Thoughts on what the post-pandemic fitness scene will look like
Fitness has taken on a whole new look during our pandemic lockdown. It’s been a kind-of fitness center purgatory for the exercise enthusiast, a bonanza for the innovative, and an opportunity for the not-so-fit to feel not-so-bad about not going to the gym. What will remain and what will not once the gyms of the world re-open? Here are my 10 predictions for what the post-COVID-19 fitness world will look like…at least in the short term.
1. Less-crowded gyms.
When the world re-opens, three types of businesses will be overrun by patrons: Hair, and nail salons…and gyms. Fitness centers are re-opening with mandatory distances and persons-per-square foot and spacing of equipment (e.g., every other treadmill), lots of disinfection stations, and quasi-mandatory mask-wearing. I envision gym bouncers at the door, manning the velvet ropes, admitting the next X number of patrons. Those who are genuinely scared of rebound COVID-19 or the next pandemic may find gym-going not worthy of the risk. Same for people who were already battling workout motivation. Those who go for the fun of it, or the love of fitness, will tire of waiting for the “enthusiasts” (maniacs?) whose workouts last longer than a Peter Jackson film. People who figured out how to stay fit–or get even fitter–with stay-at-home workouts will just, well, work out at home and save the gym fees. Or find a gyms with fewer members.
Business tip to struggling gyms: advertise your membership numbers.
2. From a little intimidating to downright intimidating.
The hard core gym members will not be denied, so initially at least, those needing their gym fixes will be first in line, stay longest and be as protective of their equipment as Fluffy the three-headed dog from Harry Potter. Novices and the out-of-shape–who may already feel intimidated–will be even less inclined to risk interrupting, or going through the hassle.
3. Wipe that s***
Gyms are adding disinfecting stations, air cleaning systems and rules governing post-set cleaning of equipment. For a long time, the unspoken, best-practice gym etiquette has been to spray and wipe benches and seats, or at least set down a towel before sitting or reclining. Expect clean-up rules to expand to wiping handles, bars, and weight stack pins in the post-COVID fitness center.
Gym legislation aside, not wiping down equipment was frowned upon by many, and ignored by old-schoolers who remember the days when the gym included homemade equipment manufactured in a local machine shop. In the new world though, violators of wipe-down policies will be ostracized and there will be little patience for muscle-head “a-little-sweat-won’t-hurt-anybody”. Prediction: this will not be universally well-received. Expect the “do you even squat” crowd will be lining up against the Lulu wearers. Stay tuned for belligerence and conflict.
4. “May I work in?” Fuhgidaboudit!
Working in was already on its way out, an anachronism from the gyms of the 80s and 90s. Now…more than likely…gone forever. Stand your ass six feet over there until I’m done.
Last time I checked, social distance was 6′, which in the gym will definitely bring new meaning to “it was all you bruh!”
The fear of catching a life-threatening ailment at a public water fountain has been lingering for three decades or so, and has only intensified since the novel coronavirus outbreak. About two weeks before the whole world shut down, I was headed for the water fountain for a swig, when a kid cut in front of me and ate the spigot. Not much grosses me out, having spent my share of time working in a GI endoscopy suite. I’ve seen some s***, literally and figuratively. But yuk. I went thirsty the rest of my workout and next time, I brought a bottle.
Watch for free, gym-branded water bottles at the fitness center near you. Get yours while supplies last.
7. Know-how and active lifestyle will matter most.
Return to the gym will carry with it the same anticipation as return to school after Summer vacation. We’re wondering who’ll be back, who looks different–thinner, fatter, new hair, etc. Whether a person stayed in shape during shelter-in-place will depend on how well they ate, how active they were and what types of activity they actually did. At-home and outdoor workouts made a comeback as did catching up on physical home improvement projects. Let’s hear it for good ol’ activities of daily living. Get up off the couch and do something (after you finish Ozark and Tiger King of course). I got a nice glute, shoulder, and core workout by painting a guest bath, which required 3537 steps, several dozen flights of stairs, ladder climbs, ladder and paint bucket carries, and overhead reaches. I felt it the next day. I’m selling the routine for $39.
Working from home has also left plenty of time and flexibility for exercising. Very liberating. Midday workout? Why not? Push-ups or sit-ups between conference calls? For sure! I toyed around with the idea of one five-minute exercise break every hour. That’s 40 minutes by the end of an eight-hour work day, 80 minutes if expanded to 10 minutes each hour. The at-home experience comes with the added bonus of no shower required (until someone complains). Just Do It got real. If you know a few exercise science basics, you can craft a workout just about anywhere with just about anything.
People who need the special machine or group class to stay motivated and in shape won’t have fared as well. The motivated, the people who simply moved around, and innovative, will be as fit as before, or more so.
8. Newly-discovered exercises will live on.
Not having my go-to gym implements handy forced innovating with what equipment I had. (I do miss the cable machine.). I learned that sissy squats are the baddest-ass quad isolator ever, and TRX pushdowns (well, push-outs really) are now my exercise of choice for triceps.
9. Virtual, online personal training.
It’s a thing now, for sure. Depending on how lasting social distancing will be, in-person personal training is going to be a challenge. If the trainer and trainee have to stand six feet apart, might as well be six miles apart. Fitness center chains are already scrambling to figure out how to incorporate the online model into their business plans, and their trainers will be tempted more than ever to freelance.
10. Outdoors no longer out-of-bounds.
The runners, cyclists, walkers, and outdoor boot-camp workout enthusiasts didn’t miss a beat during lockdown. My patio workout will live on for maybe a day or two each week, weather permitting. And hey, my dog Rudy can join me. The outdoor workout for many has proven to be liberating and rejuvenating in ways impossible in a fitness center. During mine, I got to watch a robin build her nest and feed her chicks in the grove behind my house, and I made friends with some bumblebees that hang out around my deck.
Keep on truckin’
Friend and colleague Pat McGrew took his own outdoor workout to entirely new heights. Pat’s “gym” fits in the bed of his not-tiny Ford pickup, and much of it came from a hardware store. In it is a tractor tire, a sledgehammer, a 40-lb. chain, heavy rope, kettlebells, sandbags, slam ball, and a water-tight log that–when filled–weighs about 65 lbs. There’s also a plyo box and push-up frame. When the weather agrees, Pat packs up the truck and drives to a nearby outdoor football practice field, and when the weather stinks, an indoor one.
When I asked Pat what he calls his work-out, the closest comparison he could give was CrossFit. But I dunno. Looks more like SEAL team training to me. His stated objective: raise his heart rate. According to his Garmin wrist-worn workout monitor, one “set” of his workout would require 62 hours of recovery time alone. (I didn’t ask if that included a hospital stay). The exercise? Draping the chain around his neck, holding the water-filled 65-lb. log overhead, and walking 100 yards. Makes sense to me, as long as at the end of the 100 yards is a pool, a bar, or an ER. Elevated heart-rate: mission accomplished.
Pat cycles three times through his circuit of 14 exercises that includes tractor tire-flipping, sledge-hammering the tire, push-ups, kettlebell curls, weighted walks, and I’m pretty sure a collapse at some point. Great example of making a workout work with what you’ve got handy…and aren’t using for a demolition project that day.
Those are my 10 predictions for what the post-COVID-19 fitness world will look like. Fitness in our new future will be much more about just moving and eating right directionally, more about active lifestyle and less about location. The programs and rigorous diets we thought we couldn’t live without, well, we can.