“I Love Feeling Healthy, Which Is Why I Won’t Be Going Back to the Gym”

A new poll of almost 10,000 people conducted by Men’s Health UK has revealed that almost 40 per cent of people would “rather work out at home” following the coronavirus pandemic.

As someone who no longer uses a gym or swears by the benefits of a squat rack, I can understand why our readers and our social media followers felt this way.

Because, since the coronavirus lockdown began, I’ve been able to get almost exactly the same workouts and fitness work in as I would have at the gym. I’ve borrowed a 20kg kettlebell from my CrossFit box, stolen my partner’s yoga mat and resistance bands, dusted off two 12.5kg adjustable dumbbells and invested in a skipping rope.

These, when used in a workout that I would often pinch from athletes, CrossFit coaches or the Men’s Health workout hub, were always more than enough to keep me working hard when the gyms closed their doors in March, to curb the spread of coronavirus. I then took the extra step to pause two memberships — my local gym and a CrossFit box.

Almost immediately, everything felt easier. With remote working measures set in, I had two spare hours in my day that would otherwise be spent commuting and I used this time to hit the home workouts hard. My sweat-busting sessions consisted of high intensity movements and resistance work – a format I would repeat four to five times a week. It soon became pretty clear: I had made noticeable changes in my strength and fitness without leaving my front door. The myths were true. Home workouts work.

“I simply don’t feel the need to go back. I can do it all at home”

Once gyms were given the green light to re-open on July 25th, I made the decision to not renew my membership at my local spot. It wasn’t one made lightly but, by my reckoning, the benefits of staying home, for work and play, were obvious. But is it this simple for others?

During the poll, we asked our followers for their opinions regarding returning to gyms and health centres following the spread of COVID-19. The responses provided some interesting insights into the psyche of the UK’s fitness community and how they’re approaching safety standards when exercising.

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When asked “Will you be returning to the gym once they reopen?” 62 per cent of nearly 10,000 respondents answered yes and 38 per cent, like myself, would be sticking to exercise at home.

On another question, 44 per cent of 7940 respondents admitted they felt “too nervous” to return to the gym following coronavirus and over three quarters (79 per cent) are planning to take extra precautions for safety and hygiene on the gym floor.

“I don’t fancy booking a time slot…and spending half the time wiping equipment”

Unfortunately, 21 per cent of respondents replied “no” when asked if they were taking “extra precautions” for hygiene. In response to a Tweet on the topic, some of the Men’s Health community shared their views on returning to the gym:

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“A small percentage of people think they’re indestructible and cannot see the repercussions”

“While a lot of people have been respectful to government guidelines, sadly a small percentage of people think they’re indestructible and cannot see the repercussions of this virus,” explains Michael Glover, a Men’s Health reader. “This has the basis for not wanting to run through gym doors when they reopen. I don’t want to find myself in a small, overcrowded gym with that small percentage.

“I believe people’s desire to get back in the gym will outweigh the process of following guidelines. There will also be a period of adjustment where gyms will have to learn how protocols will be followed and changed for ease and practicality… Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to return, but only once gyms have figured out a system that is safe, practical for users and eases any worry that you’re entering a high risk area.”

“I’ve invested in gym equipment and will continue with home workouts. When restrictions at the gym are almost back to normal, I will consider rejoining,” agrees Gwil Wyn Griffith, a builder in Anglesey. “But I don’t fancy booking a time slot to go, working to a restricted timescale and spending half the time wiping equipment for the next person.”

gyms in the uk prepare for reopening

The view of a post-coronavirus weights room in Oasis Gym, UK

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I agree with Griffith and Glover. I have been saving the money spent on memberships, but, by avoiding the gym directly, I would also be limiting my contact with other gym goers (arguably the most frustrating part of the chain gym experience) and therefore reducing the potential spread of coronavirus on the gym floor or in the locker room. The virus is still active, after all.

“So many people have wanted to make the move over to online training”

Similarly, I’m able to re-invest the money that I would have otherwise spent on my membership on gym kit that’ll serve me for years, from battle ropes to pull-up bars, weight benches and turbo trainers.

But is it the right thing to do? There’s no denying that fitness is the ultimate one-two punch for beating stress and, with group training proven to lower anxiety levels by up to 26 per cent, I could be missing out on a trick by denying myself access to like-minded individuals. Equally, I’ll be deliberately putting myself in a position where I won’t be financially supporting local businesses — both the larger gym and the CrossFit box fall into this category — and, if more people share my mindset, could see fitness businesses faltering in the post-coronavirus landscape.

One such business, who has pivoted to strictly remote training and coaching, is MVMNT Box, a functional fitness training company that has moved to specialise in this new ecosphere, providing tutelage on daily coached online classes, workout tutorials, programming and nutrition advice.

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“We wanted to provide people whose lives have changed due to COVID-19 to be able to still keep on top of their health and fitness goals whilst at home. It’s more important now than ever before,” explains MVMNT’s co-owner Tom Parker. “So many people have wanted to make the move over to online training as that’s now what they’re used to.”

MVMNT’s story correlates directly with a recent survey from Women’s Health, which found that 88 per cent of people “don’t trust” other gym users when it comes to following new hygiene standards at the gym, giving the facilities a wide berth after reopening.

“Mitigate any risks by splitting your time between gym-based weight sessions and outdoor cardio”

“We soon realised that online coaching works really well for lots of people and that due to the length of time lockdown was going on for, people were buying kit or pausing their gym memberships so they can get on with training at home,” explains Parker.

Of course, as Mens’ Health Fitness Editor Andrew Tracey explains, this doesn’t mean you need racks and racks of dumbbells and an iron paradise to rival that of Dwayne Johnson. Far from it, actually. “Training from home doesn’t have to mean having a ‘home gym’, as long as you’re comfortable in a space, with a small amount of kit, anywhere can be your gym,” he explains.

“It’s just about redefining how you see the space. Think of creating a ‘home training environment’ instead of aiming to have a fully kitted out space. This ‘environment’ can set you up, enabling you to make not only physical improvements, but shift gears mentally. This is more vital than ever if you’ve been working from home and spinning your wheels in the same space for six months.”

“If you’re still feeling anxious about returning, but feel your mental health will be better for it, you can look to mitigate any risks by splitting your time between gym based heavy weight sessions and outdoor cardio and bodyweight bouts, essentially getting the best of both worlds.”

It’s this “best of both worlds” that group training facility Barry’s has been exploring in order to best service its communities and members around the world. “During lockdown, we really encouraged people to work out from home. Our daily free IG Live workouts allowed people who may have heard of us, but not ever been able to visit one of our studios, to ‘meet’ our trainers and see what we’re all about.

“As a boutique studio, none of our community are tied to memberships so they have complete flexibility in when they wish to return. Given the success of our Barry’s At Home workouts, we have decided to continue these alongside our studio classes to give people the option to still train from home if they wish.

“For a lot of our clients it’s part of their daily schedule – in much the same way as going to work was. Although we quickly pivoted to offer IG Live workouts, the feedback from our community was that they really missed working out together.”

coronavirus open air gym

Popularity with outdoor UK gyms has surged since fitness centres were forced to close

Richard BakerGetty Images

Yes, I’ve missed the gym and getting a sweat on with my friends and that’s exactly why I’m delaying my return to the squat rack. Until there’s close to zero risk, you won’t see me there. Likewise, it’s no secret that exercising is a tried-and-tested way of eradicating the blues and with many people suffering from lockdown-related loneliness, the priority and the emphasis should go to the gym, come July 25th. The weights room will, once again, act as a welcome salve to otherwise troubled minds.

Should you have the luxury of a supportive bubble, a space to exercise in and the equipment to help maintain your strength and fitness, returning to the gym becomes a difficult decision to make, with benefits on either sides of the proverbial fence.

For me, I will come back eventually. But, for now, it’s goodbye to the commercial gym chain — it’s not you. It’s me.

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