During lockdown, many of us took up outdoor exercise as a way to get out the house and stay active, but since restrictions have eased and gyms have reopened, getting back to your normal fitness routine has become a lot easier.
If you’re still working from home, exercise can break up the monotony of your day and can help relieve stress too. But it can be difficult to find motivation to get started, which is where events like National Fitness Day, marked annually on 23 September, come into play.
Coordinated by the not-for-profit health body ukactive, the event looks to highlight the importance of leading a healthier and more active lifestyle, and there’s plenty of activities to get stuck into.
Ways you can get involved include hosting virtual workouts, leading fitness challenges, or participating in many of the free exercise classes that can be found on its events website.
Whether you’re a fan of weights, yoga, running or swimming, we’ve created a guide to the essentials you need to get started, with or without a gym membership.
From the classes to join, people to follow, what to wear and equipment worth investing in, we’ve got you covered for both indoor and outdoor workouts.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Online classes and apps
Getting your sweat on doesn’t always require a gym membership, especially since lockdown inspired a shift to virtual sessions that you can join from the comfort of your living room.
In our guide to the best fitness and online training programmes to join, we loved the Fiit membership (Fiit, £10 a month), which provides access to many of the best trainers in the country – including Adrienne Herbert, Alex Crockford and Richie Norton – for video-led workouts that can be completed in your bedroom and beyond.
There are three categories to choose from – cardio, strength and rebalance, which includes yoga, pilates, mobility and breath work – and all feature sessions comprising bodyweight moves, so they’re accessible to everybody.
There are hundreds of videos available – either 25 or 40 minutes in length and varying in difficulty – and new ones drop frequently.
Upgrading to a premium membership (which costs from £10 per month) provides you with a Fiit device, which allows you to track your heart rate and calories burnt during a workout, and also provides access to unlimited classes and exclusive content.
For a more relaxed approach to improving strength and tone, try yoga, and if you’re new to it and want some guidance to help perfect positions and technique, try following a session with Yoga With Adriene, one of the biggest yoga YouTube channels, fronted by instructor Adriene Mishler.
She leads free, very straightforward sessions on her channel, creating challenges such as 30 Days Of Yoga or poses for specific needs like chronic pain or for cramps. You’ll also find simple poses to imitate posted on her Instagram too.
Pick up a yoga mat while you’re at it for a dedicated workout space to complete your excercises.
Our favourite is the Liforme yoga mat (Liforme, £100). It’s spacious with a grippy surface, even in the most intense hot yoga class our reviewer tried, and it is longer and wider than most (at 185cm x 68cm) and it sits right at the sweet spot for thickness (4.2mm). What makes it so unique, though, is the grid system laid over the top to help you align yourself in poses.
It’s brilliant for anyone with a home practice when there isn’t a teacher on hand for adjustments. The lines are very slightly textured and they do take a bit of getting used to – particularly if you have a set shape for downward dog, for example – but it’s worth playing with.
What you wear when exercising plays an important role in keeping you comfortable and supported. The better your kit is, the more likely you are to work out consistently.
Whether your activity of choice is running, yoga or a HIIT workout, a good sports bra will reduce chafing and lower back or breast pain while keeping you supported.
In our sports bra guide, we put a selection to the test and found the Runderwear easy-on support running bra (Runderwear, £50) came out on top.
Designed for high-impact training, our reviewers found the moulded cups, adjustable shoulder straps and encased, wide underband offered superior support and comfort over any other product they tried.
It’s quick-wicking and breathable too, so it won’t leave you feeling sticky when you work up a sweat, whether your exercise of choice is burpees or a treadmill sprint.
Comfortable and stretchy, gym leggings are a must-have and suit any type of workout. When shopping for a pair you’ll want to find a design that will stay in place, not bunch up around the ankles and knees, nor dig into skin.
Our favourite pair in our guide to the best were the On tights ⅞ (On Running, £95) which are admittedly expensive, but a worthwhile investment if you’re a regular gym-goer.
Cut just above the ankle, they are lightweight with a high waistband which kept them securely in place for high knees, deadlifts, squats and chest-to-floor burpees, according to our reviewer.
Skipping ropes, hula hoops and weights
If you’re looking to keep it simple or don’t want to commit to a gym membership, you can easily create your own mini kit to work out from home.
Skipping is one way to tone muscle and improve coordination, and all you need is a rope and enough space to skip on the spot.
In our guide to the best, we loved the Beast Gear beast rope pro (Beast Gear, £19.97) that’s fast, durable and pretty nice to look at. It includes a unique double bearing system, which enables a smooth rotation, and a locking mechanism to prevent the cable from slipping, even during the fastest workouts.
The steel coated cable is ultra strong and withstood us putting it through its paces in HIIT sessions, interval training and longer aerobic workouts. We loved the smaller, lighter handles, which are hollow, and found it aided our sessions, plus, the rope is easy to adjust and you get a nylon bag for storage.
Another exercise that needs very little space is weighted hula hooping, a workout that’s perfect to master in your garden while strengthening your core.
In our guide to the best weighted hula hoops, we were impressed with the Powerhoop deluxe (Powerhoop, £54.95) that is suitable for both beginners and expert hoopers.
It comes with intuitive steel inserts to slide inside the hoop to customise its weight, all the way up to a serious 2kg, and is lined with colourful, flexible plastic gradations that help the hoop grip to you without bruising.
Both our novice and experienced testers loved this hoop, and its grippy casing made it one of the easiest to get started with.
Should you prefer to build strength through more traditional weight training, pick up these Bodymax rubber hex dumbbells (Powerhouse fitness, from £9.99) that are specifically designed for indoor use, as their hexagonal shape stops them rolling.
In our review of the best hand weights, our tester noted that the shape allows you to do press-ups or planks on them with stability and without damaging your floor. They are available from 1kg up to 30kg.
Exercise bikes and rowing machines
If you’re looking to make a bigger commitment and want a permanent fitness fixture in your home, try an exercise bike, that will ensure you can go spinning without having to find a spot in an expensive class.
We’d recommend the Wattbike atom (Wattbike, £1,899 plus £60 delivery) that’s powerful but compact, ideal if you’re short on space.
In our round-up of the best exercise bikes, our reviewer praised the “comfortable and well gripped” handlebars, noting that “the whole set up is geared to help all levels of road racer analyse and improve their performance.”
We also loved that the bike closely replicates what it feels like to be out on the road and you can either manually adjust the resistance or switch to “ergo” mode, which does it for you.
Rowing is another sport that can quickly take your fitness to the next level, but if you’re a city dweller or don’t live close to a club or the water, get in on the fun with a rowing machine at home.
In our guide to the best rowing machines, we loved the V Fit tornado air (Amazon, £389.99). Smartly designed, the machine responds to your improving performance to test you further, so even when you get fitter and faster, you don’t have to upgrade the machine.
Our reviewer liked the large and easy-to-read digital display showing all of the vital stats (time, distance, strokes, strokes per minute, calories), the oversized footpads for comfort and the fact it can handle up to 115kg in weight. It easily folded down for storage too.
A great full body workout that will strengthen and tone muscles without any pressure on your joints is swimming, and it can also be a refreshing way to start or end the day.
Make a splash in this Casa Raki Maggie Maillot one-piece (Casa Raki, £180) which came highly rated in our guide to sustainable swimwear.
The London-based brand applies an environmentally conscious approach to every part of the manufacturing process from the packaging down to the clothing tags, with the aim of minimising waste.
Comfortable, flattering and made from very soft materials, our reviewer said sizing (from XS to L) does come up a little small, so recommend sizing up if you’re in between sizes.
For men, try these recycled swim shorts (John Lewis & Partners, £35) that are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester.
They have a locker loop so you can hang them up to try easily and an adjustable tie waist to ensure they stay in place while swimming lengths.
A good pair of goggles for indoor swimming will not only protect your eyes from chlorine but keep other swimmers visible at all times and help you anticipate tumble turns off the side of the pool too.
We loved the Speedo futura biofuse flexiseal goggle (Speedo, £21) for their comfort and ease to wear. Even after a long pool session, there were no marks left on our reviewers face.
They are easy to adjust with a button system and didn’t fog up either while our tester was swimming lengths.
Avoid the horrible feeling of water going up your nose when you’re head is beneath the water with a nose clip.
We’d recommend this Arena nose clip pro (Wiggle, £4.80) that has soft pads and an adjustable frame for a comfortable fit.
It’s small and lightweight too, so will stay securely on your face but can fit into a small back pocket on your trunks or swimsuit for when you’re taking a rest.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to regular exercise, try running. It’s free, requires very little equipment and is simple to get started. Plus, with regular practice, you can improve quickly.
Start with footwear, as a supportive shoe will cushion feet and protect you from injuries.
We’d recommend the New Balance fresh foam 1080v10 London (New Balance, from £135) for both men and women, which were loved by our reviewers for being lightweight, giving a smooth ride on the road and keeping legs feeling fresh even after a long run.
The midsole was praised for keeping the foot in place and anchoring the heel. The all-rounder shoe excelled in both comfort and performance.
If you want some motivation to get started, and to track your distance, measure your heart rate and increase your average speed, apps like Couch To 5K do just that. The NHS-approved platform aims to get you off your couch and completing 5km in nine weeks through completing three runs a week.
You can pick a celebrity coach to guide each run including Jo Whiley, Sarah Millican, Sanjeev Kohli or Michael Johnson to keep things entertaining, as the key is consistency.
It’s suitable for all ages and abilities, week one starts off small with just a brisk five-minute walk, with alternating one minute of running and one and a half minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Download it here for Android and here for iOS.
Listen to music or podcasts while jogging with a pair of wireless headphones to block out the world. Our favourites are the Jabra elite active 75t (Very, £209), which performed superbly during high-impact exercises and are the most comfortable pair we found.
Our tester said: “Be prepared to run, jump and burpee without any interruptions or feeling the need to readjust the earbuds – they fit snugly without the feeling of completely blocking your ears.”
For more on fitness, read our guide on how to prevent DOMS when heading back to the gym
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