So what are you allowed to do to stay in shape during the lockdown? Suzanne McFadden finds out.

It wasn’t just toilet paper – last-minute panic buying in the countdown to lockdown was for dumbbells and punching bags too.

Fitness equipment was stripped from store shelves, as people searched for alternative ways to keep fit while gyms and fitness studios are closed during New Zealand’s four weeks of isolation to combat Covid-19.

One Auckland fitness store owner told Newsroom he was too busy to talk on the final trading day, such was the demand; they’d already sold out of weights, kettlebells and dumbbells.

But he had time to share this grievance: “If the government are letting people buy cream donuts and beer at the supermarket, they should be letting us get deliveries of fitness gear to people, safely. This is the stupidity of what’s happening.”

It’s been the same craze across the Tasman and in the United States, where stores have emptied of treadmills, exercycles and boxing bags in the past few days.

But exercise experts here warn that people with a lot of time on their hands should be careful not to suddenly overdo it, at the risk of lowering their immunity.

From today across New Zealand, outdoor exercise like walking, running or cycling is still allowed – as long as it’s done alone.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has emphasised that you can exercise with others only if they are the people you’ve chosen to live with for the next four weeks.

“You can’t cycle through and spend time with other people outside your bubble,” she says.

Which is why gyms and children’s playgrounds are no-go areas. People touching surfaces in a public space create the possibility of contracting Covid-19.  “Any time you make contact in a public space it’s a risk,” Ardern says. “Basically, you have to restart the clock”.

Playing golf is no longer an option – all courses have been closed for at least four weeks. Sports grounds have locked their gates. Public pools have also shut down, but you can swim in a lake, river or the sea, as long as you keep your distance from other swimmers.

A man runs through the streets of Rome during Italy’s Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Getty Images.

Walking your dog or jogging the streets – you must follow the 2m distance rule. 

NZ First was even encouraging people on Twitter to “hunt the roar” – for next month’s red stag hunting season – but coronavirus has now put an end to that too. 

But abuse the liberty to work up a sweat outdoors, and we may lose it.

Frustrated by seeing people still out and fraternising in northern Italy, the government has banned all exercise and outdoor activities – even putting limits on how far people can walk their dogs.

A stream of Italian mayors have taken to YouTube pleading with their people to stay at home. Among them the mayor of Delia, Gianfilippo Bancheri, who can’t understand why so many people have suddenly taken up running.   

“I have kept a habit of running now and then for 20 years. There are at most 20 regular runners in our city. How come everyone has turned out to be a running enthusiast now?” he yells into the camera. “I guess the last time you ran was when you were in primary school. What are you running for?”

In France, runners can only cover 1-2km and must not venture far from home (couples who live together can run alongside each other, as long as they carry a permission form). But cyclists have been ordered indoors.

And in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decreed that Britons are restricted to one form of exercise per day outside of their homes.

New Zealand strength and conditioning high-performance scientist, Angus Ross, says Kiwis can do “pretty much any exercise” as long as it’s done individually, but that may be a stumbling block from some.

“Not being able to exercise in groups could be problematic for some people. But it’s about being self-motivated,” says Ross, who works with some of New Zealand’s top athletes.

“You can use social media to get your exercise kick – compete with each other online, motivate each other. And there are so many workouts online now – videos of body-weight exercises made by trainers especially for the lockdown.”

Celebrities are taking up the challenge. The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has offered a nine-step home workout that doesn’t require equipment to stay fit during the pandemic, while Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is giving free access for the next six weeks to his home fitness app. 

Newsroom columnist James Elliott has proven fitness in isolation can be done. He’s been walking around Auckland during his 10 days in solitude (after returning home from Australia). Now inspired by a friend on social media in the United Kingdom, he’s dragged his exercycle out of retirement and he and partner, Rachel, are going to cycle (the equivalent of) the length of New Zealand.

Ross spent Monday doling out equipment to the Olympic athletes he works with in Cambridge, so they could set up their own gyms at home.

With the news yesterday that the Tokyo Olympics are now postponed until 2021 to “safeguard the health of athletes”, New Zealand’s elite sports stars will have to re-think their training schedules. 

Shot put specialist Tom Walsh, the Rio Olympics bronze medallist, usually takes six to eight weeks off training at the end of the Northern Hemisphere summer. “But now Tom has to contemplate having time off now or using this time to be in better shape for next year,” Ross says.

Ross has a warning for everyday fitness warriors.

“Unless you’re an elite athlete and you’re used to it, going on a massive exercise kick now might not be the smartest thing. Definitely keep exercising for your health and well-being, but don’t go stupid with it,” he says.

“If you smash yourself you can become immune-compromised. If you’re doing exercise more than five times a week, you can be less resilient to bacterial and viral infections.

“Also try not to do the same thing every day. There are different components to fitness – aerobic, strength, flexibility, moving well, and co-ordination. Do something you enjoy and use social media to share ideas with friends.”

Let your lounge become a playground, says kids sports consultant Karen Laurie. Photo: Caleb Wood/Unsplash

For parents in lockdown with kids at home, not being able to visit the local playground may be a nightmare in itself.

But Sport New Zealand tamariki lead, Karen Laurie, says it’s important to have your children doing some kind of physical activity at home, even if there’s only a small space to do it in. Her advice: rediscover your home and backyard.

“The more we get our kids physical and active, the better their mental well-being. Physically they are going to stay healthier. And we want them to feel supported and have fun,” she says.

Letting kids choose what they do, so “they feel like they are part of the whole solution”, also helps deal with any anxiety and stress brought on by the lockdown, Laurie says.

“Think about what your kids are involved with now – like the sports they play or if they like going to the playground – and get creative. Your lounge can become a playground, your kitchen a dance floor, your backyard a scavenger hunt,” she says.

“Do a family treasure hunt, to see what things we can find around the house to have fun and be active. You can start the ball rolling, by rolling up a pair of socks as a ball and a glad wrap roll as a bat and have a bit of fun.

“You don’t have to go out to a park, you can be creative in a small space. Relax the rules around climbing on the tables and chairs, and make tents with blankets, towels and cushions.”

Laurie, meanwhile, is doing her bit to keep her distance – living on a 16m boat with her family sailing up the east coast of the Northland. She will be diving, swimming, paddle-boarding and yoga on the deck to keep active in lockdown.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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