Workouts & fitness in 2020
I once again set myself a target to improve my state of fitness in 2020, and I feel I did achieve that, but not in the way I intended at the beginning of the year. My workouts previously have been calorie focused, mostly driven by running and cycling. As such the number of runs and distance traveled were my primary metrics. I’ve always done some weights and strength training in the gym, but this has always been secondary.
This changed at the beginning of the year when I decided to shift my focus in order to increase my strength in 2020, which I kickstarted by subscribing to an app called Fitbod. This app has been instrumental in helping me achieve my goals this year and changing to a strength training focussed year of workouts.
My back and neck have suffered more than they have in several years, mostly due (I believe) to the reduction in mobility from isolating at home. I’ve tried to make up for this by shifting my attention to strengthening my body, which I feel is helping considerably, but when injured it can irritate my condition so I have to be careful.
The pandemic has caused a tonne of things to change in my activity, as I’ll go into below.
The top-level year-over-year stats by category are as follows:
- Total calories reduced by 25%
- Cycling calories reduced by 75%
- Running calories reduced by 24%
- Walking calories increased by 195%
- Strength training increased by 70%
There are reasons, both situational, focus and tracking related for these changes that I go into detail in below.
The biggest drop is in cycling. From mid-March, I was no longer commuting every day and I did not go out on as many long bike rides as I would have liked, due to staying indoors more often. I had a deficit of 70k calories burned in cycling activity (compared to 2019), so it’s amazing that I only burned 42k calories less across all activities, meaning I made up 28,000 calories in other workouts.
When the lockdown started, my immediate reaction was to use all of my commute time as additional workout time. I felt compelled and spurred on by some colleagues to push much harder than I ever have. It felt like the whole nation was taking this as an excuse to get more exercise. I stepped up my morning gym time, as well as the number of days per week I’d work out. I started running further and faster, as well as going on a few early morning cycles before work in the temperate spring mornings.
I continued this accelerated effort throughout April and May running further than I ever have by a 25% margin during April (a total of 109km!). But come June I both tired of running and started injuring myself from pushing it so hard. I scaled it down and shifted my focus back to strength training.
Ever since strength training has formed the majority of my exercise efforts and became the primary focus for the rest of the year. The results have been an increase in muscle mass giving me slightly, bigger arms, shoulders and chest, and the beginning of a six-pack again 💪. I’ve never been happier with my physical appearance and want to continue to invest in it this year, within limits.
Walking + running
My daily average walking and running distance fell from 8.1km in 2019 to 6.7km in 2020. Due to being indoors most days, overall mobility is greatly reduced. This change is only as small as it is because I changed how I record my running workouts this year, deciding to track the treadmill walking segments separately. Previously I logged a running workout and walked for a few minutes at the beginning and end of that workout - all recorded as running. However, I wanted more accurate data on my running speed, so decided to separate them. One workout became 3 (warmup walk, run, and cool-down walk), increasing the total recorded walking distance. Overall I walked less this year as the step count below confirms, but recorded more walks.
I go into my reduction in running more below, but one of the outcomes of this in 2020 was an increase in walking on the treadmill. I came to realise that walking 1km burns the same amount of calories as running 1km, it just takes longer and your heart rate stays lower. Seeing as I have a little more time than I did before, I feel less guilty about walking in the gym, giving my legs and knees more of a rest. As I am taking fewer steps (my phones says 20% less in 2020 compared to 2019), it felt important to get the walking distance up to compensate.
As I mentioned above, I started the year running more than I ever have, only to injure myself and decide to focus more on weights. Even today I’m still battling injuries caused by running, so I must keep the distance and pace down in order to ensure I can work out at all.
That being said, thanks to the focus on running early in the year I only ran 17% fewer kilometres than I did in 2019 - a total of 647km. I burned 40k calories running in 2020 - a 24% drop compared to 2019.
I use more calories when I run compared to when I do strength training, but calories burned has not been the guiding metric of my year - it’s been strength and muscle mass, which I cannot measure effectively here.
I’m expecting my total running distance to reduce again in 2021, but hope to stabilise at something comfortable that gives me an opportunity to have 20 mins of elevated heart rate while I continue my focus on improving my strength.
The majority of my annual cycling is usually from commuting, and I only commuted for 2.5 months in 2020. I went on a handful of fun rides, but for the majority of the year, I simply did not cycle. Compared to 2019, I cycled 75% less in 2020. I cycled 2,000km less distance, resulting in 70k fewer calories burned.
I have missed cycling, and when the better weather returns I hope to get back out on the roads for more fun rides either as my morning workout or over the weekends.
I have done more strength training this year than any other. It became my fitness focus for the majority of the year, and I’ve been happy with the results so far. Before January 2020 I just used to do a bunch of activities I made up myself in my gym using the multigym and weights. I got stuck in a rut and rarely changed what I was doing, not getting a well-rounded workout or progressing.
I started using the app Fitbod in January and it changed my workouts considerably for the better. I tell it what muscles to focus on, what equipment I have, and how much time I want to spend working out. It then generates a workout for me that cycles the muscle groups, weights and reps (accounting for recovery). It provides a really varied workout that was just the inspiration I needed. It also does a good job of encouraging me with handy summaries of weekly progress, including the annual summary below. I can confidently say it has made the largest impact on my health since the introduction of the Apple Watch.
The results of this focus on strength have been led to a 70% increase in calories burned in this area for 2020 - a whopping 66k calories burned (27k more than 2019). This is a trend I intend to keep up in 2021 as I feel better, look better, and it’s increasing my body’s resilience to injuries.
I have a re-found love for classes in 2020. I’ve never been one for doing things in a group - I find it socially uncomfortable, and having to fit it in around their set times is less convenient. This year I interviewed for a company called Fiit and decided to try their app. I subscribed until the end of the year and completed many of their excellent classes. I have found that classes can work a much greater number of connected muscle groups in ways isolated exercise cannot, so it’s been great to have these in the mix.
I’m now using the Apple Fitness+ service as it makes more financial sense when bundled into their Apple One subscription, and the Apple Watch integration is much tighter. For the time being, I’m not tracking the data for these exercises separately, they are bundled with my strength training stats above, but if I continue this year as planned I may look to separate these out.
In 2021 I intend to continue the balance I struck at the end of 2020, with more focus on my overall strength and trying to build a little more muscle - something that seems to be getting much harder as I age! I wish I could go back to my 20-year-old self and convince him to do a little more (anything really!) that would have helped my current day self be in better shape. A regret I hope not to have in another 2 decades time when I look back.
I’ve never been more grateful for the building of our home gym and having facilities at home to work out in comfort - we honestly could not have planned things better to survive this past year.
It’s been a tough year to stay on track physically, what with Covid, staying at home for most of the year and suffering from an increase in injuries. But I’m pleased with the progress I have made regardless and hope to do at least as well in the coming year. I’m not expecting my situation to change considerably throughout most if not all of 2021, but I am committed to keeping up this new slightly adjusted level of overall activity and hope to invest more time in classes in the coming year.
2019 fitness review
2018 fitness review
How I export and collate this data