Lockdown exercise rules: What you can and can’t do in England under the restrictions

Although the roadmap will lift measures soon, the exercise restrictions are still here.
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  • The lockdown exercise rules for England have been in place since the third lockdown was announced in January to prevent households mixing socially. 

    HIIT workouts over Zoom in the living room have continued from the last lockdown, but there’s also been an uptick in outdoor activity – even in winter – as the lockdown rules for England have allowed people to work out together outdoors under certain circumstances.

    Now the government’s roadmap out of lockdown has been announced, however, many people are wondering if the rules will still apply. While the advice around international travel in lockdown remains the same, other restrictions, including those on when schools can go back, will lift in stages from this month onwards.

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

    At the moment, England is still in lockdown so the government’s ‘stay local’ advice remains in place.

    What this actually means in terms of distance has never been fully clarified and the prime minister was criticised at the beginning of the year for his own bike ride, with people pointing out that the trip took him many miles from home. Seemingly in response to this, Matt Hancock said, “If you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles away from home, that is OK.

    “But, you should stay local, you should not go from one side of a country to another, potentially taking the virus with you.”

    This would suggest that travelling to a wide open space, such as a public park, for exercise is allowed but crossing borders or counties for a workout is not allowed. The advice from the government also recommends travelling by running, cycling or walking when possible.

    Even though the ‘stay at home’ guidance will be scrapped from March 29, the ‘stay local’ advice will remain. This means that people will be permitted to leave the house for more than essential reasons but they should stay close to their homes.

    How many times can you exercise during lockdown?

    In lockdown, government advice is to only exercise once per day.

    In the rules, outlined on gov.uk, it says that if you’re exercising outside then it “should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area”. This is to limit the chances of virus transmission, in light of the new Covid-19 variant, which spreads significantly faster than the original strain.


    Where can you go to work out?

    Exercise in lockdown extends to places including:

    • Parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
    • Public gardens, whether or not you pay to enter them (although, this does not include zoos with gardens in them as these have not reopened yet).
    • The grounds of a heritage site
    • Playgrounds
    Woman with personal trainer exercising under lockdown rules for England

    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 outdoor exercise has to take place in either your own private garden, only with members of your household or support bubble, or it must happen in a public outdoor space.

    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 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 outside.

    Who can you work out with?

    Under the current lockdown exercise rules, people can work out with one person from outside their household. This can include a personal trainer or friend, for example, but a two metre social distance should be maintained at all times.

    Exercise with a member of your household or support bubble outdoors is also allowed and there’s no need to socially distance in this case.

    However, the general guidance for the third lockdown is to ‘stay at home’ except for essential reasons, avoiding any unnecessary contact with people from outside your own household. This means that anyone going for a walk, run or cycle with someone they don’t live with needs to take their own and others’ risk from Covid-19 into account.

    A woman running along the river in London under the UK lockdown exercise rules

    Credit: Getty

    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?

    You can walk with a friend for exercise during lockdown, the government has said. However, it must be obvious that exercise is taking place, rather than social mixing.

    This means that sitting on a bench or having a picnic with someone you don’t live with is still not allowed.

    Is fishing allowed during lockdown?

    After a government U-turn, the Angling Trust has said that fishing will be allowed during the third 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.”

    Man with young child fishing under UK lockdown exercise rules

    Credit: Getty

    “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.”

    When will gyms reopen?

    Under the roadmap out of lockdown, as set out by the prime minister on February 22, indoor gyms and leisure centres will be able to reopen from April 12 at the earliest.

    Outdoor gyms and other outdoor sporting facilities will be able to open from March 29, if the all four of the criteria for lifting lockdown are met.

    As the virus is less likely to spread outdoors, outdoor exercise has been prioritised over indoor exercise facilities. Boris Johnson said, “Outdoor activity will be prioritised as the best way to restore freedoms while minimising the risk.”

    Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi also told LBC, “The simple way to look at this is that outdoor is safer and therefore we prioritise versus indoor,”

    “Outdoor sports – tennis, golf, outdoor organised team sports, grassroots football – will go back on March 29.”

    Women back in the gym after UK lockdown exercise rules are lifted

    Credit: Getty

    He added, “At the moment, it’s outdoors versus indoors. Outdoors is the priority because it’s where the transmission rates are much, much, much lower.”

    Gyms and other facilities will be able to reopen under step two of the plan “but only for use by individuals or household groups”. This means that exercise classes, which were disbanded initially when England went into tier 4 restrictions last year, will be off the table until step three which is due to go ahead anytime from May 17.

    When will swimming pools reopen?

    Outdoor swimming pools will be able to reopen anytime from March 29, providing that the roadmap works as planned.

    The restriction on outdoor swimming pools will be lifted at the same time as other outdoor exercise facilities open back up again, including golf courses and tennis courts. At this time, the rules on social mixing outdoors will also change so people can meet up with six others (or two different households) for exercise as well.

    However, it’s not clear whether outdoor swimming pools will have indoor changing and shower facilities open. Last year, many were forced to close these – along with any associated hospitality venues – when lockdown measures were increased. Under the roadmap, groups of six or two households can only mix indoors from May 17.

    What are the benefits of exercise during lockdown?

    The idea of getting out early to exercise either early in the morning or after working from home all day might fill most of us with dread. But the benefits of exercise, especially during the lockdown, have been widely attested reported.

    Woman stretching in park

    Credit: Getty

    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.

    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!