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Column: How to become an elite athlete while in quarantine, Part 2: Kicking yourself into action

Or how to learn a new party trick.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am - Round Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

As I mentioned in last week’s column, this weird quarantine experience has certainly brought some weird thoughts and feelings - the most far fetched perhaps being the idea of becoming a professional athlete and emerging from quarantine chiseled like Michelangelo’s David.

Unlikely? You bet. That’s why I said it was far fetched. But as I mentioned last week, we can at least use this rare opportunity of being forced to be away from the rest of civilization to accomplish something as individuals - like emerging in slightly better shape than that in which we disappeared in months before...or at least balancing out all the chips we’ve been consuming lately.

The first step, as we talked about last week, was recognizing there’s a problem: We’ve been collectively eating too much comfort food (I say “we” in the hope that it’s not just me who ordered Uber Eats from three different locations to (1) support local business (2) take advantage of a promo and (3) have a variety of cuisines to choose from by the time virtual movie night started with my friends Saturday night, sitting idle at home and generally having no reason to be motivated to action. All those, in case you haven’t gathered, are problems.

Once you’ve recognized the problem, the next step, naturally, is identifying a solution. Hence, the 80/20 rule. In marketing and other disciplines, the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of events. That’s not what we’re talking about here, because this blog isn’t about relaying marketing principles (though if we’re without sports for too much longer we might just get there).

What I mean by the 80/20 rule in this context is that roughly 80% of your choices should be generally healthy and 20% should be generally indulgent — because life’s a balance, after all. Most of the time, you should eat well, exercise, do your five-step skincare routine, hydrate and get eight hours of sleep. But some of the time you should eat all the donuts, veg on the couch with Netflix and give yourself a rest day.

Why does this rule matter now? Because, at least for me, there’s been a lot more Netflix and a lot less running outside; a lot more donuts and a lot less water; a lot more working at my day job until the wee hours of the morning because I forget to compartmentalize and a lot less sleep.

Which brings us to how the rule plays out in quarantine. It’s hard to be motivated to action when you don’t have a set schedule. For those sitting at home with literally nothing to do every day, what’s the reason to do anything at a set time? Then there’s the fact that, if working out was not in your paradigm to begin with, it’s that much harder to figure it out in an environment where you’re already trying to figure everything else out— from video conferencing for all your meetings to living with the constant threat of not finding toilet paper.

These two quandaries are linked. If you’ve read any of the work from home guidance that’s been permeating the interweb in recent weeks, every list starts with setting your routine. That means waking up at the same time, actually getting dressed in real clothes, scheduling your work to start and end at the same time and eating three meals a day. Setting a routine also means an opportunity to set a time for working out.

I played lacrosse through college and now am a long-distance runner. I also happened to attend a service academy where physical fitness was something that was literally tested like academic performance. Regular exercise, as a result, has always been part of my routine, but figuring it out in this new paradigm has still been a challenge.

So what do you do once you’ve established your routine? We’ve talked a lot about the process of getting ready to get in shape, but very little up to this point in terms of what to actually do. That’s because getting motivated is half the battle and, as I mentioned in last week’s post, you’ve got to do you when it comes to what type of exercise is right for you. You need to do things you love in terms of exercise rather than forcing things you hate. Because it’s easy to be told you need to run, but that doesn’t help when you hate running.

First things first is finding ways to be active in your new normal and taking advantage of the time that we do have. Living in Chicago, even on days when I’m not extremely active, I still walk for 45 minutes a day to and from the train from home and work. What about that 45 minutes of walking now when I’m not commuting? Why not take the pup out? Why not borrow a pup from a neighbor (is that a thing?)? Why not just stroll and smell the flowers that have FINALLY emerged while staying a comfortable six feet away from everyone else doing the same thing?

Then there’s the bit about taking advantage of the unique circumstances we are in. One of the constant reasons I hear from people for not working out is the simple expression that they don’t know how. “I don’t know what I’d do at a gym.” Guess what: If this statement describes your circumstance, then this situation is just the one for you to figure it out.

You can take your time to learn some new type of workout without being embarrassed to do it in a group class or worrying that you won’t be able to go at your own pace. You literally have all the time in the world. We don’t need to get into all the apps that are offering free trials right now, but I’ve gotten real into Peloton yoga and have been able to try (and fail the first few times in) poses I’d almost assuredly faceplant in if in an actual studio. I’m certainly no yoga master, but last week I figured out how to go from tripod headstand to crow pose to tripod headstand and back to crow! What a world. Thanks Ross Rayburn.

You, too, can learn a fun new skill or form of exercise from the comfort of your own home. And if it makes you feel better, even Olympians are getting in on the at-home workout experience, even sharing tips during that brief period where it seemed the summer games might still be a go.

Elle Woods once taught us all that “exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” Find time in your new routine to balance the Disney+ and the donuts, and be prepared to emerge from this time with a cool new party trick, if nothing else.

Bye for now.