As we have hit the one-year mark of this pandemic and the many effects of prolonged quarantine, I have paused to reflect on what a year it has been. I am not sure anyone could have predicted all we as a society would have seen and dealt with over the past year; it has certainly been a year we will never forget.
It has been a year since I left the school where I teach on a Friday, only to find out on Saturday we would be shutting down and not returning to school on Monday. At that time, like most people, I thought this was a two-week interruption at best. I could not have predicted I wouldn’t set foot in my own school building for the rest of the school year, but actually up until just a few weeks ago–almost a full year later. There have been many changes, challenges, and obstacles in all areas of life this past year.
Like most people, we all had our plans before Covid. I for one had recently been invited to compete at the historic and prestigious Mr. America competition later in the year and had also set my sights on several other quality bodybuilding shows. I was coming off a successful 2019 season and was looking to capitalize on that in 2020. Training and nutrition were on track and I had plans in place to see it all through. Suddenly, and somewhat quickly, the world grind to a halt and the lives and routines we knew was now gone and changing almost by the day. I think most people thought this would last a few weeks and we would resume our normal lives in no time. I was one of those people. So, I kept doing what I usually do – moving forward and working around the obstacles. One thing I’ve learned through Covid was there was always going to be an unexpected obstacle and the true test and lesson of oneself were if and how I was going to find a way to overcome it. The two biggest questions that kept me moving forward throughout the past year were, “Now what?” and “How?” With each new change and shut down, it became almost motivating to find ways around it. Competition dates changed or got cancelled often. I had no equipment to train at home, that’s why I belong to a gym. Right from the start, I knew that when this pandemic ended and life resumed (which I thought would only be a matter of weeks or a few months, not a year and still counting) I did not want to use this as an excuse to explain why I didn’t achieve my goals or complete something. Instead, I was determined that I would stand tall in the end and finish what I had set out to do in spite of the obstacles and long list of excuses.
…I WAS DETERMINED THAT I WOULD STAND TALL IN THE END AND FINISH WHAT I HAD SET OUT TO DO IN SPITE OF THE OBSTACLES AND LONG LIST OF EXCUSES.
In order to train from home, I had to rely on what I had around me and think not just out of the box, but as if there was no box. Things started simple and progressed out of necessity, I started with book bags filled with sand and brick for bodyweight squats, curls, and walking lunges – which also utilized an empty parking lot. There was an old tire in the lot and I began learning to flip it for some conditioning work. As it became evident the gyms were going to be closed beyond a few weeks, it was again time to ask, “Now what?” The answer I discovered one day while walking my dog – just down the block the town had cut a bunch of trees in the fall and left the logs. With spring coming it was easy to see them all since the brush and grass hadn’t yet grown in. I started picking and bringing logs back to my garage. This opened up a whole new world of training and exercise options. We could now bench, squat, row, shoulder press, and shrug once we filled a wheelbarrow with dirt and threw some logs on top. The training was unconventional and yet extremely taxing and effective. If the logs became light, I would leave them in the rain to make them heavier. I would drive my car down to pick up heavier logs. We used a large Coleman cooler for a flat bench. Working with logs was completely different than using barbells. The logs are not balanced in any way, nor are they meant to be gripped like a barbell. It definitely took some improvisation and careful planning to use these logs in our training. To help in some exercises, we used tie-down straps and even a tow strap with which we could attach some handles and bars for various exercises.
As the pandemic and shutdown wore on training continued to evolve and become even more creative. If I could think of it, we would try it. Some things worked, others did not either because the movements didn’t feel right or safety was an issue. However, we did start to use heavier logs and even cars for both strength movements and conditioning workouts to further help prepare for my upcoming competitions.
With only 3 weeks before my first competition, gyms were allowed to open with restrictions and I utilized both my unconventional training and the gym to continue training. Training in the gym was a very welcome relief mentally. Being back in a gym, still demanded a calculated plan heading into those next few weeks and not an all-out ego-fest of lifting as much as possible. After 5 months of not doing traditional exercises, while I don’t think I lost much in strength, I wasn’t about to throw caution to the wind for a number on a bar. This phase, just like the rest of the training was about a carefully laid plan to achieve a goal.
BECAUSE OF COVID, I FOUND ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE AND THERE ARE NO LIMITS. ULTIMATELY, WHERE THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY.
In the weeks and months that followed, I competed in 4 competitions and could say I hit my goals. I wanted to train through the uncertainty of this shutdown and arrive on stage as good, and even better than I was the previous season. In each contest I showed up, there was great comradery among all the competitors, who also brought their best, knowing we set similar goals and overcame the obstacles for the opportunity to be on stage. I had earned my first pro victory as well as some top placings against some of the best natural bodybuilders. I don’t control placings. I don’t control who else shows up on stage, what they look like, or what the judges see and are looking for. Those things do not determine my success. I control everything I do or don’t do leading up to the moment I set foot on a stage. My goals are then set and accomplished or not before I walk on stage. I already know if I hit my goals and that is the measure of my own success.
The rallying cry and universal excuse of 2020 became, “Because of Covid”…For me, that is not an excuse but rather a period of self-discovery. Because of Covid, I found that the only excuses are the ones we choose to accept. Because of Covid, I learned that sometimes we are our own biggest obstacle. If it is meaningful to you, then it is worth doing, regardless of what it looks like to others. Your path is not their journey. Because of Covid, I’ve learned that we are each our own “Everyday Warrior”. It is not a question of “Can you?” but rather, “Are you willing?” If you can answer yes, as I did and continue to do, then you will find a way, face and overcome all obstacles, and keep on moving forward.
Over the past few months, we have all experienced unexpected and uncertain times as the Coronavirus has changed our lives in ways we may never have imagined. Our jobs, routines, entertainment, favorite places, have all been restricted, temporarily closed, and in some cases may be gone for good. What once seemed like a dream goal – to be able to work from home and have more “free time” – suddenly doesn’t seem so great as much of this has now been beyond our own personal control.
So how does one keep focused, continue to work towards goals, and make progress during these uncertain and trying times? The key, like with all things, comes down to having a healthy mindset. The circumstances we may find ourselves in may not be of our own choosing but navigating those and responding to those is completely within our control. Here are 10 ways to help stay positive and find the inner strength to keep moving forward during this lockdown phase and beyond as the world begins to reopen, and most likely be quite a bit different.
ACCEPTANCE OF THE NEW NORMAL
The popular motto, “Start where you are, with what you have, and do what you can” applies here. Dwelling in the past, focusing on how this isn’t how it was or is supposed to become a self-defeating mindset. It promotes the notion that you are now stuck and waiting for things to return to how they used to be. This becomes a period of no progress because your mind has you convinced that you cannot do anything until you are back to “regular life”.
TO AVOID THIS EXCUSE AND MENTAL TRAP, ACCEPT HOW THINGS ARE – WHETHER YOU LIKE THEM OR NOT IS IRRELEVANT. WORK WITHIN THIS NEW NORM. YOU ARE NOT STUCK. YOU CAN WORK DIFFERENTLY AND FIND NEW WAYS OF DOING THINGS AND ACCOMPLISHING GOALS IN THE PRESENT. DIFFERENT YES, IMPOSSIBLE AND STUCK, ABSOLUTELY NOT.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL
We are all experiencing a wide array of emotions at any given time and sometimes even all at once. There is no right or wrong way to handle the events and uncertainty we now find ourselves in and so know that no matter what you are feeling is perfectly real and allowed. Do not try to evaluate your feelings through strict filters of whether or not they are “normal” or acceptable, or worse, through a lens of what others deem acceptable. Let your thoughts and emotions flow and know that you should feel each of them. Process them and let them pass through you. Reach out and share your thoughts, worries, feelings, the highs, and the lows with other people. You are not alone and now more than ever it is important to know that and realize we are all feeling all sorts of emotions and they are all valued and enough.
When our lives were first thrown into disarray as schools and businesses moved to work from home models, restaurants and other businesses shut down or adopted new models there was great uncertainty thrust upon us. No one knew how long this would last and there were many more questions than answers. Even now as there are the beginnings of re-openings and some return to normalcy, albeit a new normal with guidelines and regulations in place, there is still a lot of unknown, most of which are beyond our control.
One unprecedented outcome of this shutdown is the amount of time we now have in our day-to-day lives without the constant on the go from activities, appointments, and other obligations. Use this time and make the most of it each day. Create goals in any area of life in whatever interest you may have. Some days the goals may be as basic as going for a 20-minute walk and doing the dishes or laundry. Another day the goals may be larger and even more ambitious. Either way, make them achievable with a little work and hold yourself accountable for seeing them through. Also, set some longer-term goals from a week to a month to 6 months and beyond. Give yourself a focus to work towards. This is within your control and puts the power and responsibility back in your favor.
THE LACK OF CONTROL OVER EVENTS IN OUR OWN LIVES CAN CREATE GREAT ANXIETY, STRESS, AND DEPRESSION, JUST TO NAME A FEW NEGATIVE OUTCOMES. GAINING CONTROL OVER THOSE PARTS OF OUR LIVES IS PARAMOUNT TO LOWERING THAT ANXIOUSNESS AND HELPING US GAIN A CLEARER AND MORE RATIONAL PERSPECTIVE OF LIFE AND ITS EVENTS.
KEEP/CREATE A ROUTINE OR SCHEDULE
As many people are now working from home and having most other activities and events canceled, daily routines can easily be completely upended. While there are many changes happening, it is important to create a new routine in the new environment. Some key points in scheduling a routine to consider:
Having a set morning routine, getting up at the same time, preparing for the day, setting tasks and goals to complete.
Have a set “working time” each day if possible. Be able to schedule mini-breaks during that time as well as there may be family needs and issues to attend to with children being home from school and using remote learning or others that need to be taken care of during this time.
Build-in self-care whether that means having a fitness routine, meditation, a walk, whatever is necessary to take care of one’s own mental and emotional well-being.
PLAN YOUR DAY
This goes along with setting goals and keeping a schedule. One of the most efficient strategies in accomplishing this is planning your day the night before. Whether you use a physical or virtual planner, lay out the items you need to do, want to do, and build in some time for yourself and self-care and also downtime too. Before this shutdown, our days were filled with work hours, family obligations, errands, appointments, etc. That schedule was your normal. In this time, create your new schedule and plan each day. While your planner/calendar may be filled differently, there is still a sense of normal routine, accomplishment, and again control over yourself and your immediate surroundings.
WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
Traveling to a great vacation spot may not be in the plans, or even feasible or practical right now, but a day trip to a nearby park or scenic area might be. Do not discount the many benefits of just getting out of your house and town and taking in some new scenery and the time to relax and enjoy nature, a few close people (even at a distance), and just a little time away from social media and constant news reports and reminders of the state of our world.
With gyms and fitness centers closed continuing one’s former training program may be difficult. It is easy to buy into the excuse that you will just wait until they open again to get back to your training or take on a cardio-only approach. That will work for some, but for many of us, training is an important facet of our lives and so much more than simply lifting weights. It provides an outlet for so many things as well as keeping us healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Find ways to build in a fitness routine that is both challenging and keeping you working towards your goals. There are many online workouts being offered that one could take advantage of at the moment. No equipment – look around and get creative. As a natural pro bodybuilder, taking time off was not in this author’s plan. However, with zero weightlifting equipment at home, it was time to get creative. The solution has been a mix use of logs (found down the road), weighted backpacks with sand, bricks, tools, and rocks, wheelbarrows, and even cars to create some of the most challenging and demanding workouts to keep training throughout this shutdown.
For many, exercise is vital. Carve out a time and schedule to execute workouts or even build in new types of exercises or modes of fitness. It is something within one’s control and the benefits will go far beyond the actual time it takes to complete a fitness workout.
CONNECT WITH PEOPLE
Most of us have now heard of virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom, Meet, etc. Many may already be using this as a way to stay in touch with family and friends. When in-person gatherings are not possible, definitely take advantage of engaging with friends and loved ones, who may be anywhere in the world, and connecting virtually. There are online games and escape rooms for groups of people to register and play together. While this may not be the same as meeting up to solve one of these rooms or games, it is still a needed outlet for comradery and social interaction. We are human and need and crave contact with others. When conditions allow, plan to meet up with a few friends or family members in ways that everyone is both comfortable with and within the guidelines that we now find ourselves in as we venture out of our houses once again. There are great power and comfort in connecting with others and sharing stories, emotions, and life that may have nothing to do with Covid-19.
Build time for fun into your days and weeks. Even with many places closed, creating simple and fun experiences are not out of the question. Drive-ins are opening in many places. Ice cream shops are open for takeout. Parks and hiking trails are accessible again. Game and movie nights or have the family make their own ice cream sundaes are a few examples that don’t require much money or planning and can create some relaxed and enjoyable moments.
Even if working from home, try to schedule breaks throughout the day for fun and carefree moments either alone or with others. This goes a long way to impact our mental well-being in a positive light.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
Now it could be a great time to take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, or do something you have been telling yourself you will do “when you have more time”. Read that book you have been wanting to read and keep putting off. Start planning a new business. Take up a new discipline. Learn new recipes to make sticking to your nutrition goals easier. Try whatever new thing you can and be willing to fail miserably at it in the beginning. Take up gardening, clean out your closets, garage, basement, etc. Do something new and different and watch how it adds a spark to your days and weeks.
This list could go on and on. The bottom line is to know that you are not stuck and you are not alone. The more you can invest in yourself, control what is within your control, make a little progress most days (some days you will not and that is ok!), and give yourself permission and the freedom to just be, the better you and all of us will be as we approach and deal with whatever may come our way.
If you wish to continue this discussion or just connect with me, feel free to contact me at: