Fitness After the Pandemic

Revolving door - Public Library

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not attached to an oncoming freight train. Vaccinations for COVID-19 are proceeding apace, hospitalizations are down, and folks are beginning to sense a return to some kind of normality.

Many months ago when gyms re-opened after the initial shutdowns, I asked in this blog whether folks would really return to gyms. The numbers who came back in the late spring and summer were quite small; as a personal trainer, I was operating at about 40% of where I had been pre-pandemic. Trainers at other facilities with whom I spoke reported similar downturns in gym attendance. But now that there are vaccines and hopefully something approaching herd immunity, what will the future hold for gyms? An article published on http://www.cnbc.com back in July, 2020 shared the results of survey; the findings were that 59% of Americans were not planning to renew their gym memberships after the pandemic. I am sure there is more recent research, but I have not seen it. Anecdotally, most of my clients have stated that it is more convenient, cost-effective, and (perceived to be) safer to pivot to on-line training; they simply do not plan to go back to a gym at all.

Clients at At Home Senior Fitness have begun to ask what my plans will be when things open up more. My business model–which I began to develop when COVID-19 was unknown outside of the scientific community–was always to train folks in their own homes; I would bring the equipment, the expertise, and the fitness plan. The pandemic pushed me toward virtual training and that now accounts for about 95% of my business–both in one-on-one training and in remote group fitness classes. I certainly have no plans to train in a gym any longer; the overhead is so high that I would make a fraction of what I do as a self-employed personal trainer…and I am still able to remain competitive price-wise.

I do think that gyms will come back, but perhaps not to the same levels as before. Those facilities that succeed will be the ones that offer the cleanest, safest environment; even before the pandemic, we know that some gyms, their equipment, and locker rooms were not clean enough. They will also be the ones that are able to respond to what customers are looking for rather than adhering to outdated “take it or leave it” policies.

As for my business, I only see growth ahead. Pandemic or not, many older adults prefer the ease of staying at home. They do not have to worry about driving. Those that have mobility issues do not have to fret about the walk from the parking lot to the fitness center. At-home training means they will not be intimidated by the machinery (we keep it to dumbbells, resistance bands, and body weight exercises) or others in the gym prancing around showing off their physiques. It is the most comfortable setting to be in.

There is a place for gyms. For those who like the social experience and want access to lots of different equipment, there is no substitute. Still, the pandemic has shown many that there are alternatives to the typical gym that have their advantages too.

The main thing is that once the danger of COVID-19 has passed, people need to recommit to their health and fitness. Just because the pandemic ends does not mean that all of the sudden we are healthy. It just means that we have one less obstacle in our way and more choices for how to reach our goals.

Heart Health During the Pandemic

lowell heart

A new study out by the University of Oxford in the UK confirms what we have long known: exercise benefits cardiovascular health. An article about the study can be found here: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/12/health/exercise-cardiovascular-disease-study-wellness/index.html.

What this study adds to what we already know is that there is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” when it comes to exercise and cardiovascular health. The more we exercise the more health benefit there is. Of course, this is not to say that too much exercise or doing it incorrectly will not adversely affect other systems in the body. The research was conducted with over 90,000 participants and showed that the more exercise a person did, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease; the less they exercised, the more likely disease would present itself.

This information is particular important since we know that many of us are not exercising as much since the pandemic arrived. Gyms are closed or operating with limitations. Many of us don’t feel comfortable going to the gym even if it is open. Since many of us are working from home, we don’t have as much walking around the office. As a rabbi, I used to do regular hospital visits to sick congregants; depending on the hospital, it was possible to walk a mile from my car to the hospital to the patient’s room and back. That does not happen any more. There are many examples of the ways in which our staying at home has lessened our physical activity.

This is an important message. We need to find ways to make up for that lost activity. There are many good options: going for a brisk walk or bike ride (if the weather permits), getting on a treadmill or other piece of equipment at home, joining an on-line exercise class, etc. The more we do this, the more benefit we receive.

And now for a shameless plug: I teach an on-line class 3 times each week at 1-2 pm EST on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. It is fun, easy to join, accessible to nearly all levels of fitness, and affordable. For more info, go to: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net. Not only will you thank me, your heart will too!

Keep active and keep that ticker healthy!

Personal Training and the Pandemic

Online Yoga

When the pandemic was just beginning and fitness facilities like the one where I used to work were still open, it was apparent that a tidal wave was headed our way. Within a week, my cancellations went through the roof. When the gym finally closed, I had no idea what the future would hold.

This pandemic has hit Personal Trainers hard: some for the better, some for the worse. An article appeared yesterday on CNN’s website: https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/12/us/personal-trainers-adapt-covid-19/index.html. The author, Amir Vera, discusses the various outcomes for those in an industry that has lost nearly a half-million jobs since COVID-19 came on the scene.

Not surprisingly, there are those trainers who found it difficult, if not impossible, to transition to the new situation. Some trainers (and people, in general), are much more set in their ways and really get thrown for a loop when the rules of the game are changed. Others found ways to pivot and have discovered that not only have they survived the pandemic’s effects, but they are also thriving.

Within days of the closing of my gym, I was on-line offering a daily workout for free. This not only kept some of my clients engaged, but attracted new individuals who were looking for a way to stay active outside of the gym setting. (It also kept me from reverting to a sedentary lifestyle). Within a short time, I was offering one-on-one personal training for free as well. I am grateful that my previous gym paid us a salary (reduced as it was) to allow my fellow trainers and me to do this. There were, of course, those clients for whom virtual was not an option (technical issues or too fragile to work out without direct supervision) and others for whom it was not their cup of tea. Those folks received regular phone calls and emails; I did not want them to forget about me or (more importantly) their own fitness.

When the gym re-opened in June, about 40% of my clients came back. Another 30% stayed on-line (no longer free-of-charge). Another 30% just sort of faded away; I continue to stay in touch every few months, but it is unlikely that I will see them again.

In August, I launched my own business: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net. It is a niche venture aimed at fitness for older adults. I was lucky to retain many of my previous clients and attracted others through free classes that I offered, advertising in a local paper, and word of mouth. Even though my hours are still less than they were at the height of my career at the gym before the pandemic, I am actually making more money now than I did then.

Most importantly, the pandemic forced me out of my comfort zone. I had to get creative. Every day I had to come up with a new group workout. Every day I had to think about how to provide modifications for those with less ability and those with more. Every day I had to consider how to reach out to clients and keep track of their progress. I also had to learn how to best use technology and adjust workouts to a virtual platform while remaining effective and safe. In a way, have had a shorter time in the industry probably helped me to make all these transitions; I was too new at it to be set in my ways. It made me a way better trainer than I was before. Without the pandemic, I do not know if I would have ever had the impetus and opportunity to start my own business.

I always try to look for the silver linings in my life when things go sideways. The pandemic pushed me to be the best trainer I can be and the results are encouraging. Those trainers who are just waiting it out until things go back to “normal” may be disappointed. Like everything else, some of the changes brought by COVID-19 are here to stay.

As for me, I look forward to the challenges and rewards that this new landscape presents–with my sincere hope that those affected by COVID-19 have a complete and speedy recovery.

Even I’m Not Going to the Gym

Refund Key

As my readers know, last Friday was my last day working as a Personal Trainer at the local JCC. Not only was this the end of my employment at that institution, it was also the end of my membership. For the first time in over 20 years, I found myself in the position of not being a member of a JCC and having to look for a fitness facility where I could work out.

I had two weeks to do some research, looking at factors such as location, hours, cost, and (most importantly) approach toward health and safety in the midst of a pandemic. I chose to join the local LA Fitness. The price was right. The location and hours were convenient. And their hygiene practices seem to be in good order–or, at least, no worse than anywhere else. Of course, before I signed on the dotted line I asked what would happen if the governor were to shut down gym facilities. There was a policy in place, but they also told me that I had five days to call the whole thing off and not pay a dime. So it was that last Sunday I did in fact join LA Fitness.

Today, it seems that things have gotten way more serious in NE Ohio. Local schools are closing. The governor has put a curfew in place. The local supermarket is nearly out of toilet paper (perhaps the greatest indicator of where things are).

This evening, I sent an email requesting to cancel my membership. I had only worked out there three times: once during my free trial (the cardio equipment did not work properly), a second time (when all six pieces of cardio equipment I tried did not work properly), and a third time when I used the track. I ran 5k and did so without my mask on. I felt uneasy about it, but the others on the track (all walking) were wearing masks. It bothered me so much that I left the gym committed to wearing a mask no matter what exercise I did at the gym…and if it was heavy cardio where a mask would be an impediment, I would either have to do it at home or outside. Given the trajectory of the pandemic, I just don’t feel comfortable in a place where others may not be as stringent as I am.

Does this mean that I won’t be working out? By all means, no! I am in the business of training older adults on-line and I will continue to do that. Gyms are great if they can be accessed safely; that is all up to personal interpretation, but there is no way to make them risk-free. My decision is to keep fit at home and outside; it is the same decision that my clients have made.

I am not happy about having to cancel my membership. I hope that I can rejoin a gym when (if?) things ever get under control. In the meantime, I am not willing to risk my health to improve my health. That is the sad choice that we must all make today.

Thinking Ahead to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Turkey [327/366]

Last year I wrote a post before the holiday with tips for how to get through Thanksgiving without hating yourself afterwards for overeating. Here is the link: https://kosher-fitness.com/2019/11/27/how-to-eat-healthy-at-thanksgiving-dinner/.

The advice still holds, but this year there is an added wrinkle to take into account. Most years we are accustomed to having a large crowd, which calls for a large turkey, large casseroles, large stuffing, large, large, large…. In the pandemic, most of us are finding ourselves dining within our “COVID-19 Bubbles.” Generally, this will mean much smaller crowds. What to do?

I learned the lesson the hard way at Rosh Hashanah when we prepared large meals for just the two of us. It was not a pretty picture (although a delicious one)! We ate more than we should have–not a good idea during a time in the Jewish Year when we are aware of our transgressions!

As always, the key is to plan ahead. We’ve got several weeks to plan to downsize the festivities or commit to a plan with what to do with the leftovers.

Here are some suggestions:

–Do not purchase an entire turkey, but rather a turkey breast instead.

–Take out the family recipes now and start halving or quartering the amounts to fit the number of diners at your meal.

–Investigate now places to donate meals for Thanksgiving. There is a good chance that a neighbor or relative or friend may be eating alone this year; how about giving a small part of your meal to them (put together a few plates). Remember to be especially cautious about following hygiene standards.

–Get some freezer-friendly storage containers. If you can only prepare large, right after making everything, divvy it up and put it in the freezer, leaving only enough for the Thanksgiving meal. The leftovers can be used for future meals.

Hopefully this gets the wheels turning and gives you some ideas for how to stay on track. An early Happy Thanksgiving!