Maxine McCrann

The future of fitness looks lonely as hell

Before the pandemic, I often went to the gym twice a day. And it wasn't about trying to find some version of the perfect body. Truly, having a great ass is simply a wonderful byproduct of regular cardio. The primary advantage is the endorphin rush that lingers and well, just a longer, healthier life. When the pandemic began though, community workouts were no longer an option. So, like many other people, I started exercising at home. I even started to love it. Now the gyms are open again, but I’m not sure I’m going back.

It’s not just me, either, a lot of other young people are ditching the gym for at-home workouts now, too. That seems reasonable now as we all skittishly readjust to in-person human interaction, but I wonder: Is the future of fitness lonely as hell?

Well, alone doesn’t always mean lonely. Some of those who began their solo routine last year, found it liberating in ways they didn’t even expect. “What I love most about working out solo — especially as a woman — is not feeling judged or stared at,” says Genesis Gutierrez, a 22-year-old marketing assistant in Los Angeles. I can testify. There always seems to be a creepy frat bro at the bench press either leering or a little too quick with his “advice.” I definitely do not miss that guy or his band of marathon-loving miscreants.

As it turns out, when you’re not getting distracted (or non-consensually ogled) at the gym, it can enhance your experience and your actual progress. “I was not weight lifting before because I was feeling insecure and intimidated,” Gutierrez says. Now, she tells me, she is focusing more on strength training and that feeling herself get stronger throughout the pandemic is what got her through some tough times — and she’s not planning to return to the gym even now that she can. “I envision my personal fitness in the future as lifting more weights, getting stronger, and toning up my body — all from the comfort of my own home,” she says.

While working out in groups has been proven to be an added motivation for some people, others feel that being forced to create their own workouts helps them develop more self-discipline. Parag Shah, a 31-year-old entrepreneur, says that at the beginning of the pandemic he was overweight and felt emotionally and physically drained. When he hired a virtual personal trainer in September 2020, everything started to shift.

“I started being extremely disciplined about a consistent workout routine,” Shah says. Ironically, the increase in unstructured time during the pandemic encouraged Shah to create more structure for himself. And, he adds, working with his trainer and apps allowed him to personalize his fitness regime.

Shah turned his living room into a gym that he stocked with light hand weights, resistance bands, a pull-up bar, dumbbells, an ab roller, a corked yoga mat, a dip bar, and a bench. Now that he has a home fitness paradise, Shah says he doesn’t really need gym, although he will go back to in-person Barry’s Bootcamp classes once a month out of his sheer love for their famously rigorous workout.

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A lot of people I spoke for this story invested tons of money on their home gyms, and most of them felt like it was worth it. They bought treadmills and pilates machines, and of course, the infamous Pelotons. “Not to be dramatic, but Peloton's workouts have made a huge impact on my life,” says Kasey Widmyer, a 25-year-old fashion buyer in Brooklyn. Widmyer says that before the pandemic, she was never the kind of person who worked out at home, but now she loves her new Peloton-centric routine and probably will only check out gyms when she’s traveling. “This last year really helped me take charge of my own fitness goals and it has become a personal journey,” she says.

If all these fitness love stories are inspiring you to turn any extra space in your home into a gym, go for it. In terms of equipment, you can spend basically any amount of money on gear, all the popular apps and online fitness studios offer workouts that teach you to use your own body weight. If you have the money to invest, there’s fancy at-home workout gear to fit every desire. It really all depends on how much you feel comfortable spending.

A team member’s favorite has been CityRow Go, for its personalized, full body workout that uses actual water to create resistance. During her trial of the rower, the first couple of days absolutely kicked her ass in a really good way. As she got used to the sensations, her new routing began to feel familiar, yet consistently challenging — a la the group classes she missed so much (and is still not ready to return to).

Cityrow

If large equipment and simulating the actual gym isn’t your thing, I recommend a few hand weights and resistance bands — the elastic bands last longer than the rubber ones. And yes, you can spend thousands of dollars on a treadmill or spin sike, but there are a lot of creative ways you can hack a cheaper stationary bike or tread if you want palpable results on a budget.

If apps are your jam, there are a million to choose from. Nike Run Club is a jogger fave. If you want a guided outdoor running experience, but you’re a novice, Couch to 5k is very accessible, although I personally prefer the Zombies Run! app. Beach Body On Demand’s classes were a crowd favorite because of the guided programs geared to get you in shape. If you think you’ll miss working out with other humans, you can always take live classes online, and not for nothing, but some folx feel an extraordinary amount of kinship with the people in workout videos. And really, you get to be alone if that’s appealing to you, without really being alone.

The beauty of this moment in fitness history is that we don’t actually have to choose. All of the workout options we learned to love during the pandemic are still available to us and, since the gyms are opening again, you can drop in every now and then when feel like you need to comingle with other sweaty bodies to stay motivated. You can have the judgement-free workout zone in the comfort of your own home and the gym. That doesn’t sound lonely at all. Maybe the future of fitness is actually personalized, self-guided, and full of possibility.