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Keep Fit In Covid-19 – My Story


Keep Fit In Covid-19 – My Story

It was March 2020, which means over three years on the road for me (whoop whoop!), but suddenly the world was getting into a state of panic over a virus. Several countries were talking of closing down their borders. Things were going to get worse before they got better and with the possibility of gyms closing, I had one major concern – how to keep fit in a pandemic?

First Dilemma – Which Country?

Having been in Thailand nearly two months, with a visa that was about to expire, I looked carefully at my dwindling options. Where should I go next? Where could I go next? Everyone was freaking out about a virus and the world was fast going into lockdown. Europeans were reporting being refused entry to Asian countries because of their citizenship, regardless of being in Asia for months on end. Unless I wanted to return to the UK (the less said about that option, the better), I figured I’d better find a country with a longish visa option and head there quickly. Keeping fit during covid-19 was currently my secondary priority.

Entering Vietnam

To cut a long story (and a lot of research!) short, two days before Vietnam closed its borders to all foreigners, I arrived at the eerily deserted Ho Chi Minh airport, SGN. I chose Vietnam because I’d been here three times, love it and knew I could acquire a three month visa. This is the longest tourist visa duration that I’m aware you can get in SE Asia (at least, simply). I was checked for a fever upon leaving Thailand. Although I was asked minimal questions at Ho Chi Minh, my passport (and all its many stamps) were studied in detail at Immigration. To be fair, he didn’t look like he’d had much else to do all day.

I was allowed in, and as the days passed and more services began to close down, I hastily sought an apartment. I’d initially booked a budget, windowless single room as I often do. Nope, I haven’t suddenly gone in for flash-packing, but with the world in a panic, I anticipated gyms would shut, and if they did, I wanted to be fully prepared with some space to exercise. Apartment secured, keeping fit in covid-19 was top of my priority list. I pre-empted things correctly; gyms shut within a week of me moving into my lovely flat in district 1 of HCMC and my resistance band (which has travelled with me for over three years now!) soon became my best friend.

Home workout

How To Keep Fit in a Pandemic?

Having travelled for over three years and written about how to keep fit in challenging situations (on a budget / in a foreign country / when gyms are not available), you’d think I’d be able to take this in my stride. Well, not really.  I was hugely relieved to be settled in a flat I loved of course. Especially as it was run by friendly locals who spoke good English. But I was naturally somewhat unsettled, being alone here.

To be honest, I’d never really feared catching the virus. Despite being alone in a foreign country, I’d done a lot of research and concluded that given my age, fitness level and lack of medical conditions, I’d have to be pretty unlucky to suffer badly even if I caught covid-19. Besides that, Vietnam had under 100 diagnosed cases when I got here. So, I made the decision to continue my gym workouts for as long as I could, washing my hands rather obsessively during and after. To keep fit during covid-19 was going to be my priority, however challenging.

Avoiding all social contact and exercise wasn’t going to make me a healthier person, covid or no covid.


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What if I get sick?

Although the thought of getting ill didn’t worry me much, what I did fear were the repercussions of catching the virus. Vietnam’s strict approach demanded everyone reported any fever or other symptoms. Anyone with symptoms would be tested and likely whisked off to quarantine facilities. Eek. So, once gyms shut, I “shut” too, deciding if I couldn’t do my favourite form of exercise, it simply wasn’t worth the risk of catching the virus elsewhere. Before Vietnam went into total lockdown, I looked for dumbbells in shops which were still open, but was put off by the price and lack of selection. I didn’t purchase a yoga mat either, instead opting for the budget option below for US$3!

Yoga Mat Substitute
Yoga Mat Substitute

Note, this mat totally did the job in terms of comfort. Its one failing was that it slipped about a bit on this floor. I guess its surface lacks friction compared to yoga mats. Use at your own risk. 😉

I guess I was optimistically anticipating any gyms closure would be short-term. But short-term or not, one thing (other than the slippery mat) was concerning me…

I have no weights!

And a quick visit to a nearby shop pre-lockdown didn’t help matters much. They only had 1kg and 9kg dumbbells left and the 9kg ones were around US$40 – eek.

I immediately began asking around about online classes. Keen to keep up my muscle mass as much as possible, I wanted body-weight exercises to at least stay as toned and strong as possible, as well as some core classes and of course, cardio.

What To Buy?

First and foremost, I recommend investing in a mat, or at least something to give cushioning between yourself and the floor. This opens up a world of exercises to you. Yoga mats are not just for yoga enthusiasts. If you’re planning on doing any number of functional exercises that are not predominantly cardio, a mat is probably the first thing you’ll be wanting to invest in, along with some workout gear. A mat is pretty fundamental – you don’t want to be sweating all over your bed, and most beds are going to be a bit soft anyway.

For those on a tight budget, check out my cheap heat-reflecting mat! If you want to go for the real deal on yoga mats, I did a little research and find this stacks up well, as a non-slip alternative to my mat!

Yoga Mat
A non-slip professional yoga mat

As for other purchases, it all comes down to personal preference of how you’ll train. If you’ve got access to a garden with sturdy trees, you could consider a TRX. This awesome piece of equipment can be used for all manner of upper and lower body exercises, whilst giving a great cardio workout too. You really just need something overhead to attach it to, that’s strong enough to take your weight. If you’re DIY-inclined, you could fix up an overhead bar (I take no responsibility if any of this goes wrong!), or use a tree branch, or other overhead fixture.

TRX Training

TRX Training!

Why Keep Fit in a Pandemic?

With very few exceptions, everyone’s lives have changed dramatically since covid-19 reared its ugly head. With many governments ordering house arrest and closing down keep fit facilities, it would be all too easy to roll over and use that as an excuse to take a break from it all. But the government is not responsible for your health. You are. And at some point, gyms and other fitness facilities will reopen. How are you going to feel if you return after weeks or months of slobbing out on the sofa? Probably demotivated and depressed, for starters. Deciding at the outset that no amount of government overreaction to a virus was going to stop me keeping fit, I pledged to exercise every single day, without fail, until this crazy period was over.

Certain changes during this period are unavoidable. Whether or not you can go to work might be beyond your control. How often you’re allowed outside (and indeed IF you’re allowed outside) might be beyond your control too. I am in Vietnam, and it was clear from press articles that parts of Northern Vietnam were told that if they must exercise, it should be in their homes, and not a valid reason to go out. Ouch. Fortunately my area had no such regulations, though I sensed it was frowned upon. The press clearly discouraged people from going out for anything other than essentials (listed as buying food or pharmaceuticals). The coffee shops were open for takeaways though, so I figured if they considered coffee an essential service, I could make a good case for exercise!

Routine and Purpose

In any case, to go from working full-time to not working at all, AND from exercising most days to not exercising at all is sure-fire recipe to disaster. For most, the damaging effects of these things on our health is likely to be far more serious than the effects of covid, if you caught it. For the sake of both our physical health and mental health I believe we all need a reason to get up in the morning. And I was not going to let the overreaction of the media and governments stop me.

As many others have said and written, the “cure” of covid-19 seems to be far more detrimental to our health than the symptoms. At least for the vast majority. A world full of people allowing their fitness to decline, during a time when many health services were already stretched seemed like dangerous combination.


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Keeping Fit in Covid-19 – My Challenges

Keeping fit during covid-19 was going to be challenging in two ways for me.

  1. Lack of weights
    Ultimately, there wasn’t much I could do about this and focussing on this negative wasn’t going to help me. Clearly I had two options – fork out the money for weights at home, or draw a line and focus on other forms of workout. Focussing on the things I couldn’t do would be of zero benefit. I made the decision to forego the weights for now and see how things panned out. It’s not like I’d be taking the weights travelling afterwards, so I was reluctant to spend the cash.
  2. Getting motivated to adapt to new ways of keeping fit.
    I knew I wouldn’t find it easy to keep fit alone. I’m used to being surrounded by others doing similar training, be it in the gym or classes. I like to go somewhere and see people (even if I don’t talk to them much!). I want to be in a training environment when I work out, not alone in a flat.
    So, as ever, when lacking motivation, I turn to classes. Having someone else directing me when I’m lacking drive is really beneficial to me. I’d do my own thing as well, but in challenging times, I knew I’d need someone giving me a push, albeit from a computer screen.

So, where do I start in the online world of exercise classes? Well, here is what I did….

Online Classes I Did – Keep Fit in Covid-19

Classes with your Local PT

First and foremost, this is a time to support local businesses, such as personal trainers who are unable to open for business as usual. They’ll appreciate your business during this time, and you get the familiarity of training with someone you know. Being able to train with your favourite instructor in such a challenging time can be very comforting.

If you’re not a regular at a local gym, now is a great time to make those fitness connections. You might have no intention of joining their gym later, but supporting them now whilst keeping yourself fit is of mutual benefit. They are probably struggling with all the uncertainty too. Time to join together to keep in a pandemic.

I soon discovered that a lot of personal trainers were continuing to offer their classes online, in the form of Zoom meetings or other online delivery method. The advantage (or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it!) of Zoom is that they can actually see you. So, if you were planning to sit on your sofa watching others do the hard work, think again! The nice thing is that you can see all the other participants too, so it really does feel like you are all together in some form. Hearing my PT praise other participants in the class who I’d normally train with back home was a good feeling.

Yoga Mat
Your floor-work and stretching must-have!

My Local PT (before I went travelling!)

I really enjoyed my classes with Imogen Clarke, whose classes I used to do at Nuffield Health Norwich. Before I went travelling, I was a member there for 13 years. Imogen now has her own studio and you can find her Facebook page Inspire Personal Training here. I’ve done several of her online workouts (currently available free on her Facebook page). None of these required any particular equipment, although a mat is a bonus. You’ll be doing a mix of cardio, functional training and body weight exercises mainly. Don’t be fooled by her smile, she doesn’t take any prisoners!

Keep fit in pandemic
After a home workout with Imogen


Upon arrival in Vietnam, I’d joined Jetts Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh, an Australian chain with clubs internationally. Thankfully they were broadcasting short (20-30 minute ) workouts online. The ones I did were HIIT / circuit style body weight exercise classes and very good. Note, they don’t provide any background music, but you can play your own – yay! Their vids are designed for you to do this. After explaining each exercise briefly and demo-ing how it goes, you can easily play your own music. The screen will show a clock counting down, and you’ll be able to see if you should be working or resting. The only sounds are the beeps and the beginning and end of each exercise. During your rest period, they remind you with a visual demo of the next exercise – so you can start it early if you want!

All in all, a great start to online workouts for keeping fit in a pandemic. The fact the classes are quite short made it less daunting too – I wasn’t sure if I’d get into online classes or not, but I was impressed at how I maintained my motivation levels. Thank you Jetts.

These classes also take the form of Zoom meetings, though I didn’t attend any live classes, preferring to watch replays. (Actually, I’d have liked a live but I’ve been busy teaching English online at every opportunity, so catching a live wasn’t that easy!)

Les Mills

I am sure this company requires no further intro! Go on their website and access all sorts of classes for free for a couple of months! Woohoo! I welcomed being able to do classes I was familiar with, at a time when actual classes were impossible. For me, Body Attack was a good starting point, as I’m lucky to have the space for it (apart from the overhanging pot plants here I needed to be careful of!), and I enjoy choreographed classes. I also got really into CX Worx, making use of my US$3 mat and trusty resistance band.

In theory, you are supposed to have light weights available to do CX Worx. Don’t let this put you off. I didn’t but still found I got a lot out of the classes. Most exercises don’t require weights. For those which do, you have options. You can either find an alternative exercise with a resistance band to do, if you have one. I found this to be of greater use than having a weight. But alternatively, make up a light weight at home. I used a carrier bag, in which I put household items – namely a bag of rice and oats. Those non-perishable goods I’d been stocking up on were coming in handy! Toilet paper would have been a bit bulky though, haha. I got it up to 2kg.

Resistance Training
Resistance Training

Other Forms of Exercise

If classes aren’t for you and you’re self motivated, you’ve probably already got some forms of exercise in mind. If not, the online classes are great for ideas. Watch a few, note down some exercises you like the look of and come up with your own game plan to keep fit in a pandemic.

I combined classes with running outside, doing laps around Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the duration of our lockdown! Staying in District 1 of this major city didn’t lend itself well to running areas, but this area scored on the basis of its good quality pavements and minimal roads to cross. Whist traffic was indeed very quiet here, due to the compliant Vietnamese broadly staying at home, there was still a fair amount of it around!

Other forms of exercise might depend on your equipment and your country’s restrictions, but if you’ve got access to a bike and can meet others for a cycle ride or other sports where you’re socially distant, eg tennis games, the social factor could be a huge plus.

Summary – Keeping Fit in a Pandemic

I have no doubt that staying motivated to keep fit in covid-19 might be a challenge for many. It may not even interest some. After all, if you’re fearing for your job, or the health of relatives, it may not be your first thought. But what is clear is that there is no more important time to prioritise your health. It’s in these times of stress that exercise becomes more important than ever. Exercise can enable us to cope better with all the uncertainty, whilst boosting immunity and making us feel physically good in ourselves. In keeping fit, we are in a much better position to cope physically and mentally with whatever life might throw at us next.

Whatever happens and whatever restrictions are put in place, you can and will find a way to keep fit if you want it enough. So do it for yourself, and start today.

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The World Might Open Sooner Than You Think – Be Prepared!

Enjoyed this?
See also my Five Top Tips to Keep Fit Around The World
WHY? Because many of the same principles apply, as keeping fit in a pandemic (lack of regular routine etc)

And Keep Fit At Home – Five Top Tips

And The Global Gym Bunny Shop – there’s nothing like some new workout gear to kickstart motivation!

Injured? Check out my feature on Ankle Sprains.

Keep Fit In Covid-19 – My Story

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