lists — both my boyfriend and I got it. At first, I was skeptical. It's see-through thin, which seemed counterintuitive to what it was supposed to do: keep me warm as temperatures dropped. However, though I still don't understand the science behind this, it really works! I feel warm without overheating the way I would in a big sweatshirt, and it blocks the cold wind from touching my sweat. The weirdest part is when you take the jacket off after a particularly arduous run, you can visibly see sweat droplets on the inside layer, which feels like something out of a sci-fi movie but also shows that it must be working??? All I know is: I can run in 30-degree weather in just a long t-shirt and this jacket and feel perfectly fine, which helps me run for far longer than I would otherwise. — Julia Pugachevsky, editor
Absolutely none of my coworkers will be surprised by my mention of Rumble, because I haven't stopped talking about the HIIT boxing class for a large part of my time at Insider. For much of my life, I avoided all workout classes due to the incredible degree of discomfort I felt imagining myself awkwardly stumbling through them. Rumble's in-person classes completely flipped the script: Between the lights remaining off the entire time, music blasting, and the focus that boxing requires, it is nearly impossible to focus on anything other than exactly what you're doing — a concept that both quieted my mind and reassured me that no one else in the room was paying attention to me.
Since March, Rumble has adapted through its digital classes on its IGTV page, through Zoom, or on the Variis app, as well as outdoor classes in applicable regions where it's safe to attend. The online classes don't exactly provide the same satisfaction as the in-person experience (punching the air can feel a bit awkward), but Rumble's trainers do an excellent job of motivating and validating attendees, making the at-home environment as close to the in-class experience as possible. — Emily Hein, story producer
Stamina 55-1602 Inmotion Elliptical
I'll admit that when multiple members of my family began to rave about this portable elliptical, I was more than skeptical. The idea of a machine that can conveniently fit under your desk, in my mind, even further blurred the lines of work/life balance that can be difficult for many to maintain while working from home. Fast forward about a month, and I use my sister's Stamina Inmotion Elliptical more often than she does.
The machine is relatively simple to set up and even easier to use, and as New York City gets colder and colder, it's been valuable to have a way to move my body while indoors that isn't a high-intensity workout. I prefer to use it while standing, although it can also be used while seated with no required adjustments. The Stamina Inmotion has also provided more control over my workouts — allowing me to get in some movement at a time that works for me, rather than locking myself into a digital workout at a specific time. — Emily Hein, story producer
Pilates is one of the only workouts I can stick to for any length of time, and as someone who loves a reformer class, I've been a bit lax with my workouts during quarantine. So when my favorite studio, New York Pilates, launched its online platform, I was excited to start working out again. I don't have a reformer at home, but the site offers mat workouts, too, as well as prenatal workouts. You can take a pre-packaged "class" or mix and match videos on your own.
It's been a great way for me to ease myself back into working out. It's not exactly the same as my favorite reformer classes, but it's enough to make me feel like I'm being active again. And while I wish the classes would offer modifications to some of the more difficult motions (especially considering a lot of us have been out of practice for the better part of a year), if you've taken Pilates before, it's easy to figure out modifications on your own. That said, beginners might have a little trouble with these classes. — Maria Del Russo, editor
OYO Personal Gym
In early March, just prior to NYC lockdown, I felt I had finally gotten into a good routine at the gym. As a former D1 athlete, I was struggling to find the motivation to exercise without some sort of competitive goal as the driving force. The timing for this was all too convenient; my reinvestment into working out, the pandemic lockdown, and ultimately, the release of the OYO Personal Gym on Kickstarter. At a time when gym equipment was nearly impossible to find, the OYO has turned out to be a blessing.
Using resistance bands and easy to apply weights, doing workouts with up to 40 lbs of resistance ranging from deadlifts to Romanian twists is a surefire way to get the heart rate up. What I enjoy most about this piece of equipment is the QR code integration for specific workouts and exercises. Simply scan the QR code that corresponds to your exercise on the provided workout poster to your phone. The scan will then direct you to a video of how to exactly set up your piece of equipment and how to properly do the exercise. Many of the workouts and individual exercise videos are on YouTube for easy access. I recommend this OYO gym for anyone that has an urge to work out (but can't find the necessary equipment online) or finds conventional equipment too expensive or not as dynamic. — Frank Massaro, Strategic Partnerships Manager
Walito Resistance Bands
These Walito resistance bands have seriously changed the game for my fitness routine – more importantly, the way I view exercising. As a former dancer, I used to stretch multiple times a week and have recently hopped back into the swing of things by stretching daily. This set of three (in beautiful pastel colors, may I add) is essential for improving my leg flexibility and preventing injury before I head over to YouTube for an at-home workout. They are only $16.99 on Amazon and were so worth the buy (and, coming from someone who was a foreigner to the resistance band experience, this is saying a lot).
Perfect for certain resistance-band-exclusive workouts, I have been using the pink, teal, and purple trio for more than a year to regularly create a zen gym experience from the comfort of my living space. They are made from a soft cotton fabric that is easily stretchable and lightweight for on-the-go use, too. And, because of its material, they are *extremely* comfortable and I don't feel as if there is a circle of restricting duct-tape-like material on my glutes. The bands are essential for days I desire an easy-breezy workout, as well as for times I crave a more serious sweat since the three-piece set is intended for light, medium, and heavy intensity levels. Though pieces of small and compact cloth, these resistance bands are a large component of my workout routine, allowing me to focus on strength and mindfulness at the onset of the new year. — Victoria Giardina, buying guides fellow
Gaiam Essentials Thick Yoga Mat
Gaiam Essentials Thick Yoga Mat Fitness & Exercise Mat with Easy-Cinch Yoga Mat Carrier Strap (72"L x 24"W x 2/5 Inch Thick), from $29.99
Like many people during quarantine, I got into yoga in a big way. Whether it was Yoga With Adriene or the classes I followed on Apple's Fitness+, I found that yoga practice was a wonderful alternative to staring out the window and re-watching "How I Met Your Mother." As a beginner, I've come to love the extra support and comfort provided by a super thick yoga mat like this Gaiam Essentials mat. It's made certain positions, like downward-facing dog and plank, less of a chore. Plus, it comes with a carrier strap which makes storage much easier. — Tercius Bufete, editor
Brooks Ghost 13
I love taking running classes and going for jogs in the park, but I can never make it more than a few days before injuring my left ankle (a result of years of cheerleading and jumping on hardwood floors). I decided to switch to a pair of Brooks running sneakers, and I haven't had any issues since! The Ghost sneakers have a stiff, padded collar that keeps my ankle completely supported and prevents it from rolling. With my ClassPass account on pause due to quarantine, I spent the summer outside learning to play tennis and the sneakers saved me from injury more than a few times. I won't do anything active without them now; they've been a game-changer for me. — Ashley Phillips, editor
Corkcicle 25oz Canteen
To be completely honest, I didn't understand the hype around smart water bottles that keep water cold for the entire day. I always either (1) drink my water within 15 minutes or (2) carry around a portable cooler to carry multiple bottles around to the beach or out shopping. Eventually, I was gifted a CORKCICLE and finally realized why this much-talked-about product was worth every penny, kissing my non-eco-friendly plastics goodbye.
I own the 16 oz. classic canteen and have been filling it up three to four times a day to maintain my New Year's resolution of drinking more water. On some nights, I fill up my CORKCICLE to the brim and it is still ice cold the next morning, even without adding ice. For me, the 16 oz. is the perfect size because it sits at the corner of my desk, in the cupholder of my Volkswagen, and to the side of my wallet in my tote bag. I especially love the wide variety of colors (I have the peach-toned canteen) and how the modern design of the product narrows upward to avoid spillage for easy use. It's triple-insulated and also keeps drinks like coffees and teas hot, too. While many of these bottles exist on the market, I always go back to the CORKCICLE, my coveted classic. — Victoria Giardina, buying guides fellow
These Bala Bangles have a cult-like following and a few months ago I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. They are simple weight sets that come in ½ lb, 1 lb, and 2 lb options. They're made to wrap around your wrists or ankles to give you a little extra challenge during workouts. I started wearing the 2 lb option on my ankles during simple walks around my neighborhood and during virtual yoga classes. They are a great way to easily take the workouts you're already doing up a notch. — Hannah Freedman, associate editor
I've been taking in-person WeFlowHard Y7 classes for years. It's a really fun blend of yoga, movement, and music. During non-pandemic times, the classes are in candlelit rooms with fun pop or hip-hop tunes to flow to. Due to COVID-19, the company smartly pivoted to first offer classes via Instagram Live and then moved to true online classes.
While it's not quite the same experience from home, you can still easily follow along from your TV or laptop and listen to the curated Spotify playlist for each class. One benefit of the online classes is that they are also more accessible to people everywhere, whereas the studios were only in a few studios. I'd long raved about Y7 to my sister, but there was no studio near her in Ann Arbor. Once they moved online, we were able to take classes "together," which was a fun way to connect virtually. — Hannah Freedman, associate editor
Crossrope jump ropes
I'll confess that jumping rope was perhaps the last thing I thought about when figuring out how to keep fit during the pandemic. Like everyone else, my mind first went to stocking up dumbbells, picking out a stationary bike, and really getting into using resistance bands. And although I did still get a bike and a set of resistance bands (shoutout NordicTrack's s22i bike and the TB12 resistance band set), it's the jump rope set from Crossrope that's been such a pleasant surprise.
What I've liked most about the set is its versatility — a term not often associated with a standard jump rope. But Crossope smartly innovated on that classic design by offering interchangeable ropes of varying weights. In the Get Lean set, specifically, you're able to switch between either a quarter-pound or half-pound rope, affording you a wider range of workout types and intensities. And while a quarter-pound difference between the two doesn't sound like much, rest assured, it is — and that half-pound rope starts to feel quite heavy after a few minutes of use.
If the $99 price tag trips you up a bit, you aren't alone. I, too, was skeptical of how something as simple as a jump rope could cost the better part of $100 but after spending the last eight months with it, I truly think it's worth the investment. Jumping rope is one hell of a workout (and a better form of cardio exercise than an elliptical) and the durability of Crossope's set means it'll be part of your home gym setup for quite some time. Factor in the ability to access some of the brand's curated workouts via the Crossrope app and that price point starts to make a bit more sense. -- Rick Stella, health & fitness editor
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