As I write this, I am sitting in my apartment in Brussels, Belgium, a week into a 6-week lock down. Until recently, schools were open and in session full time. Now, Belgium extended the fall break in an effort to reduce COVID-19 exposures, and some schools are going back to virtual. In the United States, schools have largely remained virtual, with parents juggling work obligations while helping their kids re-adjust to a virtual learning environment. This is hard stuff.
When the first wave of lock downs started in March, spring and then summer allowed us to spend time outdoors. Kids could play in backyards. Families could go for neighborhood walks or take a family bike ride. Getting exercise was relatively easy.
With days growing colder and shorter in many parts of the world, getting outdoors is more challenging. Kids are parked in front of a computer or television, either doing school work, surfing, or playing video games. Parents (and non-parents) toggle between a busy schedule of zoom meetings, checking homework, helping kids with technology issues, and cooking three meals a day.
How do you squeeze some exercise into this chaotic, virtual world, find family time, and meet all of your other commitments? There are some great resources that bring exercise home to you and your kids, if you know where to look. Here are a few I recommend.
PE with Joe (or Wake Up with Joe)
I featured Joe Wicks on Day 28 of my Simple Fitness 30-Day Challenge. On March 23, Joe launched his PE with Joe series on his YouTube channel, called The Body Coach TV. Based in the United Kingdom (UK), Joe would live stream a 30-minute exercise class geared towards kids at 9:00 GMT, after which time each class remained available for free on YouTube. To make the whole experience even more heartwarming, Joe Wicks donated all of the money he earned through PE with Joe to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) staff on the front line of the pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, his videos went viral. Families all over the world would post photos and videos of themselves exercising as a family. Search of #PEwithJoe on Facebook, and you’ll find a long stream of adults and kids exercising to the series, often in costume. (Joe likes to dress up in costume for his workouts, having appeared as Spider Man, a Panda Bear, Scooby Doo, and, recently for Halloween, with his family as the Adams Family.)
Joe continued his PE with Joe series through July 22, 2020, when he announced on Instagram that he needed to take a break (no wonder). Joe said that he felt “flat as a pancake” and later posted a mental health video on YouTube where he addressed how new UK COVID-19 restrictions were taking a toll on his motivation. “This is such a tough time emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and I think it’s important to talk about it.” He expressed frustration and confusion over the recently announced UK COVID-19 restrictions, and how it was “really getting [him] down.”
To combat his feelings, Joe turns to exercise. He provides encouraging words about the importance of exercise in helping to elevate your mood. “You can change the way you feel through exercise. And so really, really turn to fitness right now more than ever.” It’s a touching and honest video that reflects how so many of us are feeling these days.
(For more information on the cognitive benefits of exercise, see my post on Five Ways Exercise Makes Me a Better Human.)
The good news is that Joe Wicks took the rest time he needed and is returning on Monday, November 9, with a reinvigorated morning program called Wake Up with Joe. Joe Wicks will post a 15-minute, pre-recorded “energy and mood boosting workouts.” Joe’s classes require no extra equipment and a minimal amount of space. In fact, Joe led the classes in what appears to be a typical, suburban style bonus or family room. The classes are appropriate for all levels and age groups.
I am glad to see Joe back, and whether you follow his older series, PE with Joe, or this new version, Wake Up with Joe, you can enjoy these exercise routines with the entire family (or alone, as you choose) while we all weather this latest wave of the virus.
If you’re a runner and miss the challenge and collegiality of running races, the COVID-Cup is the perfect remedy. Started by an avid runner (and good personal friend), David Moretz, the COVID-Cup’s motto is “Running Together, Alone.” Each Cup consists of a 4-week season where teams of 6(ish) compete towards a weekly goal, recording their race time using a GPS device (e.g., an Apple Watch or phone based app like Map My Run or Strava). Each team has a coach, and the coach submits the team’s times every Sunday.
Dave tweaks his formula each 4-week “season.” For example, Season 4 followed the following format:
Week One – 5k (each team member completes)
Week Two – Ladder Relay (runners complete various race distances)
Week Three – 5k (each team member completes)
Week Four – 50k Team Relay (runners combine miles for a total of 50k run)
Dave uses handicapping, time bonuses, and age/gender grading to put all of the runners on a level playing field. At the end of the season, the team with the lowest average time wins. For families, Dave added a Kids Division to the COVID-Cup. He modifies their distances, so they don’t need to run as far. It’s fun to see the kids compete along with their parents.
My husband and I have competed in the last two seasons of the COVID-Cup, as part of Team “Not Fast Just Furious.” We have members living California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and Belgium (us). It’s a fantastic way to stay connected with people, and we’ve made some new friends through the team.
The next season, Season 5, is a shortened season of 3 weeks, starting Monday, November 30, and ending Sunday, December 20, bridging from the end of Thanksgiving until right before Christmas. Season 5 is different from other COVID-Cups in another way. It will cater, in part, to long distance runners, allowing two-person teams in addition to the standard 6-person teams.
The schedule for Season 5 looks like this:
6-Person Team Competition
Week One – 13.1 mile Team Relay*
Week Two – 18 mile Team Relay*
Week Three – 24 mile Team Relay*
*Teams can split distances however they want – 2 mile minimum distance per runner.
2-Person Team Competition
Week One – 16 mile Team Relay*
Week Two – 20 mile Team Relay*
Week Three – 26.2 mile Team Relay*
*Miles are split equally amongst runners.
Get yourself and the kids away from those screens for a bit, strap on some running shoes, and join the COVID-Cup. Team Not Fast But Furious will be waiting for you.
If you or your kids are new to exercise, you might be unsure how and where to start. Learning proper form, especially from a young age, pays dividends over a lifetime in injury prevention and avoidance. To help your kids learn, check out the website Stand Up Kids. Stand Up Kids is a non-profit devoted to getting kids to move more and sit less. Their goal is for every public school to provide children with stand-up desks over the next ten years, due to the cognitive and physical benefits of standing versus sitting. The organization was founded by a couple, Juliet & Kelly Starrett, who launched Stand Up Kids in 2014 after observing how many children lacked basic mobility skills and fitness because of their sedentary lifestyle.
According to their website, kids spend “nearly 85% of their waking hours in sedentary positions,” when you factor in time spent in the classroom and in front of a screen. Even participation in athletics (soccer practice, gymnastics) is insufficient to overcome the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, according to the organization.
Stand Up Kids posts videos that teachers and parents can use for “movement breaks” or “brain breaks,” offering bite sized activities that get kids moving and re-energize (or calm down) a group on virtual students.
At Stand Up Kids, you and your children can learn foundational exercises like burpees, pushups, squats, hollow rocks. For younger kids, the site has more whimsical activities like “make it rain” and “shake the wiggles out“. They also provide more advanced combination exercises, often modeled by kids.
All of the videos are led by certified instructors, and the videos are both fun and educational.
The next time you and your family are going stir crazy, give one of these options a try. We all need as many tools as possible to help us through this pandemic, and exercising together as a family is guaranteed to make everyone happier, healthier, and a little more sane.
Till next time,