How to stay sane and keep exercising through the Covid-19 pandemic

Sports psychologist Sarah Huntley shares her top 5 tips for staying sane and focussed during the coronavirus lockdown

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There’s no ignoring it any longer: this situation is unprecedented in our lifetime, and we have to face the reality of full-blown social distancing. Humans are a highly social species, and isolation can have significant repercussions on our wellbeing.


As a triathlete, it’s likely your carefully planned race schedule for this year is now a distant memory, and with no firm end-date for the current COVID-19 situation, it can make it even harder to stay motivated, focussed and ready to race.

However, there are ways we can all use this period of social isolation to our advantage and come out the other end fitter, stronger and more resilient than ever.

As a sport psychologist I normally work with athletes and coaches to improve their focus, motivation, confidence and mental toughness. However, the concepts of psychology extend outside of the sporting arena and can be applied to help us not just survive, but thrive during this global pandemic.

Here are my five top tips for you to maintain your mental health, enhance your training and ultimately benefit from the experience

1. Focus on what CAN you do, not what you CAN’T

Your attention is your most precious resource, so use it wisely. Try shifting your mindset on COVID-19 and turn what at first can appear to be a THREAT into a CHALLENGE. This will have significant positive consequences, on both mood and wellbeing.

At the moment, in the UK, we are still allowed to get outside to exercise once a day – to ride bikes and run – so as triathletes we have more options than most to continue our training! If you can’t access a gym, think about what you could do at home, or with just your bodyweight, for those integral strength and conditioning sessions.

Get creative and you’ll be surprised as to how much you can continue to do. If you decide to look at the situation in a positive way, you’ll find you enjoy this time a lot more.

2. Get outside if you can

According to a meta-analysis exercising outdoors comes with a slew of benefits (Coon et al., 2011). Study participants self-reported enhanced mental wellbeing immediately following exercise in the natural environment, as opposed to those who exercised indoors. They reported feelings of revitalisation, decreased anger and increased energy.

Another recent study found that being outside has a significant positive effect on vitality, or your sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy (Ryan et al., 2019). With spring now here, there’s no better place to be than the great outdoors. So why not pop the turbo trainer in the garden and get a dose of vitamin D while you train.

3. Create a training plan

Structure your time wisely and create a focussed plan for your sessions while socially isolating. No, you won’t be able to get down to your local pool and train, but why not find some gym sessions you can do at home specifically to help with your swimming? Make the most of that turbo trainer, outside or in. Creating a routine can be vital to help you feel in control and motivated. A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that morning exercise improves attention, visual learning and decision-making, so start your day with your workout and you’ll reap the rewards later on.

4. Think outside the box

There are plenty of alternatives to traditional face-to-face sports coaching. Could you work with a coach online to keep you on-track? Or, if you usually train in a group, could you set up a turbo or gym session online in which you and your friends train together at the same time. Be open-minded and ready to try new ways of working. This period of enforced ‘down-time’ from competition could also be an opportunity to try something completely new.

Perhaps there’s a sport or pastime or hobby you’ve always wanted to try but never quite found the time in your usual busy schedule? If there is, now is the perfect time to do it – embrace technology and jump in with two feet!

5. Work on your mental skills

Did you know, only 18% of expertise in sport is attributed to the physical side of sport (Brook & McNamara, 2016). This really highlights how there is so much more than just doing the physical training to becoming really good at what you do. Time away from the pressures of competition can actually be a great time to develop mental skills. With all sporting events cancelled, now is the time to work with a sport psychologist, focussing on areas such as self-belief, focus, mindset and confidence. It will allow you to return to competition a stronger, more focussed and determined athlete than ever before.


Sarah Huntley is a sport and performance psychologist based in Brighton. She works with elite and amateur athletes alike on a one-to-one basis either online or by phone. She is also a GB age-group aquathlete and long-distance triathlete so fully understands the mind of multisport athletes. She offers a free, no-obligation 60 minute strategy call so you can find out more