Fitness: 'Why I'm keeping up my pandemic pursuit'

With gyms closed and many face-to-face classes cancelled over the past year, people have been embracing new forms of exercise, from power walking to paddleboarding. Here four ladies share their lockdown fitness finds. . .

Lydia Parkin, from St Neots, who works in communications, has taken up kayaking

Lydia Parkin paddleboarding on the River Cam (44956374)
Lydia Parkin paddleboarding on the River Cam (44956374)

Fitness regime pre-Covid: My friends like to laugh at all my 'extra-curricular' activities, which include running, a ballet class, playing netball and the gym. Reading that back, it does make me sound like a teenager with pushy parents! But I like variety when it comes to keeping fit - it helps to keep me motivated.

My pandemic pursuit: Kayaking! It seems like the ultimate lockdown cliche, along with banana bread and Jo Wicks' workouts, but we actually bought the kayak in 2019. It sat in our shed for a good six months, but then suddenly when lockdown hit, I had run out of excuses not to get out on the water. So, one sunny Sunday last May, my husband James and I embarked on our first kayak adventure on the River Ouse. I'd like to say it was all plain sailing (excuse the pun) from them on, but alas, our first two attempts didn't quite go to plan. Attempt one saw me wave goodbye to a phone and a single flipflop (plus my dignity). While during attempt two (having finally plucked up the courage to get back out again), we hadn't pumped up the kayak properly and very nearly sunk! But still, undeterred, we were determined to keep calm and carry on, and I'm very pleased to say, attempt three was a success! In fact, we loved it.

It was a total pleasure to be in the great outdoors, gliding along with the sunshine on our faces, zigzagging through the reeds and marvelling at the wildlife on our doorstep. It was a brilliant workout too; my arms were on fire after just half an hour kayaking and nothing helps you get a sweat on like trying to escape an angry swan! We even took the kayak on tour, spending an afternoon on the River Cam (before the punts were back - bliss!).

Are you still enjoying it? I'm ashamed to say we're very much fair-weather kayakers, so there's been no kayaking adventures recently. But rest assured, as the weather warms up, we'll definitely be back out on the river. It would be rude not to.

Jane Horwood, a web designer from Haslingfield, has clocked up hundreds of miles on her daily walks with dog Hugo

Jane Horwood and her dog Hugo have clocked up the miles walking (44956370)
Jane Horwood and her dog Hugo have clocked up the miles walking (44956370)

Fitness regime pre-Covid: I’d go running, do pilates, and three or four times a week I’d do a 10-minute ‘Madonna arm work out’. Unfortunately, I still don’t have those Madonna arms. I’d also go circuit training with a group of friends, and walk three times a week, two of those with my neighbour, come rain or shine.

My pandemic pursuit: In January 2020, I started the Walk 1000 Miles Challenge organised by Country Walking Magazine. While I like walking, it often gets pushed aside due to work commitments.

Pandemic restrictions meant I had to abandon my classes, and walking has since really overtaken my life. A day does not go by without a walk, with my neighbour or other friends. We trot up to Magog Down for our ‘regular fix’ and have been exploring other areas including Eversden, Wimpole, Swavesey, Houghton, Fulbourn, Hardwick and Fowlmere. We’ve had encounters with alpacas, fairy houses, thunder and lightning, torrential downpours and mud up to our knees. It’s great seeing how the landscape changes with the seasons, and I spend a lot of time cloud watching.

At the end of June my husband and I got a Yorkshire Terrier, Hugo, so he comes along too. I usually walk 5 or 6 miles a day but longer walks can push this up to 12 miles.

Walking is great for freeing your mind and providing headspace for coming up with fun and creative ideas. Most importantly, it means I can still see my friends, as we can socially distance as we walk and talk.

Are you still enjoying it? The day does not feel complete without a walk. At the beginning of last year my plan (with a couple of friends) was to go to the coast once a month for a weekend of walking. Covid-19 put the tin hat on that. However, we will be booking ourselves in to some welcoming seaside hostelries once restrictions allow.

Sue Bibby, a retired teaching assistant, who lives in Dry Drayton, has learnt to love running after tackling the NHS Couch to 5K

Sue Bibby on one of her Couch to 5K runs (44956381)
Sue Bibby on one of her Couch to 5K runs (44956381)

Fitness regime pre-Covid: Prior to the first lockdown my fitness regime was hit and miss. I’d try to pilates at home, and the odd aerobics session online.

My pandemic pursuit: I had heard a lot at work about Couch to 5k and decided to give it a go. It’s a running plan for absolute beginners, which involves three run/walks a week, with a day of rest in between, and a different schedule for each of the nine weeks. I admit I struggled at the start, thinking I would never get through it; even one minute running was tough. But I persisted and started to feel so much better, both physically and mentally. This was the drive I needed to continue. I got to the end of the nine-week programme and was able to run 5K in 37 minutes, which felt like a result!

Are you still enjoying it? After completing the challenge, my running slowed down due to being back at work (as a teaching assistant in a Cambridge school) and low motivation. But I retired in December and have since started again. I know I can do it now; I am determined to get back to where I was. For someone who has never run, the Couch to 5k challenge was perfect for me!

Nurse Naomi Wright, from Waterbeach, has become a barre convert, taking online classes with Lovefit

Naomi Wright has embraced online barre classes (44956376)
Naomi Wright has embraced online barre classes (44956376)

Fitness regime pre-Covid: This mainly consisted of gym sessions, classes and circuits.

My pandemic pursuit: After the gym closed, I decided to take up Couch to 5k but after week 4 it became impossible to breathe and run simultaneously for that amount of time, no matter what Jo Whiley told me. I had tried Lovefit barre as a live class previously and, if running was bad, barre was definitely worse. My legs weren’t made to do ballet, I'm not light and I have Teresa May's sense of rhythm. I needed a gym alternative, and I am not someone who spontaneously exercises; I need guidance (firstly) and it has to be not too serious (secondly). So, I signed up for barre online and enjoyed it much more than the live version. After a few weeks the moves became familiar, and it really doesn't aim to make you dance (I'd definitely have to pay a lot more money). It is more about exercise, with a different focus. It has not completely thwarted the lockdown belly, but I would be as big as a housewith associated outbuildings if I had left it all to Jo Whiley.

Are you still enjoying it? I'm really enjoying it. The only thing I miss about the gym is lifting weights, but I can live without that, especially when I get great company for a workout every day of the week. If I want to, I can also access the recording if I miss a class which means I get to do it when I want to (who am I kidding? That has literally never happened). It's been great to have Lovefit’s trainer, Amber, beamed into my living room, and when we were in full lockdown, it felt even more like I’d had contact with other people, which was great.

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