Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Feb 2021, 11:59 a.m.

Three Ways I Exercise In My Apartment

My mental and physical health are much better if I can exercise, to the point of getting sweaty, for at least 20 minutes every day. The forms of exercise I most enjoy (hiking, biking for errands, helping people move belongings or build things, multiperson sports) are a lot harder to do during the pandemic. So I was very sedentary for a lot of 2020.

I started trying various approaches to in-my-apartment exercise, such as calisthenics while listening to podcasts, working out alone in my living room along with an online video such as this New York Times six-minute workout, etc. It was hard for me to make and stick to a schedule and stay consistent. I eventually came to a few approaches that, combined, work well for me. I have actually been able to exercise approximately every day using a combination of these three activities.

Here's what I'm doing, in case you've been struggling with similar problems.

Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure

Three to five days every week, I play a Nintendo game where I do specified exercises in order to travel through a fantasy landscape and fight monsters. I am told that this is a classic role-playing game (RPG) and that all the stuff about levelling up, collecting potions, choosing the right attack for a particular monster, fulfilling bystander requests, etc. is totally standard for the game genre. I am fairly unfamiliar with it and am learning everything just fine as I go, thanks to in-game instructions. Once, in about 20-30 sessions of playing, I've looked up stuff in online forums (it is hard to get the console to register when I'm doing a plank), but otherwise it's been very easy to learn. And there is immediate feedback to help me learn the proper form for each exercise, as much as the sensors allow.

It works to keep me motivated! There's novel stuff every day, so I want to discover what's next in the story and what new exercises, potions, and minigames the game has in store for me. And I like the immediate feedback. It is easier for me to get myself to do a bunch of squats if it will defeat a monster!

The bits of the game that are not exercise (like talking to characters and turning ingredients into potions) are not exercise, so there's an in-game clock that helpfully tells me how much I have actually exercised in the current session. A 30-minute exercise session might take 45 to 60 minutes of game time for me (your results may vary).

At the start, the game helps the user set a difficulty setting based on things like how often the user currently exercises. I started at "10" and have been gradually cranking it up -- I think I'm at 20 now. I think this means I have to do more exercise movements to beat any given monster.

I dislike that I am using proprietary software and hardware for this. If there were a libre alternative that had approximately all the same characteristics and was engineered to the same quality, I'd love to use that instead.

Technical details: You will need to buy the console (which includes two "Joy-Con" controllers), the game, and two special attachments: the leg strap and the Ring-Con (see "money details" below for costs). One Joy-Con goes into a pocket on the leg strap, which wraps around a thigh and attaches with Velcro, so that can measure when you're jogging or squatting and so on. The other Joy-Con slots into the Ring-Con, which is like a stiff circular resistance band that measures how hard you squeeze and pull it, and whether it's moving and in what direction (so, whether you have lifted it over your head).

You'll also need some physical space to play it -- maybe something like a 6 foot by 4 foot space, where you can also wave your arms above your head and kick your legs and so on without knocking stuff over. I use a couple of yoga mats as a light cushion and to reduce noise.

Money details: To play this, you'll need to buy:

  1. A Nintendo Switch (the console, which comes with two "Joy-Con" controllers): currently about USD$300
  2. The software (the game), which (if you buy it new) costs about $80 and comes with the two attachments listed below
  3. Two attachments, the leg strap and the "Ring-Con"; can be bought separately for like $10 and $30 respectively in case you bought the game used/standalone
Small-group video class with a trainer

Once a week I take a one-hour strength-type class led by a certified strength and conditioning coach in the Midwest. He's a brother of a friend of a friend and he has a little extra time right now. So my friend told me about this class (USD$15/session), and now once a week I get on a Zoom call with 2-4 other people and do, like, leg lifts and weightlifting and whatnot.

If you decide to do something like this, it is fine to shop around for an instructor who suits your style and whose demeanor you like! I like someone who encourages you to only do what you can handle and who tells you how to modify if, for instance, your wrist is not up to pushups today. And I like someone who is straightforward in explaining the anatomical dynamics of what you're trying to do -- this is especially helpful during a remote class since they can't physically come over and help you re-position to do a movement right.

The externally scheduled commitment helps me show up, and, once I'm there, I'm more likely to do hard exercises because a trainer has just instructed me to do so. And the peer pressure helps. I can see my classmates working, and the trainer, and my other classmates, can see through my camera as I work. Also, the professional "bend your left leg more, that's good"-type advice helps me get more out of each movement.

Technical details: I use a Snap to run the Zoom client on Debian Linux. I also use a sports-y Bluetooth headset (hooking over the ear) so I can more easily hear the instructor while multiple feet away from my laptop's speakers. And I have some light (like 2-5 pounds) hand weights that I use for some exercises, and I use a yoga mat as a light cushion.

Money details: The instructor for this charges $15 per session, payable by PayPal. I think it's totally worth it for a one-hour class that includes expert interaction.

1:1 or small group videocalls working out with a YouTube video

About 3-4 days per week, I have pre-scheduled videocalls with a few people I at least kind of know, where we work out together while simultaneously watching a YouTube exercise video.

I pick the videos we use, and generally stick to 10- or 15-minute novice-friendly exercise videos. I prefer videos where the instructor (or a demonstrator in the video) shows how to modify each activity to make it easier or harder, and where the instructor doesn't get sizeist or too imperative. I like Jessica Valant's Pilates videos and have found some reasonable cardiovascular exercise sessions on the POP Sugar Fitness channel.

Again, the pre-scheduled commitment to other people makes it more likely I will show up, and seeing each other through our cameras nudges each of us into trying to move along with the video (or doing some kind of substitute movement if the video's too hard).

I used some private online groups/chats and individual emails/texts/catchup-calls to mention the opportunity to friends and acquaintances whom I know well enough to do a sweaty plank or graceless jumping jack (in UK English: star jump) in front of. I suggested that they let me know if this was something they might like to join in, even just to try it once, and offered to make the videocall arrangements, figure out a few good times, pick videos, etc. So now I have some recurring calendar items set up. And it's a nice way to have some virtual face time with a few friends without having to make a ton of conversation!

The structure is generally:

  1. 5 minutes: Setup, getting a glass of water, talking about what we're up for (including whether anyone has parts of their body that can't take stress right now), choosing a video and length
  2. 10-20 minutes: Exercising along with the video
  3. 5 minutes: How was that -- length, intensity, movement complexity, instructor demeanor, etc.? Things to keep/change for next time?

Technical details: and Jitsi Meet both make it easy to start a free meeting and to watch a YouTube video together (ad-free). The YouTube audio takes over and everyone else is muted, but you can still see everyone else's camera. Meetings on Whereby's free tier are limited to 4 people; Jitsi can deal with, like, 25 people at least. Both Whereby and Jitsi work fine in the browser and invitees don't need to download a new app or plugin, or create a login account.

As with the small group class calls, I usually use a sports-type Bluetooth headset and a yoga mat. I usually choose videos that do not require that you have any hand dumbbells, because some of my friends don't have any.

A few of my friends have a tough time learning a set of complex physical movements while watching and doing those movements. So with them the session is a little longer. We watch the video once to learn what movements to do (maybe on 1.5x speed, sometimes skipping ahead 5 seconds using the right arrow key) and then close it and share it again (at 1x speed) to watch it and exercise along with it. You can do this in Jitsi or Whereby but I think there's a jumpiness glitch in Jitsi; haven't tried it in Whereby yet.

Money details: Free! Fortunately, it's free to watch videos on YouTube. And Jitsi is free to use, and I already have a Whereby account that's good for up to 4 people.

Other considerations

We have a neighbor who can hear when I exercise noisily, so I negotiated via text message to ask what times of day are reasonable windows for me to exercise without bothering them, and I try to stick to those windows.

I went a bit too hard early on and went straight from sedentary life to doing about 45 minutes of intense exercise (with not nearly enough stretching along the way) in one day. This made one of my legs cranky and I had to stay off it as much as possible, and alternate ice and warmth on it, for like two weeks. I am middle-aged now and need to treat myself somewhat gently!

I figure at some point, months from now, I will want to increase the intensity, duration, etc. of some workouts. Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure and the strength class will be able to scale up to provide more difficulty, but the videocalls with friends may struggle to do that depending on what my friends want and need. But at that point I could, for instance, play Ring Fit every day, including days when I have a short additional workout with friends. I have done this a few times already when my videocall workouts have been very light or short.