Every Tuesday morning for 45 minutes, I work out with my favorite Barry’s (formerly known as Barry’s Bootcamp) trainer, Mike Pugs. He puts on a playlist and makes me deadlift, squat, and lunge till my knees shake, alongside about 20 other people. Sometimes when said knees buckle, he corrects my form and jokes about my sheer lack of flexibility.
And when it’s over and my legs feel like gummy worms, we say goodbye, turn off our cameras, and sign out of Zoom. This is what it’s like to work out during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it might be a glimpse into the future of fitness.
“Our community has always valued the in-person experience,” Barry’s instructor and chief curriculum lead Chris Hudson told me, explaining how classes such as Mike’s are now fully online. “But at the same time, we knew there was a growing market for virtual classes even before the pandemic hit, and we had been developing a digital product for some time. Once Covid took hold, we expedited the creation of Barry’s At-Home since there was such an urgent need.”
As Hudson implies, the idea of working out from home isn’t new. Growing up, my parents had a stack of virtually untouched Jane Fonda exercise videos right next to the VCR. Newer companies (such as Peloton and Mirror) and veterans (such as NordicTrack and Bowflex) were built around the idea of exercising at home.
But for the last few years, the fitness industry has been dominated by in-person experiences. Fitness — gyms, Barry’s “Red Rooms,” CrossFit boxes, cycling and yoga studios, and everything in between — was a destination, and a profitable one at that. Community was the big draw.
Then the coronavirus hit.
The pandemic wrapped itself around the fitness industry like a fist. Companies such as Solidcore and Flywheel laid off as much as 90 percent of their staffs. Those who didn’t lose their job were, like the trainers at SoulCycle, put on furlough. There’s no guarantee those jobs will be there even if the businesses recover.
The lockdowns created a sink-or-swim scenario for trainers, fitness studios, and gyms all around the country. The ultimatum: Adapt to the new reality of online fitness or you won’t survive.
Trainers had to start over and learn how to teach with no one in a room. Their clients had to adapt, too, mimicking moves on a screen and battling through technical difficulties. Fitness with other people may not return to what it was. And even if it does, it’ll look completely different than it did before the coronavirus shut it down. But although the industry has been growing for years, introducing newer and ever-fancier technology, the coronavirus has shown that the most important part of connected or online fitness is the connection.
This is how the pandemic brought fitness back home again.
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