Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s series on what fitness means to Canadians: “What Does Fitness Look Like For Me?”
There are plenty of stories out there about how people can “lose weight.” We’re not interested in that. We want to know what Canadians really think about fitness, how it makes them feel, and whether they think it’s important for their health. Because no matter what fitness looks like for you, it’s valid.
Today we’re talking to: Avid gym-goers.
For many people, staying home, wearing sweatpants 24/7, and working from the comforts of the couch have become the new norm as the world practices physical distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19. But like any big change, this new lifestyle will take time getting used to.
For avid gym-goers, that means adjusting to working out from home. Many have had to get creative with their routines, the type of equipment they use, and how they stay connected with their community.
WATCH: How Toronto Raptor Serge Ibaka stays active at home. Story continues below.
We spoke to five Canadians who regularly go to the gym about how the coronavirus pandemic has changed their fitness routines. Read on to learn how working out has helped them cope during this time, and how it’s changed the way they think about fitness.
Note: Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Before the pandemic, what did your workout routine look like?
Karma Brown, 47, is an author of five novels, a former journalist, and mom to an 11-year-old daughter
Pre-pandemic I used to go to the gym around five days a week, mostly for CrossFit workouts with the odd yoga class mixed in.
Amira de Vera, 33, is an entertainment publicist and owner of Project Four PR
I went to the gym at least five to six times a week. Fitness is my way of de-stressing from work, so it really is a huge part of my lifestyle. I am big into boxing and taking group classes. My main gyms were Studio KO and Elle Fitness in Toronto.
Pam Lau, 29, is an independent commercial photographer and video editor
I would go bouldering three to four times a week and did yoga occasionally until I sustained a high-grade multiligament knee injury from a climbing accident about a year ago.
After my surgeries, I went to physio once a week and would go to the gym almost every day to do rehabilitation exercises. I used resistance bands for strengthening, a step box, an exercise ball, and the stationary bike. I’d also work out my upper body using a pull-up bar, free weights, and machines.
Steven Matukaitis, 31, technology consultant for Scotiabank
[I’d train] five to six days a week, mainly focusing on full-body weight training and muay thai training at Old School Muay Thai in Toronto.
Valerie Molina, 36, is a senior analyst for the federal government
Before the pandemic, I would generally go to my local spinning studio (Wheelhouse in Ottawa, Spinco in Hamilton) at least three times a week. My favourites were the 6:15 a.m. classes. Something about all that loud music, positive vibes and sweatiness felt great first thing in the morning!
On the other days, I did a combo of running (treadmill when it was too cold) and weight training twice a week, as well as a group fitness class or two at Goodlife.
What do your workouts look like now that we’re physical distancing?
Amira de Vera
I was really nervous about not being able to work out. When the pandemic first started, [I would go] out for a jog, but to be honest, I am so not a runner and I don’t really enjoy running in the cold.
As an alternative, I found some workout ideas off of Pinterest, but then the gyms in the city started stepping up and offering free classes online via Instagram Live (ie. Fit Factory and ELLE Fitness). I am so happy and grateful they did that because now that’s what I do daily.
The great thing about these workouts is that they provide their schedule for the whole week so you really have something to look forward to and it helps break out the day while working from home. It’s a nice way to stay sane, entertained and active during this time.
I’ve started to look at my workouts with a restorative and healing lens. I used to look at workouts with a “go hard or go home” mentality, but with all of the personal uncertainty that’s become a reality as a result of the pandemic, I’ve turned to long, slow meditative runs through Toronto’s trail network as a way to clear my head.
I’ve also started using a Glo subscription to do yoga at home, again with a focus on stretching and healing muscle imbalances, as well as meditation and self-care to keep my focus and energy up while I work from home.
Since my gym and physio clinics have been closed for the time being, I’ve been doing exercises at home at least once a day. My workouts are definitely shorter and less intensive. I haven’t yet found any online resources that work for me yet as a lot of them put stress on the knees, so I’ve adapted and do what feels right for my body.
I used to adjust my workouts based on how active I was in a given week. Anything from walking to work, a random yoga class or running errands by foot would impact how much I worked out. Over the past few weeks, I’ve primarily turned to running outside.
Goodlife Fitness has been offering members access to Les Mills classes online, so I’ve taken to those, along with some other YouTube videos. Haven’t quite found anything to replace spinning classes though, and weight training has been difficult since at-home fitness equipment is sold out everywhere.
I also [take] advantage of my step-kids’ energy levels and [we] took to exploring our new neighbourhood by doing some stair climbing, racing each other in the empty golf course nearby, and playing games like tag and Twister in the evenings.
What’s the most creative household item you’ve used to work out?
I just figured out our basement stairs are the perfect stand in for a pull-up bar — hang off the step and get to work.
Amira de Vera
I’ve used my dining room chairs for things like tricep dips and a kitchen towel to help with some resistance arm workouts.
I don’t have much equipment at home; just resistance bands and a pilates ball set. I’ve had to get resourceful and use a foldable chair as a light weight and a sidewalk curb as a step.
How are you coping now that you aren’t able to be physically part of your gym community?
I miss the group environment. I’ve been running for years and love the solitude of that, however, I started going to group classes a few years ago to mix up my workouts and I have come to love the interactions (even if they are just quiet nods) as well as the energy and fun factor.
Also, the instructors in the online classes are all doing the routine perfectly. I like seeing people doing their own thing and taking it at their own pace.
I think it’s removed a lot of the self-confidence issues that I used to associate with trying new fitness related activities. I’m not the most flexible person so the idea of trying to twist my body into a pretzel, in public, seemed daunting.
[Being solo has] allowed me to turn my focus completely inward during exercise, focusing on how I’m feeling and what my goals are during the session, instead of focusing on my workout in relation to others. (Kickboxing, for example, usually requires people to pair up for the majority of the session.)
One of the things I love most about my gym is the community — we are a tight-knit group who thrive off that class-format energy. But the owner and coaches have seamlessly shifted to supporting us with online efforts and workouts that require no special equipment so we can keep up at home.
Why is working out so important to you, especially in this time of physical distancing?
For me, being active is a practice of not just physical but emotional care. These days, instead of pushing my body to its limit, I’m being kinder to it in times of stress. I’m finding it necessary to take intentional breaks to step away from technology and clear my mind, stretch, and go for a walk.
Fitness has always been a pillar in my life. This one habit has led to a lot of other positive outcomes for me. Working out was always a release from the stresses of the day, a way to connect with like-minded people and a way to learn new skills.
Working out now has allowed me to take stock of my feelings and anxieties, and in a lot of ways feel in control of one aspect of my life when so much of it seems out of my hands during this pandemic.
I work out as much for my mental health as anything else. As a writer, I’m pretty solitary and spend (or used to, now that my whole family is home with me) a lot of time alone, so having that dedicated hour to burn off energy in a social setting has been life-changing.
The need for a stress outlet has only heightened with the pandemic, so I’m grateful for my gym community and technology.
How has being forced to work out at home changed the way you view fitness?
My motivations behind fitness [have] become less about how I look and more about how I feel. Activity doesn’t have to be confined to one half-hour or hour-long workout. You can find ways to move throughout the day and even low-intensity actions help.
Prior to this era, things like running and even group exercise were a retreat for me physically and mentally. I could be alone running or in a room full of people and still have time on my own to work through things on a physical and mental level.
I still love running, and online classes are great at getting me physically and mentally pumped and feeling generally positive and optimistic. But what has changed are the outlets and opportunities to share that feeling/energy with friends, family and colleagues in the same way I used to (ie: outings, social gatherings, community involvement).
“Fitness can contribute to peace of mind, and this pandemic has shown me that it doesn’t take any fancy gym memberships or equipment.”
It has made me look at what I was getting from my various fitness routines differently and how I chose to spend my time between workouts.
Amira de Vera
I think it has enforced the idea that physical activity is so important. It’s so easy to fall into [despair] when all these bad things are happening around you. It just goes to show you that even 30 minutes of moving a day really boosts your mood.
While I prefer in-person fitness classes, I actually have enjoyed doing them in my living room!
Fitness doesn’t need to be hard or gruelling, and we don’t need to kill ourselves every workout. Fitness can contribute to peace of mind, and this pandemic has shown me that it doesn’t take any fancy gym memberships or equipment.
Focusing on fitness with a self-care or restorative lens has changed my relationship with my body for the better, and I’ll keep that lens in mind when life returns to normal.
It has reinforced why I work out and how important it is, especially when anxiety is high. And while I would always prefer a gym workout, this transition hasn’t been as tough as it could have been.
Our gym owner even put together a Spotify playlist for us to use during our workouts, so it almost feels like we’re there.
What advice do you have for people who want to work out at home but aren’t sure where to start?
Amira de Vera
Check out some of the online workouts being offered by gyms. This gives you the opportunity to [see] what type of workouts they offer, what the exercises look like, what the instructors are like, etc. Then try one class and see how it feels.
The greatest thing about these at-home workouts is that you get to follow them at your own pace. If you’re not comfortable with any of [the exercises], you can always modify and do your own thing. For example, jump squats can simply be changed to body squats, pushups can [be changed to] holding a plank, etc.
Don’t overthink it. Be kind to yourself and start with your interests. If you’re into dancing, boxing, yoga etc., hop onto YouTube, look at the beginner videos, and find your sweet spot.
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