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The Best Exercises to Do While You’re Watching TV

Squeezing in a set while you’re bingeing ‘Ozark’ isn’t just peak efficiency — it’s great for your body

This week, at long last, I received a much expected email from my gym alerting me to the fact that it was reopening — with a long list of modifications, of course:

Also expected was the small print at the bottom of the email, which stated that the gym would resume billing me — at full freight, no less — for my membership. Considering that I’m lucky my gym isn’t requiring a reservation, or that our locker rooms are even open (albeit at limited capacity), that full-price membership isn’t entirely indefensible. (Members of other gyms won’t be so lucky.)

Still, I have no intention of going back to a gym until a coronavirus vaccine is here. And so, I’ll be working out at home for the foreseeable future, which is a mixed bag. For instance, it’s free, but if I want weights, I need to buy (and store) them; not to mention, there are distractions galore at home. 

Maybe, though, I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe it’s not about setting aside time to workout, but finding ways to workout at home when I’m doing nothing at all. “You’d be amazed at what you can get done in between all the other parts of your day,” says personal trainer Damien Brown. “Watching TV, for example, is a perfect time to do something. Dips, captain’s chairs, planks — all of that can be done even when you’re focused on what’s happening on a screen.”

“I have all kinds of workouts I do just to pass the time,” explains Oliver Lee Bateman, an amateur bodybuilder who also has no intention of going back to the gym. “I’ll do standing calf raises, air squats, neck bridges, side bends, good mornings with no barbell, you name it. I’ll even do a lot of static yoga-type holds.”

Additionally, he says, “I have a pull-up bar, so I’ll often do excruciatingly slow ‘dead hang’ pull-ups — maybe two to five at a time — as I walk in or out of my dining room. And I’m always bouncing my foot or squeezing something, usually a tennis ball.” 

I, too, was once a strict adherent of this philosophy. Case in point: When I was working on the fifth story of an office building, I used to see how many push-ups I could do in the elevator before the doors opened. I’d wash my hands afterwards, of course, but I found it to be the perfect way to utilize an otherwise meaningless bit of downtime.

And if you’re wondering whether squeezing in a set here or there is enough for the gains, Bateman is sure to tell me, “The exercises I do, even in small doses, definitely help. For one, they stabilize my core and help me get used to discomfort. For another, they ‘grease the grooves’ to help ensure my movement pathways are in good shape. The payoff has been tremendous in terms of recovery, reducing pain/soreness and so on.”

So now the only drawback to working out from home is that even a trip to the kitchen for a snack can be turned into a quick set of pull-ups.