“You Don’t Have to Choose Between Cookies and Fitness”: Dance M.F.A. Student and Personal Trainer Offers Tips on Home Exercise

Courtney Collado

Every day, people ask me what they can do to “get in shape” at home. One of my favorite lines is “I want to get fit, but I love (insert comfort food)! I just can’t help myself when I’m stressed.” It’s safe to say that we are experiencing astronomical stress right now, hunkering down in our homes, so not only do the cookies/pizza/nachos make us feel better, they’re also steps away. All the time. Spoiler: you don’t have to choose between cookies and fitness.

Generally speaking, most people who are out of their normal routine (and who isn’t right now?), or who have never subscribed a regular fitness program, set a HUGE goal to meet, give a thousand percent, get injured or frustrated (or both), and end up back on the couch in a matter of days or weeks. Add the mental turmoil of watching the news and re-learning how to exist in society during a pandemic, and the motivation to try again is all but gone.

So, how do we get off the couch and into a routine? My answer is always: baby steps.

Moderation is key, to everything. I love cookies. I love wine. I love pizza! I’m also addicted to my bed, reading the news, and kissing my hairless dogs. I could easily spend hours enjoying any of these things nonstop but that would end up making me sick, anxious, and ineffective at the rest of my life (except maybe kissing the dogs). Same goes for exercise – it’s neither healthy nor sustainable to disrupt your entire life to meet a fitness or wellness goal.

So, grab a snack, something on which you can make notes, and get comfy while we make a plan together.

First thing: Identify your goal.

Do you need to stretch and move your body? Do you want to burn calories? Would you like to feel stronger? Regardless of the goal, setting a realistic and specific intention is paramount. Now write it down.

Second: Make the journey fun.

My primary suggestion for people who have lost motivation, become deconditioned, or have trouble sticking to a fitness program is to find something enjoyable to do that involves moving your body. It’s really that simple: if you approach exercise as a task or as punishment (bad) for enjoying pizza (good) your inner rebel will resist.

Remember what you enjoyed when you were a kid? It counts as exercise now.

Think: skateboarding, rollerskating, riding a bike, walking outside (especially on hills), hiking, dancing, hula hooping. These are things you can do for long periods of time at a steady state, which means lots of calories burned. AND, steady state cardio keeps you in a fat-burning heart rate zone.

Next to your intention, make a list of the activities you enjoy that you have the equipment to perform where you are right now.

Third: Set attainable goals!

Most of us make huge goals (great!) but no step-by-step plan to follow to get there. Start with scheduling 10 minutes a day outside or just laying on a yoga mat. Ten minutes won’t interrupt your day or cause you to reschedule anything. As you begin to enjoy your time and plan around your activity, add a few minutes when you can. Soon, that 10 minutes will become 30 or 45 and you will look forward to it.

Schedule an activity into your day that feels like a reward for getting up a little earlier or scheduling a little time for yourself before lunch or after work (or these days, putting on pants or brushing your teeth). Those hills on Hollins’ campus have some gorgeous views that make the trek worth it – and you’ll strengthen your legs and heart at the same time. Make a playlist or save the next episode of your favorite podcast to listen to – employ as many of your senses as you can and the time will not just be enjoyable, but pass quickly.

Now, grab your scheduler, find the places where you have time to fill, and make an appointment with yourself to spend 10 minutes in a place you enjoy at the same time each week.

Fourth: Be smart.

Safety is key when you’re not working with an instructor or trainer. These seemingly tiny details are what can make or break your routine: Keep water handy if you will be outside for long periods of time; wear good shoes if you are performing high-impact activities (i.e., running); go at a pace and within a range of motion that doesn’t cause pain; dress appropriately for the activity; warm up, and cool down.

Note: Many of us have trouble finding motivation to work out alone – I certainly do. If I didn’t have clients who paid me to train them remotely right now, I’d be hard-pressed to get out of my jammies at all. Group fitness classes offer social stimulation in addition to kick-ass workouts.  Online livestreamed group workouts are everywhere, for every level (and you can turn your camera off if you don’t want to be seen but want to enjoy the group).

So! Some ideas and resources for you:

  • Walking (briskly…in a cute new activewear combo that makes you feel ahhhmazing).
  • Zumba (my guilty pleasure) – so many free videos!
  •  Jazzercise (my other guilty pleasure – don’t tell anyone) – right now you can get two weeks of online classes for free!
  • Yoga: Gaia has streaming classes anywhere from 15 minutes long to two hours (Who has time for that?? Not me.) for all levels! You could leave a mat at work and do 15 minutes before lunch.
  • With me! I lead short Pilates mat classes on Facebook Live and post a daily and weekly “ab challenge” on Instagram and IG Live. Join in!
  • Lastly, perfect for social distancing, get a FitBit. You can set daily goals for steps, weekly goals for exercise, and make or join groups with people from all over the world to meet benchmarks together. They also happen to be on sale right now.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Be patient. Wash your hands. Make time for fun.


Courtney Collado is a professional dancer, personal trainer, and master Pilates instructor from New York City, currently living in Kansas City, Missouri. She is earning her M.F.A. through Hollins’ low-residency dance program, and when not in social isolation, is a practicing choreographer, dance teacher, and corrective movement specialist who enjoys kissing her hairless dogs, playing Just Dance with her eight-year-old son, and writing the newsletters for Missouri’s local Sister District chapter.

Instagram: @bendysweatyawesome