Fitness in the Time of Covid-19
July 29, 2020
On a snowy Monday morning in March, Covid-19 disrupted an aspect of my life, and the lives of many other locals, in a way that has forced me to innovate and adapt daily: the High School gym shut down. For years, I have rolled out of bed before the sunrise and trudged the 3 blocks to the school to workout. One of the hidden treasures of our community is a well-equipped workout facility that rivals many paid gyms I’ve visited. Even better is the astonishing fact that the gym was available to locals for the cost of an electronic entry fob. For many, the closing of the gym was a major disruption for their daily routines, they have found it difficult to cope with. As my fellow gym regular, Sheri Roth, pointed out: “The gym gives you this focused time where it’s just you, with nothing else to worry about or deal with. It’s just you and your thoughts. You can work out at home, but it’s not the same. There just isn’t the same focus.”
My experience was the same. Time at the high school in the morning was for reflecting on the work I needed to do that day, thinking through the challenges in life, and just keeping my head on straight. In addition, the gym offered motivation and location for daily exercise. As Jeramie Erie pointed out: “Every night before I went to bed, I’d pack my bag for the afternoon workout. That way, I knew I would do it. I’d carry it to work and hit the treadmill or the weights at the start of my lunch break. The routine helped me to stick with it. Now, I come home tired from work at the end of the day. I end up thinking about the things I have to get done, or my kids want to play or my xbox starts calling my name, and I just want to sit down and relax. It’s much harder to just do it every day because I don’t have that place away from my regular life to do it.” Sheri described similar difficulty with home workouts. Between jumping rope and the other movements, her early morning exercise is loud enough to wake up the other members of her family who haven’t gotten out of bed yet.
Not everyone impacted by the closure is a pure fitness enthusiast. Diana Webster, who exercised daily at the school, did so as a part of fighting Parkinson’s Disease. For her, the level surface of the treadmills and stationary seats of the exercise bikes provided a safer environment. Parkinson’s makes walking on uneven surfaces more difficult, increasing her risk of falling. The loss of the equipment at the school has forced her to be more creative in her daily routine.
Finding fitness without the gym
The gym closure forced me to look elsewhere for my daily exercise fix. I found this easier than many because. I simply dusted off the old equipment I had put into storage when I realized how better visiting the school gym was going to be. A few of the locals I spoke with went the same route. Dick Thornton, who was a regular in the weight room before Covid-19, explained that he hardly missed a beat before dusting off the old weight set in his basement and shifting his
workout to his home. He lamented the loss of the nicer facility, but didn’t mind moving from machines to barbells. “It’s nicer to have the gym to go to, but you do what you can do. You go with what you’ve got.”
Many people ran out to buy equipment when their local gyms shut down. Sheri was able to supplement her home gym with a few odds and ends she picked up before the rush emptied the shelves of weights and other workout gear. “I got a stand for my mountain bike, so I could ride it indoors while it was still cold out. I also picked up an exercise ball before they were impossible to get.” Still, her daily routine is far more bare bones than what the school provided. “I’ve got a jump box, a jump rope, a few dumbbells, the bike, and a tire to flip. Not having a variety of gear is a big drawback.”
Other locals discovered that workout gear got quite scarce immediately after the closings. Lisa Sipler set out to buy weights for her son to use but encountered the scarcity immediately. “You just couldn’t find anything anywhere,” she exclaimed when I spoke with her. “There was just nothing.” After several weeks of searching, she managed to borrow a basic weight set from another local.
Borrowing equipment wound up being the go to solution for many locals. Julie Myers, who owns the gym in downtown Big Sandy quickly loaned out weights and other equipment to her patrons after the shutdown closed their doors. “I just decided to help people keep going as much as I could, because sometimes when you’re at home and all you have is... I mean body weight workouts are great but sometimes it’s less motivating when you’re used to using weights. So I decided to let people take whatever they could use home.”
Student athletes, Kody and Kade Strutz were able to borrow a few weights from the school and continued working out at home with programs their father put together for them. “Every night our father came up with a program for us to do at home, and we’d do that program.” Many people aren’t lucky enough to have a coach living in their home. The internet has proved to be an invaluable resource for those looking for guidance in their fitness journey.
Julie Myers went online to serve the community. Using the SugarWOD app, she began crafting daily workouts that were easy to do at home. These provided guidance for locals with varying levels of equipment available. It also provided community through the discussion board features. She described community interaction as one of the big advantages of a small community gym. “It feels like more of a family here than it would with a larger gym... It’s more fun to go to a gym where you know everyone who is there.” Community provides opportunities for encouragement and accountability. She pointed out that many members used the app to remedy some of that, while others formed Facebook groups where they cheered each other on and shared their efforts.
A handful of the folks I spoke with turned to streaming services and phone apps for fitness guidance. Jeramie Erie, who had used the high school gym 5 to 6 times a week, began working out with the BeachBody On Demand streaming service. BeachBody offers a variety of workout classes that can be streamed from their app or website in exchange for a monthly fee. P90X and Insanity are their most well known offerings, but the service offers over 1000 different classes. He also cited Theo.fit, a website that offers a variety of free guided workouts as a go-to in his regular exercise regime during lockdown.
One Big Sandy mom I spoke with uses the popular video game Just Dance for many of her daily workouts, citing ease of use and fun as the main reasons for choosing it. The game tracks the player’s movements as they follow the dancer’s movements onscreen. Dance routines are set to popular songs from today’s charts as well as classic rock and older pop songs. Just Dance is available on various game platforms. My kids played it for daily exercise breaks during home-schooling and absolutely loved the option.
Sheri Roth, who I regularly ran into early in the morning at the school gym, explained that she had been using the Sweat app with her phone for guided workouts since the lockdown started. She cited the app’s variety of workouts, which take into account the limited equipment available at most home gyms. The other advantage being that the monotony and rigidness of streaming classes is less of an issue with apps.
Stefany Erie, who also used the gym 6 days a week before lockdown, has tended to shy away from streaming options and apps for her workouts. She explained that her regular fitness routine has taken advantage of the online community using the #365DayChallenge hash tag on Instagram and Facebook. The challenge involves walking, running, or traveling a minimum of 1 mile every day for a year. Many locals have been using the online community for encouragement and accountability, posting sweaty post-exercise selfies or screenshots of their tracker apps to prove their daily discipline. Posts are greeted with likes & cheers of support from fellow Big Sandy fitness enthusiasts, which have helped keep Stefany motivated to keep up the challenge. Since the lockdown, this has involved finding creative solutions, like walking laps around the inside of her church building on particularly snowy days or simply circling her living room until her pedometer counted out her daily mile.
A Walk On the Bright Side
I caught up with Cat Lopez and Amy Terry as they walked through downtown Big Sandy. Cat was a regular visitor to the treadmills for her afternoon walks. She started the lockdown walking her dog daily, a practice that she continues on cooler days. That daily habit has grown to include a circle of locals who meet for their regular 3 to 6 mile walks around town. She explained that she began to run into other folks who were also out walking and slowly began to build a group. In that circle she’s known as the “Exercise Bully” or the “Walking Nazi” because she has become the voice of accountability for her peers to get in their daily walks. She explained that her motivation for getting out to walk every day and encouraging others to do the same has to do with the range of benefits. This starts with the socializing opportunities, which are vital to an extrovert like Cat. Amy agreed with the importance of this, describing how the daily conversations and time in the sun are great for her mood and mental health in general. Both enjoy having conversations with neighbors around town, getting cheered on in their daily workouts by passers by, and seeing Big Sandy from a different perspective. “Every day I see how beautiful Big Sandy is,” Cat exclaimed while describing her efforts to explore the community and the surrounding area. Both she and Amy described the positive impact on this aspect of lockdown on their quality of life. “Now instead of going out for a meal for fun, I’m going for hikes in the mountains,” Cat remarked. “Now I’m going for walks instead of nothing,” Amy replied laughing.
Everyone I spoke with about exercise since the gym closed spoke of walking or running outdoors as one of the definite perks of the lockdown. The Erie’s described daily family walks that their kids’ look forward to. The quality time together being one of the best results of the change.
I’ve also experienced the joy of walking and running around town for exercise as well. Every morning, my dog watches as I drink my coffee, knowing that when I finish we’ll spend the next hour wandering around town together. Since the lockdown, I’ve watched the sun rise over the Bears Paw Mountains dozens of times. Though I miss the temperature controlled, equipment rich environment of the school gym, I do find myself wondering if I wouldn’t mind doing without it for a while longer. Seeing people who have stretched themselves to help their neighbors and begun spending more family time together makes me wonder if we haven’t just found a bit of treasure in being forced to do something different.