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How I Survived This Year’s Gym Shutdown With Fitness Corner Workouts In My HDB Hood

Fitness corner workouts 

For the hardworking meathead, being locked out of the iron temple may seem like the end of the world. As a fit young male in my early 20s, the threat of the virus is not as worrying as, say, someone in their late 60s. However, an even darker threat looms on the horizon: losing all my gains.

Unless you’re a self-made CEO with an epic morning routine that involves three sessions in your home gym before the sun is up, plebeians like us will have to scrape together a workout at the neighbourhood exercise stations to keep every ounce of gains we have left.

So follow me as I wake up at 5AM 8AM every morning for an “epic” fitness corner routine of my own – complete with precious tips on how to maximize your workout sessions and intimidate the other bros – or uncles – that happen to be using your pull-up bar.

Disclaimer: This article was written in jest, and the author does not actually skip leg day, contrary to photographic evidence or lack thereof.

Mask was only removed for photo-taking purposes.

Picking out a fitness corner

Unless you’re some kind of gym nomad, it’s important to pick a fitness corner that has everything you need. And no, just because you chose to do 10 crunches at the foot of your bed doesn’t make it a “fitness corner”.

fitness corner - fitness corner
Not all exercise stations are made the same, so finding the right one is important.
Image credit: Nparks

In order to find the perfect heartland iron jungle, I scouted my neighbourhood for a fitness corner that had the equipment I needed. 

Back when gyms were still open, I was doing what was known as a Push/Pull/Legs split. Push days would focus on the chest and shoulders, pull days were for the back, while leg day was for the two twigs supporting my frame.

fitness corner - signboardMy face when I found the ideal fitness corner for me
Image credit: Tay Jin Heok

I eventually settled on one that had multiple pull up bars, a dip bar, and an incline sit-up bench. Of course, it lacked the familiar free weights, but I had a plan for that. 

I decided to turn my usual workout into a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) drill instead. This meant shorter rest times between exercises to help keep my heart rate up so that I’d have a good burn by the end of each session.

Clocking in a HIIT session

Based on the framework of a basic HIIT workout, I picked some exercises and facilities to try and recreate the primal energy I usually display at the gym. But just how well did they do?

Sit tight and grab some protein shakes as I present to you a ranking of how effective these “knock-off” workouts are:

1. Pull-ups

fitness corner - pull upImage credit: Tay Jin Heok

There’s not much to say here, except that it’s essentially the same as what you’d get at the gym. I was able to complete what I normally would do, no prob

Points: 10/10

2. Dips

fitness corner - dipsImage credit: Tay Jin Heok

The dip bar is another piece of equipment that is a close replica to its gym counterpart, save the lack of support padding. Padding is useful for gym noobs who can’t lift their own body weight; for the gym veteran, it’s a good surface to rest your elbows as you scroll through Instagram. As I obviously belong to the latter, I didn’t mind the lack of support as it didn’t affect my actual workout.

Points: 9/10

3. Sit-ups

fitness corner - sit upImage credit: Tay Jin Heok

All right, maybe the gym-to-fitness corner transition wasn’t going to be that tough if I was just going to choose exercises that didn’t require much equipment to begin with, but this is a staple to my gym routine nonetheless. 

Points: 10/10

4. Bench Press

fitness corner - bench pressImage credit: Tay Jin Heok

We all have that one meathead friend who likes to wear extremely tight shirts to show off their physique. And as a guy from Carousell once said when I told him he sent over the wrong-sized shirt, “Get not the shirt that fits you, but the body that fits the shirt”.

For my bros out there whose shirts just don’t quite fit, the bench press is essential if you don’t want to disappear every time you throw on your Uniqlo basics. The fitness corner version works well enough, although you can’t adjust any weights to make things harder. 

Another major flaw was the lack of applause at the end of every set – something I was used to at the gym. 

Points: 6/10

5. Chest flys

fitness corner - chest flyCable flys work on your chest muscles by simulating a hug – something I haven’t received since I was two. 🙁
Image credit: Tay Jin Heok

To really burn out the chesticles, I would normally opt for the cable flys at the gym. Unfortunately, the best this humble fitness corner could do was a seated chest fly machine, preventing me from going full Dwayne Johnson.

It’s definitely more restrictive than the standard cable fly routine as you can’t adjust the weights, meaning that it may be too easy for the regular gym-goer. But aiming for high reps will still give you a good burn, so it’s not too bad. 

Points: 5/10

6. Legs

For the most accurate replication of my usual leg workout, I skip them. 

Points: 10/10 to me

fitness corner - legs meme
Image credit: Knowyourmeme

I did a circuit-style workout, meaning that right after my pull-ups, I went straight to dips and then on to the bench press and…you get it. The key point here is to not rest between each station, as it keeps the heart rate up and burns more energy. Instead, I took a short break only after finishing the entire round of all exercises.

As I grew more comfortable with each session, the following weeks were all about pushing myself even harder. There are two ways I did this: I either increased the number of reps per set or decreased the number of rest times between each round. 

Challenges faced during my fitness corner days 

fitness corner - taichiA smile that says “we won’t be done for another three hours”
Image credit: Nparks

For those looking to start their journey, know that not everything is rainbows and sunshine in fitness corner land. Sometimes, there will be random aunties blasting music while practicing their tai chi moves. Other times, kids may run around, playing with the machines and interrupting your circuit.

My urge to passive-aggressively ask them for space was out of the question, as the fitness corner is a public space after all. Instead, I just went for a jog around the neighbourhood as a warm-up, hoping that they would be done by the time I was back.

Constantly doing the same routine can also be boring sometimes, especially when there isn’t the usual loud music and the motivation of seeing other buff dudes in the gym around you. Every time I felt weary, I’d check out other fitness corners around the neighbourhood. Sometimes all you need is a switch in the environment to keep things fresh. 

What I learnt from replacing my gym routine​​

fitness corner - shoulder press
Image credit: Tay Jin Heok

I won’t lie – it was hard for me to roll out of bed sometimes. The gyms being closed gave me a reason to stay at home, and I would give myself the same excuse: Hey, I can always workout tomorrow.” 

My body did struggle to keep up at the start of this experiment since it was more cardio-based than my usual routine. But towards the end, I grew accustomed to the pace and found that it was an effective and fun way to still maintain muscle mass while waiting for gyms to reopen.

So for my fellow meatheads out there, there will be a way to keep those sweet, sweet gains we worked so hard for. Despite my initial doubts, the humble fitness corner proved to be a worthy ground to clock in a solid workout. 

As long as you manage to get out of bed and do something, any form of exercise is better than no exercise at all – even if that means listening to Eye of the Tiger on repeat to channel your inner Rocky while you’re at it.

For more workout tips, check out:

Cover image credit: Tay Jin Heok