How to Exercise When Gyms are Closed

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Best Practices to Retain Muscle and Burn Calories

As once again our Hong Kong leaders in their wisdom have decided to close gyms and health centres for a continued period of time due to the Omicron sniffles, I have had to revert back to practices I used in 2020 during the first closures to keep my activity levels up. I have a whole host of things to say about this decision, but try not to write about it as the subject makes me incredibly frustrated.

As with any obstacle in life which is uncontrollable, there is no point staying angry about something you cannot control. Many of our governments decisions during Covid times have made me angry, so I have used this as a chance to practice my meditative state of mind. An example of trying to turn a negative into a positive.

How to replace the loss of calorie burn from gym sessions

It must be remembered that gym time only makes up a very tiny portion of a week. I only actually go to the gym twice a week and use this for a very specific purpose, being strength training and gymnastic practice. Admittedly my gym sessions can stretch to two hours as I am lucky enough to have the flexibility in my job to allow this. But usually my sessions are 90 minutes, which is on average 3 hours per week.

In real terms, this does not equate to a huge amount of additional calorie burn. Maybe an extra 300 calories per hour. This energy use is easily replaced through other activities, but that does not tackle the loss of strength training or muscle retention.

As mentioned above, the actual additional calorie burn during a strength training session is not massively significant. This is always a mistake people make. They assume that being in the gym burns around 500-600 calories per hour, but you really have to be doing a lot of hard cardio to burn that amount of additional energy. 

There are problems associated with gym sessions which are focused on cardio training due to body adaptation. So I strongly steer away from this to focus on muscle growth and increased strength through resistance training.

Walking is the way

This means that replacing the actual calorie burn is in fact a very easy thing to do. Which is why I simply focus back on my steps and make sure I increase my walking.

Walking is a massively underestimated exercise. It is kind to your joints due to low level impact compared to running. And more importantly, you can do it anytime, anywhere. There are no limitations, and an hour’s walk can burn around 300 calories. Which is more or less identical to an hour of strength training.

Therefore, there is no need to panic that you’re going to gain weight because the gyms are closed. You just need to stay focused on your nutrition, and increase steps by adding walks into your daily routine.

Maintaining muscle mass

This is a different challenge entirely as it is very difficult to replicate a squat with 60kgs on your back, or picking up something heavy from the floor. So the first thing I do is accept I will not make any strength gains whilst unable to go to the gym. This is a mental acceptance and something which is essential to ensure you stay on track in other ways.

However, this does not mean you have to stop strength training altogether. I replace my gym sessions by adding regular bodyweight exercises throughout my day. 

  • Whilst at home, every time I walk under my pullup bar, I do a few pullups and knee raises.
  • Every time I walk into an elevator alone, I do some squats.
  • In my office I have placed my pushup bars on the floor in a prime position to ensure each time I walk in, I get down and do 5.

This will never replace an actual barbell strength training session. But it is an effective way to keep your muscles working, and maybe even something to continue to do once the gyms reopen.

Additional practices

I also take this opportunity to work on other exercise practices. My cycling sessions will last longer, and I’ll find more time to go and kick around my football in an open space.

Furthermore I have also signed up to an online course being a 21 day hip opening challenge. This gives me time to learn more movement and mobility techniques, so when the gyms open again, I can return in even better condition than when they closed.


It really is easy to become frustrated and let yourself go when obstacles like this are thrown in front of you. But with all obstacles, they must be taken as a challenge; an opportunity to try something new and work on different things. 

When the gyms closed in 2020 I was quite shocked at how strong I felt when I went back to resistance training. The time off seemed to do me a lot of good. So I am using this time with a positive frame of mind, safe in the knowledge that my body enjoys the rest. So when I do return to the gym, I’ll be stronger and more mobile than ever before.

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