After COVID-19 lockdown, fitness fans reconsider returning to the gym

After COVID-19 lockdown, fitness fans reconsider returning to the gym

Like many Canadians, Erin Riediger cancelled her gym membership when the country went into lockdown in March.

For the first few days of quarantine, the Winnipeg-based architect tried crafting her own yoga routine, to no avail. Then she found Alo Moves, an online membership-based yoga platform available for $9 a month on an annual basis, allowing her to improve her yoga skills on her own time, in her own space.

“I didn’t think you could get any gains from working out at home,” Riediger says. “You can actually gain flexibility, gain strength without actually having to leave your home, which I didn’t think was possible.”

Riediger is one of many Canadians finding success in free or low-cost virtual home workout options during the lockdown. She says there were many times in her fitness journey that the $100 monthly yoga membership felt like a significant investment, one that required sacrifice in other areas of her life to maintain. Now that lockdown has taught her how effective and affordable working out from home can be, she’s rethinking continuing this investment once gyms reopen safely again.

“I always felt like if I didn’t have the membership I wasn’t going to get enough out of my workouts,” she says. “But because the streaming service works so well, and I do feel like I’m making gains in yoga and in other areas that I wasn’t practising at my home studio. I think that (going forward) I could do a blend.”

She’s currently exploring buying individual passes at a number of different fitness centres around Winnipeg while doing yoga at home for the $9 membership fee. In all, the cost of going this route would likely add up to less than her old yoga membership.

It would also offer an element of convenience that in-person workouts simply don’t. Riediger notes that attending a one-hour class at her yoga studio was at least a two-hour commitment, when factoring in time spent packing, commuting, and showering after the fact. Living room sessions, on the other hand, require little more than a few minutes of prep and cleanup. Many plans also offer flexibility in class length, so if you’re lacking an hour to devote to working out, you can throw on a 10- or 20-minute video instead.

The convenience factor is primarily why at-home fitness options like Peloton have become so popular over the last few years. The $2,950 workout bike — which comes with on-demand spin classes at varying lengths for $49 a month — has surged in popularity over the course of the pandemic, earning 1.1 million new Peloton Digital subscriptions between March 16 and April 30 alone. But even pre-lockdown, the bike was gaining traction within its key demographic: busy individuals who have disposable income, yet lack time to hit the gym.

“If I can get a great experience on my own time, in a convenient location at home, that’s where the world has gone,” says president William Lynch. “Peloton offers that.”

And as it turns out, working out in shorter bursts more frequently throughout the day may also be a healthier practice than hitting the gym for an intense, one-time workout after hours of sitting all day. That’s according to Geoff Girvitz, director of Bang Fitness, a small Toronto gym that offers individualized training for around $40 a session.

While Bang Fitness has remained closed over the duration of lockdown, Girvitz and his team of trainers have kept clients busy via remote workouts. They’ve also started offering free online drop-ins where trainers run public Zoom sessions for up to three hours, during which time patrons are free to come and go as they choose. The goal is to promote flexible “micro and mini workouts,” and Girvitz says he’s seen such success with it that the gym will likely keep this program around long after Bang Fitness is safely allowed to reopen.

“We have this incredible opportunity to get off a call and immediately bust out some push-ups or some kettlebell swings,” Girvitz says.

These remote workout rooms also attempt to recreate the sense of community that gyms offer — a common draw for many consumers. But for those who rely on the accountability of a gym’s social network, virtual workouts will never be enough. “People crave human connection,” Riediger says.

And for others, working out for free will never be effective. Even Riediger admits that her $100 membership fee was costly enough to keep her from bailing on classes last minute. She doesn’t feel the same guilt in quitting a virtual workout when the investment is the price of a few cups of coffee.

So, while working out from home may always be the cheapest option, it’s not necessarily the most effective. The most financially-sound workout plan is the one you stick to, and the lockdown hasn’t changed that.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.

Audrey Carleton, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous versions misstated the number of new Peloton Digital subscriptions.

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