Lockdown exercise rules: What you can and can’t do in England this January

The rules are a little different to last time.
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  • Now we're in winter lockdown, runners are swapping shorts for leggings, cyclists are digging out their gloves and keen walkers are putting on their warmest jackets.

    But what are the exercise rules for the January 2021 lockdown? With each new set of restrictions, there seems to be more changes to how, when, and for how long for people can exercise.

    We all know that HIIT workouts over Zoom in the living room are allowed 24/7 (depending on how close you are to the neighbours!), but with the increase in transmission of the new coronavirus variant, the government has placed new restrictions on exercising and meeting others not in your household or support bubble outside.

    Originally when the UK first went into lockdown, the rules were the harshest they’ve ever been. People were only allowed to leave the house for exercise once a day for an hour and could be fined if they were found to be breaching the rules, or travelling too far outside of their area to exercise. As the lockdown measures eased in May, unlimited exercise was allowed – with gyms and exercise studios still closed – but there were still lockdown travel restrictions in place.

    This time around, we’re battling the new Covid-19 variant which has been proven to be 50 to 70% more transmissible and more experts are becoming concerned about outdoor transmission and acknowledging running, cycling and other exercise as a risk to health for the first time this year.

    These are the new exercise rules for January 2021 and how to stay safe while exercising…

    Lockdown exercise rules: How far can I travel for exercise?

    Woman in pink top running under new lockdown exercise rules for England

    Credit: Getty

    The government advice on this hasn’t changed all that much since the first lockdown, unfortunately, and people are being advised to exercise in their local area only.

    If travelling to a wider open space, such as a public park, is necessary for exercise then this is allowed but the travelling should be done via running, walking, cycling or private car, rather than via public transport or taxi. However, crossing borders into Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, or travelling extensive distances, for exercise such as hiking is not allowed.

    This was also the case during tier 4 lockdown measures as it was strictly advised against for anyone to travel between tiers for any reason, including exercise.

    How many times can you exercise during lockdown?

    During the January lockdown, government advise is to only exercise once per day. This is under the idea of reducing the chances of virus transmission as the new variant is spreading significantly faster than the original strain, so leaving the house more means a higher risk of exposure.

    There are currently not any rules around how long you can exercise for but long walks for hours, lengthy bike rides and runs covering extensive distance are off the table for now, since you can only exercise in your local area.

    Where can you go to work out?

    Two teenage girls going for a walk in the park under new lockdown restrictions

    Credit: Getty

    Both indoor and outdoor gyms, leisure centres of all kinds, all swimming pools, race tracks, tennis courts and golf courses are all closed during lockdown. This means that any exercise has to take place in a public, outdoor space.

    According to the latest government guidelines for exercise during lockdown, these spaces include:

    • Parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
    • Public gardens, whether or not you pay to enter them
    • The grounds of a heritage site
    • Playgrounds

    Exercise on roads and footpaths is also allowed but cyclists should follow local guidance around suitable routes, as per normal.

    In all areas, it’s really important to follow social distancing regulations and keep a 2-metre distance from anyone. If you’re exercising in a busier public space, where 2-metre social distancing can’t be maintained, some experts are advising runners and others to wear a mask outdoors.

    Who can you work out with?

    Personal trainer and person exercising outdoors under new lockdown exercise restrictions

    Credit: Getty

    The rules state that exercise must be done either by yourself, with your household or members of your support bubble, or with one other person from another household at a social distance. This means that anyone who works out with a personal trainer, for example, can continue to do so but should maintain a 2 metre distance wherever possible.

    However, the general guidance for the January lockdown is to stay at home wherever possible and avoid any unnecessary contact with people outside your own household. This means that anyone looking to go for a walk, run or cycle with someone they don’t live with needs to take into account their own risk from Covid-19.

    To make sure that these rules are being followed, police have been authorised to increase the fines they give out during lockdown to anyone they believe is not following the rules.

    Can you walk with a friend in lockdown?

    According to the rules, you can walk with a friend for exercise during lockdown. It comes under the measure that prevents more than two people from different households meeting up under any circumstances, but allows for some social mixing.

    It’s important to note though, that sitting on a bench or not exercising while out with someone you don’t live with is not allowed.

    Is fishing allowed during lockdown?

    Man with young child fishing under UK lockdown exercise rules

    Credit: Getty

    After a government U-turn, the Angling Trust has said that fishing will be allowed during the January lockdown. Previously it was prohibited along with other sports such as golf or tennis, as it’s outside but often involves multiple people mixing together.

    On a statement on their website published on January 13, the trust said, “After a hectic and successful week navigating the consequences for angling of the government’s decision to impose a third National Lockdown in England in response to the rise in coronavirus infections, the Angling Trust has published new comprehensive guidelines and FAQs to help anglers fish safely, locally and responsibly without falling foul of the law.”

    “This is a strictly limited resumption of LOCAL fishing and very different to how we have been allowed to operate since May.”

    “We are in a National Lockdown and this must be respected. The law requires a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave your home or penalties will apply.”

    What are the benefits of exercise during a winter lockdown?

    The idea of getting out early to exercise during the winter while it’s light outside might fill most of us with dread. But the benefits of exercise, even during the colder months and especially during the lockdown, have been widely attested to.

    Physical benefits of exercise include:

    • Physical resilience: Our body fights viruses in our immune system which includes organs like the skin, as well as white blood cells, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus and bone marrow. All of these are strengthened with exercise and the associated benefits of increased oxygen in the lungs.
    • Better blood circulation: Exercise pumps blood (including those handy white blood cells) around the body to where it’s needed for repair.
    • Stronger bones and joints: While we’re sitting down working from home everyday, our bones and joints are suffering. Exercise helps keep them in tip-top condition.
    • Stress reducing: Exercise helps to regulate the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bodies.
    • Weight management: Exercise burns calories, which helps many of us stay at a healthy weight, which in turn keeps our lungs and hearts healthy.
    • Improved quality of sleep: If you find yourself waking up early in the morning or struggling to get to sleep at night, then exercise could be the answer. In turn, sleep helps our cells repair themselves, along with helping the immune system and our general health.
    Woman stretching in park

    Credit: Getty

    Mental health benefits of exercise include: 

    • Reducing stress: Many people say that exercise is one of the main ways they reduce stress so with more of us working from home than ever before, we’ll need to keep stress levels low.
    • Creating resilience: Due to the physical challenges of exercise, it helps us create positive coping strategies and helps to develop mental resilience.
    • Releases endorphins: The famous ‘feel-good’ hormones make us feel fantastic, a key feature in improving our mental health through lockdown.
    • Less mental fatigue: By changing up our daily routine with exercise, we can avoid the mental fatigue that comes with doing the same thing, in the same place, every day.
    • Improves our sleep quality: Better sleep has been proven to help those struggling with their mental health during difficult times due to the physical benefits it creates.

    So while you might need to stock up on some warm running leggings for the weeks ahead, it’s been proven time and time again that the benefits of exercise both for our minds and bodies will see us through challenging times. And now with schools closed, school exams for 2021 cancelled and more general restrictions on daily life, it’s potentially needed now more than ever.

    Sam Gregory, co-owner and head trainer at F45 Stratford, says setting a personal target is one of the best ways to stay on track with fitness over the lockdown. “As you will be more motivated to succeed and achieve your goals, even if it is just to beat your personal best on a 5k run, your focus will be strong.

    “One way to stay motivated when exercising in the winter is to make sure you are doing something you enjoy as you are far more likely to stick at it! There are so many great workouts you can do, that there is no need to force yourself to do a workout you hate.”

    “For many people, the thought of having to get out of a warm bed and head out into the cold to workout can be overwhelmingly difficult, but people seem to forget how great you feel afterwards and will really help to get rid of those winter blues.”

    But for those who don’t fancy the frosty morning runs, Sam says that home workouts are the answer. “You can easily workout in your own home, using just body weight.” He tells GoodtoKnow, “For instance, you could try the F45 Challenge App, which offer nutrition advice, and with a full membership you can also have access to newly released on demand workouts every single day, which vary between a range of F45 favourite workouts.”

    woman practising yoga at home

    Credit: Getty

    Check out these other places to find exercise classes online…

    Where to find online exercise classes during lockdown

    YouTube, the official websites of gyms and independent personal trainers on Instagram are some of the best platforms to follow for online exercise classes during lockdown.

    If you normally go to a gym, then it’s worth checking out whether they’ll be taking their classes online. Over the last lockdown, many fitness studios and gyms took their regular exercise classes virtually and adapted them so people could still participate in their homes.

    Joe Wicks is back for the third lockdown as well! He recently came onto social media to talk about the importance of maintaining good mental health during the restrictions and announced that he would be back to help keep kids (and adults!) moving for the next few months.

    Also on YouTube during the first lockdown, yoga instructor Adriene racked up over 8 million followers by posting easy-to-follow and accessible yoga tutorials on her channel. Suitable for everyone from beginners right up to experienced yoga practitioners, Adriene’s yoga sequences and poses are all online.

    For children there’s also the Cosmic Kids Yoga App which is great for getting them moving as well as practicing mindfulness.

    Good luck!