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Working out at home? Here are some tips from a Tampa Bay personal trainer

Working out is a great way to break up all those hours spent at home. But it can be daunting.
Trainer Matt O'Brien explains how to use household items to get a vigorous workout.
Trainer Matt O'Brien explains how to use household items to get a vigorous workout. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]
Published Apr. 17, 2020|Updated May 1, 2020

Trying to stay fit while staying at home can be hard on many levels.

For one, it’s tough to keep up the motivation. Also, gym equipment can be difficult to get right now. It’s a serious challenge finding a 12- or 15-pound dumbbell these days. And then there’s the overwhelming impulse to eat all day.

So I asked Matt O’Brien, a personal trainer and owner of Tryumph Functional Fitness and Nutrition in Largo, for advice on how to stay fit at home. (Full disclosure: I am a member of his gym.) He explained the importance of exercise and demonstrated some moves you can do with household items for a vigorous workout.

Coach Matt O'Brien at his gym, Tryumph Functional Fitness and Nutrition in Largo.
Coach Matt O'Brien at his gym, Tryumph Functional Fitness and Nutrition in Largo. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Why is exercising important during the coronavirus?

Staying active and making good lifestyle choices is important for keeping the immune system strong, which is going to be able to naturally deal with the repercussions of any kind of infection or virus. It doesn’t guarantee immunity, but it does help how you respond to it.

Can you explain how working out can help manage stress?

Part of the stress of staying at home is that we’re out of our routine. We either don’t have any structure or less structure, and throw in added financial stress, or the stress for parents homeschooling kids, and it saps your body of your feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters. Exercise helps relieve stress; I call it a healthy addiction and you have to get your daily D.O.S.E., an acronym for those neurotransmitters that exercise optimizes.

Dopamine is your motivation. Oxytocin is the one that social distancing has a huge effect on, because that comes from that interaction with other people. Serotonin is your happy hormone, and when you have low serotonin levels from chronic stress, you’re going to turn to food to try to temporarily make you happy. Epinephrine is your energy neurotransmitter that gives you more energy to do whatever you have to do.

Speaking of finding motivation and resisting the urge to eat all the time, what advice do you have?

Self-motivation is very hard. And I’m talking about myself included. There are very few in my 25 years of working with people that have enough of that self-motivation to exercise all by themselves. So I think this is where it’s critical to plug into some kind of community or source of accountability. That can be simply making a workout pact with a friend or a workout buddy to check in on Facebook or text message, so you’re accountable to somebody besides yourself.

To kill the snack attack monster, there are two strategies. One is to either get the junk out of your house or at least out of sight, out of mind. And then the other thing is obviously making the right choices, like whole foods, healthy fats and proteins, and putting those within sight. Nutrition is critical for weight loss. Exercise only will not make you skinny, but it will make you healthy.

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Any other advice for staying fit while at home?

It’s important to establish a routine, and part of that could be taking walks outside and really embrace nature and leave the phone at home.

Using household items to work out

It’s been hard finding certain workout equipment, so we asked O’Brien for substitutes that may be easier to find at home.

A gallon jug

The one that everybody may already have or can get easily is a gallon water jug or milk jug. A jug full of liquid is about 8 pounds. Fill up a quarter of it with sand and the rest with water and that’s about 10 pounds. Half sand and half water is 15 pounds. A full jug of sand is almost 20 pounds.

A gallon jug with milk or water or even sand can he used as a weight.
A gallon jug with milk or water or even sand can he used as a weight. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

A can of paint

A full paint can weighs about 12 pounds. The handle is slightly uncomfortable to grip, so wrap a washcloth folded into quarters on the handle.

Got paint cans? Use them to work out.
Got paint cans? Use them to work out. [ MAGGIE DUFFY | Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Those work really well for exercises that you’d use a dumbbell or kettlebell for, like biceps curls, kettlebell thrusters, kettlebell swings, suitcase carries, dumbbell lunges and dumbbell squats.

Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout.
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout.
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Paper plates

Appetizer-sized paper plates can substitute as sliders, which make for intensely effective exercises that use your body weight to create a lot of resistance.

Hollie O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout.
Hollie O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Place the plates under the balls of your feet and start in a plank position.

Use paper plates to up your at-home workout.
Use paper plates to up your at-home workout. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Slide your legs up into a pike position, slide back out and repeat.

Hollie O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout.
Hollie O'Brien demonstrates how to use household items to get a vigorous workout. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

A suitcase

Load up a small carry-on suitcase with clothes or other items. Those work really well as a big dumbbell or barbell replacement for squats, overhead presses and a clean and press.

Stuff that suitcase full of items to make it heavier.
Stuff that suitcase full of items to make it heavier. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates a clean and press using a suitcase.
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates a clean and press using a suitcase. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates a clean and press using a suitcase.
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates a clean and press using a suitcase. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates a clean and press using a suitcase.
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates a clean and press using a suitcase. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Train with chalk

Use sidewalk chalk to make an agility ladder or hopscotch board for a cardio warmup. You can find agility ladder drills on YouTube.

Create agility training with chalk.
Create agility training with chalk. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

That’s a good activity for kids to do with their parents.

Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates some chalk work.
Trainer Matt O'Brien demonstrates some chalk work. [ Courtesy of Matt O'Brien ]

Want more of O’Brien’s tips? Tryumph Functional Fitness and Nutrition offers an online coaching membership that includes daily workouts led by personal trainers, nutrition advice, recipes, weight-loss challenges and even style tips.