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Staying Active During COVID-19 With Ben Parkes

Around the world, athletes are adapting to social distancing restrictions and, in some places, limited or no access to outdoor spaces. While keeping up our training isn't the most important thing right now, we also know that feeling like we're sticking with a routine and making progress can be hugely beneficial. We spoke to 2:25 marathoner and coach, Ben Parkes, about how to adapt our training during the COVID-19 crisis. As always, please act responsibly while staying active and be sure to follow the latest guidelines from your local authority.

What type of exercise would you recommend to other athletes?

"Along with standard runs and rides, home workouts can be a great alternative, which includes yoga and any type of meditation too. This is also a chance to discover something completely new. If you’re a runner, you may not be working on your strength as much, and this is the perfect opportunity to do it, especially as you might have more time on your hands. Strava is great for that – seeing what your community is up to and bringing new ideas to the table that you can try.

"There is of course YouTube, and the whole host of clips and guides that can be a great resource for diversifying your workout regime. I would say yoga and meditation definitely fit into that, but in the end it’s down to each individual. It’s good to put these elements into your weekly plan, and find time for mindful sessions."

Any tips for those trying to build a workout programme at home?

"The main thing to bear in mind and be careful with, is to not go out and buy expensive home workout equipment if you’re facing self-isolation. You can still get a surprising amount done without any equipment, using videos online and that partnered with keeping your step count on track will help you keep your fitness ticking over.

"If you've got symptoms, you shouldn't be training really, in my opinion. Your body will be working hard fighting the virus and putting it under extra strain is not advisable. If you’re sharing a household with someone infected, you should limit these to very low intensity workouts (at home) for the same reasons.

"It’s crucial you don’t put your body under too much strain and consequently make yourself more susceptible to getting ill."

How do you keep yourself motivated during this period?

"For me it’s down to thinking about your long-term goals. Think about where you want to be in the future, and for now just focus on maintenance. If you’re being sensible, don’t add lots of fitness now, but simply maintain your levels of exercise for the period when this all ends, and you can start to work towards your goals again.

"The other element of motivation is trying new and different things. Maybe you won’t be running a marathon, but give yourself a goal on any aspect of exercise, even as small as holding a plank a bit longer each day, or recording a 2hr ride on Zwift. It’s all about setting different types of goals."

When is the best time for a workout?

"In the current situation it’s less about what is good for any one person, but what is best for the greater good. If you’re going out for exercise, make sure to do it when it’s having the least impact on everybody else. And that will likely be early in the morning, or late in the day.

"I live in central London and there are nine million others out there trying to do the same thing. If you live in a sparsely populated area then you’re likely to have the possibility to exercise when you want.

"Going out on a lunchtime half an hour jog is going to be good to break up the day's work, but it could be trickier in a big city."

How is the Strava community supporting your lockdown exercise routine?

"There are definitely many more indoor activities and greater use of platforms like Zwift – it’s obvious when you look at the feed. I use it myself and it’s always interesting to interact with others from the community, supporting them in the virtual rides. The social network aspect of it all remains very valuable.

"The new Routes feature has been great to find new places to run and ride. I now only plan training sessions that my clients can do by starting and finishing at home. With that limit, their regular Routes can quickly become boring, so using Routes is helping them keep the training interesting and helps with motivation to get out the door. I’ve also been giving those I coach Strava segment challenges, both for running and cycling, to motivate them to try new things each week and give them a point of focus. It’s a great way of doing some Fartlek runs, aiming to move up the leaderboards and set some segment PBs.

"I’ve also been using the Strava feed as inspiration, looking at some of the fun and sometimes outlandish things people get up while staying active in lockdown. Lots of American ultrarunners are doing challenges in their local area, for example, Mike Wardian's run last week was truly incredible But overall, it’s business as usual, and the feed is an inspiring place to keep active and keep creative. "

Do you recommend using any equipment to get more out of working out?

"It’s not exactly a household item, but you can get resistance bands from Amazon for about £5 and you can do just about any type of strength workout with those. They are super versatile and will quickly make your home workout feel a lot more intense without buying lots of equipment."

What has your exercise routine been during this lockdown? How is this routine different from a typical training week for you?

"It’s important for me to first caveat this by saying that I recently broke my ankle, so I’ve gone from running about 160 km a week, to not running at all for the last five or six weeks. That being said, I'm still coaching a lot of people through all of this and setting their training, giving guidance plus lots of help, support and encouragement to navigate this period.

"Personally I’ve been using Zwift a lot more, and increasing amounts of strength workouts in my flat as I have more time on my hands, plus rebuilding after the accident. I’m also using workouts on TV and online to guide my training and rehab process.

"On the coaching side I’ve been encouraging people to try to limit exercise time and the time they spend outside, and many are happy to do so. Typically, it’s best for people to exercise at the start or end of the day, just to limit the exposure around others – for your and everyone else’s health. For that reason, doing exercise early in the day, or later in the evening, has been a change for a lot of people."

What would be your top tips for other athletes?

"– Set some new achievable goals for yourself.. They don’t have to be running related!
- Don’t panic – no need to buy expensive equipment you can’t afford
- Limit the amount of stress you put on your body, to avoid being more susceptible to getting ill.
- Be kind to one another – it’s a stressful time for all, so be supportive of others in your community!"

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