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 They will also be the ones that are able to respond to what customers are looking for rather than adhering to outdated “take it or leave it” policies.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.

No Time to Work Out During the Pandemic

Stopwatch

I had a conversation with a friend the other day who I know used to be a regular user of the gym where I work; he even worked out regularly with one of the top personal trainers. I asked him whether he has been working out with his trainer and he told me that he has been too busy; I pushed him a little bit and reminded him that all of us trainers are working virtually via Zoom, which removes the commute time. I got a sort of shoulder shrug.

This wouldn’t be such a noteworthy conversation, except that I have had similar ones with more than a few friends/acquaintances (and clients). They have gotten used to not going to the gym–even though virtual sessions have been offered since early April–and now that we have re-opened (albeit in a modified fashion), they haven’t gotten back in the habit.

Many of my clients who worked with me virtually have returned to the gym in what I would say is an almost seamless process. There have been administrative glitches to be expected given the new realities, but from the physiological standpoint, coming back to the gym seems like the natural thing to do rather than an “obligation” that needs to be shoved back into the schedule. Other clients who legitimately do not feel comfortable coming in to the gym work with me virtually on a very consistent basis. BTW, it is amazing how tough a workout can be even without the fancy gym equipment. I have seriously challenged clients with props such as rolls of toilet paper, dish towels, throw pillows, and just their body weight.

It is important to note that many of my clients who have not returned to the gym and who are not training virtually make a point to tell me that they are walking a lot, gardening, etc.–the usual activities of summertime; when I ask them if they are checking their heart rate to see if it is elevated the response is always crickets chirping. When we eat, we often underestimate how many calories we are consuming…after all, what damage could a bowl of (healthy!) granola with milk possibly cause? (Check the label and you’ll be surprised). The same is true with exercise; we overestimate how many calories we burn; we think we are getting a workout, but a casual walk with the dog–constantly sniffing and marking territory–does not raise one’s heart rate significantly unless your dog is a greyhound! We need to get the heart pumping, the blood circulating, and the lungs expanded.

Folks who worked out with me consistently via Zoom before returning to the gym have found that the load (how much weight they can push, lift, pull, etc.) now is not where it was pre-pandemic. We are having to do some reconditioning. Can you imagine what the difference will be for the gardener and the dog-walker when (if) they return to the gym? Even those who did not get ill due to the pandemic will feel like they are recovering from a disease when they begin to work out in earnest again. Inertia plays a powerful role and can undo much of the progress and maintenance we have achieved.

We are still in a pandemic–this will go on for a while. There is so much that we still cannot do safely. This should free up time for us–time to re-connect with our fitness goals, with our gym memberships, with our personal training sessions–or even with a more rigorous home routine that raises our metabolic rates.

COVID-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to not stay fit–unless you have the virus and are battling illness. On the contrary, a regular exercise program together with proper nutrition, stress-reduction, and sufficient rest can boost the immune system. It is time to get those priorities straight and find the time you know is there to take care of yourself.