Despite gyms reopening in July, many women have chosen to continue exercising in the safety and comfort of their own home rather than head back to the gym. Jasmin Nahar investigates.
I haven’t stepped into a gym since March. Pre-lockdown, I dedicated numerous hours every week to my local gym; lifting heavy dumbbells from the vast weights section, sprinting up the stair machine, and trying to look nonchalant while waiting for the pulldown machine to become available.
As lockdown measures tightened, these weekly rituals were replaced with Chloe Ting videos in my living room and the calming voice of Michael Johnson on the Couch to 5k app as I ran around the edges of the park. But home workouts haven’t just been there to substitute “the real thing”– for women new to fitness, they’ve been a great way to overcome anxiety around to exercise.
Meera Kumar has been a personal trainer for four years, and tells me many female clients feel uncomfortable in the gym, especially when first starting their fitness journey. “Beginners can feel judged for their lack of skill, the way they look, or even because they’re making mistakes. Ultimately, beginners judge themselves more harshly than anyone – for failing to stick to exercise in the past and for where they’re starting.”
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There’s stats to back up this discomfort too – 57% of women have felt inappropriately looked at while working out, and one in four women shy away from exercise in case they are judged.
Donna Noble, the founder of CurveSome Yoga, points out that judgement can even come from instructors who are supposed to support and help their clients. “They may get stared at by other students, or ignored by the teacher who may not be able to offer modifications so that the postures are accessible for everybody.”
But at home of course, there’s nobody to judge you except a bemused flatmate or an unimpressed pet. Nobody can see that your heels don’t quite touch the floor while in downward dog, and you can rewind that twisting side plank on YouTube rather than hope for the best as the instructor moves on. It’s freedom from the fear of getting things wrong and simultaneously realising that as long as you are moving, you aren’t doing it wrong.
When I spoke to women (who were previously ambivalent about exercise) to tell me what they liked most about home workouts during lockdown, the fact that nobody else was there to witness them ranked highly.
Jessica, 24, previously attended the gym a couple of times a month, but wasn’t actively into exercise. “I felt lost and intimidated by the gym, and didn’t really think about home workouts, because in my mind, the gym is where you go to get fit.” She tells me that in comparison, working out at home has been far less daunting.
“I felt like I wasn’t being judged by other people like I was when at the gym.” Trying new things at home has made her more confident about how she’d fare in front of others too. “I did a load of beginner’s series on YouTube because the gym classes are aimed at everyone (of varying fitness levels), so now, I’m much more confident with the basics and won’t feel like I’m keeping anyone behind if I do go to a gym class.“
Zainab, 26, also started working out at home more in lockdown. Previously, she would often bail on fitness classes as they felt like a chore. Zainab would sporadically go to the gym a few times a month, but now exercises at home more regularly, saying it’s easier to do so without other people around. “I feel like I’m able to focus on myself when working out at home. There aren’t other women in my space to compare myself to.”
I asked Pirkko Markula, professor of Socio-Cultural Studies of Physical Activity at the University of Alberta, what home workouts have to offer for women who feel self-conscious going to the gym. “Working out at home with a live online class can offer more flexibility to take part and can also encourage trying different types of classes without a fear of ‘looking foolish’.”
The flexibility and low-commitment aspect is certainly an important part of it. At home, no money is spent on a class that may or may not have been enjoyable, and nobody knows if you opt for the ‘easier’ modifications. A sixty-minute class surrounded by strangers is quite a commitment if you’ve never tried it before, whereas a ten-minute taster video of a similar routine in your bedroom feels like less pressure.
The ‘here and there’ approach of home workouts – fitting in fifteen minutes for a floorwork routine on your lunch break, doing an evening yoga session before bed as you’ve got some extra time – isn’t the ‘go hard or go home’ attitude we often associate with fitness, but it’s one that makes movement a part of everyday life. It also happens to be a great antidote to the worries of fitting in a workout now that lockdown continues to ease, and many of us are trying to fit in social outings after months of staying at home.
Meera agrees that being flexible with your time and workouts is the way to go for keeping momentum up, “Sometimes you’ll feel stressed, and the best workout for your body might be a long gentle walk – so skip the HIIT. Sometimes you’ll only have ten minutes until your Zoom meeting; use that as an opportunity to work on your press-ups or your core.”
Of course, many people who got a taste for fitness at home will now be ready to take their confidence around exercise to more public settings, judging from the fact that 61% of women have said they’re keen to prioritise their fitness more post-lockdown and 27% of non-gym members said they’re likely to join one once they’re able to.
For the women I spoke to, working out at home has made a positive impact on how they feel about going to the gym in the future. Zainab tells me she will be heading back to her gym regularly, especially as she’s “now more consistent and happy to work out, rather than put it off”, while Jessica says “once I feel like it’s safe from my end, I’ll definitely unfreeze my membership and get going again. I can’t wait to do some of my normal routines, but with more weights involved.” Silvia, 32, another newcomer to home workouts during lockdown, is excited about the prospect. “I have now gotten into a routine that works for me, but with lockdown easing I hope I can bring my newfound confidence and motivation to the gym, and outdoor sports as well.”
For those who have previously felt out of their depth or excluded in fitness spaces, home workouts have been a way to discover that becoming more active isn’t as intimidating or time-consuming as it may appear. Having a space to move your body while feeling safe and unbothered by judgement is crucial, whether it ends up being in a spin class, at the park, or on the living room floor with Netflix in the background. A fulfilling, enjoyable workout can be a myriad of things, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to fitness. As Donna puts it, “Movement is something we do naturally and is your given right. So go and find what you love doing.”
IMAGE: Getty, Unsplash
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