More necessary now than ever, staying in shape became a challenge when gyms and fitness centers closed in the face of national health crisis stay-at-home orders. Fortunately, it’s much easier to get a socially distanced fitness fix at Lake Martin than in many big cities across the country, and with the options offered in the lake area, it could even be a lot more fun than the gym.

Workouts that strengthen and tone the whole body include swimming, paddle boarding, mountain biking, rowing and running. Each exercise discipline offers opportunities to work on specific sets of muscles and to graduate from easy to more difficult routines.


Dana Ferniany gets her workout at the lake in a coastal rower, doing laps in the slough at Pitchford Hollow.

“It’s about a mile from one end to the other, and 4 miles is about an hour’s worth,” she said.

“The core does most of the work up and back, and in the stroke, the shoulders, back and legs. The good thing is that it doesn’t put any strain on the hips or the knees, and if you’re doing it right, it doesn’t put a strain on the lower back; it works the upper back.”

Ferniany tries to get out on the water at least twice a week and prefers going out early to avoid other boats. Though her craft is made for stability on ocean waves, she likes the contemplative nature of the sport as much as the exercise.

“I like to listen to music. When I go out, I have earphones, so I can listen to music and be right up close to nature. The ripples on the water, the breeze. I see eagles and herons, and it’s a lovely relaxing experience,” she said.

“It’s also a great workout. It wears you out. Burns 500 to 700 calories in an hour, and I don’t push real hard. I just try to keep a steady pace. Some people push hard for short spurts.”

Between her rowing excursions, Ferniany walks her neighborhood, takes part in online exercise classes on meeting platforms and spends time gardening.

“Yardwork also burns calories,” she said.

Zoom Sessions

Many lake area fitness facilities host Zoom meeting workouts that are attended by club members who can no longer exercise together in the gym. These classes have the advantage of helping members stay accountable, as well as provide opportunities for camaraderie. Some platforms allow participants to leave messages for each other after the workout or contact former participants to encourage them to return.

“People are tired of walking around the neighborhood. They want to see faces and do something with their friends,” said Karen Kison, fitness and recreation director at Willow Point Country Club. 

Kison leads a total body workout class on Zoom twice a week and said while teaching remotely is challenging, the classes hold appeal for participants.

“Some people have no equipment at their houses, and others have weights, balls and mats. You have to adapt and do what you can with what you have. Use a chair instead of a ball; soup cans instead of weights,” she said.

In some ways, she said, it’s like being back in PE class in grade school. The exercises are basic squats, leg kicks and the like, hitting all major muscle groups for upper and lower body.

“You don’t have to put the camera on you, so people don’t have to see you, but it’s a way to stay in touch with each other and get the exercise we need,” she said.


Mollie and Billy Barrett love to ride mountain bikes through Russell Forest and have started doing more riding since the coronavirus guidelines went into effect. Biking also is a great cardio workout that doesn’t put any strain on the joints.

They wear helmets – a must for safety – and use a cellphone app that tracks their mileage, maps their route and keeps data on calories burned and miles of elevation.

The couple started riding mountain bikes more than 30 years ago when they were dating. and recently picked it up again.

“There have been so many technological advances in bicycles since we used to ride before – electronic shifters – it’s amazing,” Billy Barrett said.

“And social distancing is easy on a bicycle,”" added Mollie.

Barrett rides between three and five times a week, sometimes with other riders, and he usually puts about 15 miles behind him on a ride. Mollie does about 10 miles, as she supplements her workout with a Zoom yoga class and walking.

“Mountain biking is not risk-free,” Barrett said. “You can get hurt. The app that we use allows you to share your route with someone, and we try to do that, so if we ever had to call for help, they’d be able to find us easily.”

Though Barrett has a stationary bike at the house, he rarely uses it, he said.

“We’re so fortunate to have a place like Russell Forest to ride. There’s more than 100 miles of trails here, and the variety keeps it interesting. A day on the trail beats the Peloton any day of the week. I only ride it if the weather is bad and I can’t get out on the trails.”


Off the water, Naomi Sullivan of Tallassee likes to run along the trails around the lake.

“It gets your lungs working harder than a treadmill workout,” said the female division winner in this year’s Russell Forest Run. “And you use more muscles outside than inside because of the side-to-side movement that you get.”

The challenge of running during the coronavirus pandemic’s isolation guidelines is the absence of the energy generated when competing in a group, but Sullivan said there are ways to replace that challenge.

“When you don’t have other people around you pushing you, you can do sprints and speed work to keep your motivation going. Time yourself. Once or twice a week, try to run as fast as you can for a mile or so, just to keep that race mentality,” she said.

“Listen to your body. If you can train six days a week, have your slow days, your fast days and your 75-percent days. And at home, do some YouTube videos to keep your legs and core strong. Do squats, lunges, jumps. Work on your abs with planks and push ups. You need some weight-bearing exercises to build strength in your legs, so you have endurance. All of that can be done without any equipment, just use your own resistance.”

A PE teacher at Eclectic Elementary School, Sullivan started running 5K races in college to stay in shape. Later, a friend began to encourage her to be more competitive, and now, she runs one or two half marathons every year.


Alexander City native and Olympic hopeful Robert Howard said swimming is a natural exercise for Lake Martin. Howard started swimming at age 7 and swims on the team at University of Alabama. Last year, he won the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races, and at the national championships was part of the winning 200-meter relay team. And at last summer’s World University Games, he was on the winning 400-meter freestyle relay team.

For a good swimming workout at the lake, he suggested, start early in the day, before boats churn up the water and make it rough going.

“When you have smooth water, it’s a lot better,” Howard said.

Fuel your pre-workout with a breakfast bar or biscuit or some other light protein and carbohydrate snack.

“You will work up an appetite, and you can eat anything you want after your swim,” he said.

Loosen up the shoulders with arm swings forward and backward, before going in, and take the first part of your swim easy to get arms, legs and core warmed up before taking on any distance.

Once you’ve been out a few times and have an idea of how far you’re comfortable swimming, measure out a course. Several times a week, swim back and forth between your markers. Challenge yourself to add laps, reduce time or change your stroke or style on alternating laps.

“Don’t go too far out because then, you’ll have to come back,” he advised.

Between swims, keep muscles strong with general fitness routines.

“I downloaded the Nike Training Club app. There are hundreds of workouts you can do, and you can filter it for basic equipment or no equipment; easy, hard; any amount of time; and any level that you’re at. They’re just free program workouts,” Howard said.

Paddle Boarding

A dietician at Lake Martin Wellness Center, Julie Hudson finds a versatile workout in paddle boarding.

“It’s a good overall workout. Paddling forward, backward, turning – it’s a full arm workout and also good for your core. You have to stabilize your body at the same time while using your arms,” she explained. “But then, you can incorporate any exercises on a paddle board. You can do yoga poses, squats, push ups, lunges. It just makes it a little harder and more exciting.”

Because the paddle board is flat, almost any gym routine can be translated to it.

“You don’t always have to be paddling. You can float and do stationary exercises; and then, paddle again. Lay down and do sit ups. You can get your cardio and overall body workout all at the same time, but it’s harder because you have to keep your balance.”

The paddle board workout can be ramped up or down, depending on the intensity and level of challenge desired. Paddling can be made more difficult by digging the paddle deeper into the water, increasing the resistance.

One thing to be mindful of when exercising on the water, Hudson said, is hydration.

“If you are doing any kind of exercising outside, hydration is key. Even if the day is cooler and out on the lake, you don’t feel so hot, don’t forget to hydrate before, during and after going,” she said. “In the wind and out in the elements versus being inside in a gym where you might get hotter, outside you just don’t feel it as much.”