New research highlights how women feel about working out now that gyms are open, and there’s no doubt about the fact that lockdown changed how we feel about exercise.
We thought long and hard about the future of fitness over the UK’s three lockdowns. We questioned what gyms would look like when we went back, who would be turning up and how hard it would be to adjust. Now, having seen what gyms and studios are like since everything reopened ‘for good’, the fitness industry is having to assess what the future really holds.
A recent survey of 2,000 members by gym chain Fitness First has found that many of us want to get back to the gym, but we’re struggling to do so. While four out of five people said that they’d missed the gym over lockdown (primarily because of the range of equipment, expertise of the instructors, and motivational atmosphere), nearly half are struggling to get back to a regular routine.
Women, perhaps unsurprisingly, have been the most affected by lockdown, with more than a third saying that they feel less healthy now than they did pre-pandemic. The reason? Lockdown lethargy, with 68% of people feeling tired, sluggish and all-round unmotivated to move. While women are the keenest to get back to their fitness routines, this lack of energy has made women feel less confident about going back. Just under half admitted to feeling nervous about their return to the gym. Others were simply being out of the habit, while some haven’t returned because their favourite studio is near their office but they’re still working from home.
Conversations I’ve had with friends have thrown up similar ideas about being slow to start our routines again. We were all desperately over home workouts and couldn’t wait to push through our gyms revolving doors, but our excitement has been blunted by the overwhelm of ‘normal’ life. I’m struggling to find the time to lift, while my friend Jules, who I’ve been training with for two years, has found that she’s not motivated to get into the weights room. “I now find strength training frustrating. I did a lot of HIIT and running over lockdown so I can’t lift the weights I used to and I feel like I have to learn everything again,” she says.
What do we want from our workouts?
I’ve found that the gym floor has been noticeably quieter: I haven’t queued for a squat rack in weeks and there seems to be benches free whenever I need them. I’m not complaining, but it does feel like something is a little… off?
But perhaps it’s not because we’re all simply ditching our training. A more positive take could be the fact that most of us are pushing for a hybrid fitness plan - myself included. Over 50% of under 35s reported wanting a mix-and-match fitness routine made up of both home and gym workouts. I swore I’d never workout from my kitchen ever again after the end of lockdown three, but over the past few weeks I’ve found myself returning to my favourite IGTV workouts and Strong Women Training Club videos. Typically, this has been on rainy lunchtimes when I don’t want to walk to the gym or while I’ve been on holiday and miss getting my sweat on.
This flexibility also extends beyond the where and also to what our training actually entails. We want things to feel exciting and new, so it’s out with the treadmill - either because we’ve walked and run ourselves to boredom, or now have a greater appreciation for doing those things outside rather than in a dingy room. In its place, we’re opting for “more interesting cardio routines,” according to Tim Andrews, head of fitness product at Fitness First.
“Gym-goers are now favouring HIIT equipment such as Ski Ergs and Assault Bikes,” he says. “We’ve seen more activity in strength-based, group exercise workouts too, whether they be functional on our gym floors or more traditional in our studios.”
Our motivations for workouts are also changing. It’s not just about moving our bodies, but also calming our minds. “The stress and disruption of the pandemic have increased people’s awareness of their mental health and how it can be improved, with a big increase in holistic classes such as yoga and pilates,” Andrews says.
All of this points to a much more forgiving approach to fitness than we’re used to. I’ll admit I’m surprised - I assumed that we’d be bombarded with pressure, both from ourselves and the industry, to get back to our old training routines the second the gym doors flung open. But it feels like there’s an acceptance of our lull in motivation. While it’s frustrating to feel confused about how we want to move our bodies or to feel meh about our training, it’s kind of nice to give ourselves the breathing space to get to grips with gyms and classes again. I for one know I’d rather work on my fitness with some flexibility and compassion than feel forced into the gym.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).