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Physical Culture: Fitness At Home

Before Coronavirus (BC), the cult of group class workouts and group trainers (SoulCycle, Orange Theory Fitness, Barry’s Bootcamp) had convinced many that $200 a month for unlimited classes or for a month of high end health club membership (Equinox) was at best reasonable; at worst, unavoidable. Savings could be found thanks to Classpass – but those who worked out three times a week were still spending more than $100 a month.

But that was then.

Although health clubs are now re-opening, the last 100 days have been instructive in many ways.

Among the many surprises of the current moment is that the Peleton home cycling device derisively dismissed by many (including yours truly) as overpriced and destined to be under-used, a bubble waiting to be burst, has become beloved and fought over by quarantined family members. Orders are up, as is attendance and use, and the pricey devices are being quickly amortized. So there’s that.

Speaking personally, among the many things I could have never predicted was that I would be doing workouts in our guest room, going online for my workouts, and following trainers leading classes on Instagram or from an app. But I have.

And now, having sampled the variety of classes and trainers and programs online and having done these exercises with no equipment save my abundant body weight in a small room on carpeting, more often and more consistently than I did when paying for a gym membership, I’m not sure I will ever pay a high monthly fee again.

I began my workout odyssey by checking out the offerings on Amazon Prime Video. I started with a bunch of “15 Minute workouts with Maggie Binkley” – she was perfectly pleasant and the workouts were not difficult but it still seemed like I was watching a VHS tape (if you don’t know what that is, ask your parents!).

Still on Amazon, I tried a H.I.I.T. (high intensity interval training) class, and a “Full Body Pilates” one, but nothing really clicked for me. In a retro mood I could not resist trying Billy Blank’s “Tae Bo” Classic (which was kind of like an updated boxing version of Jane Fonda). But it wasn’t really for me.

On YouTube I tried a Muy Thai (Thai boxing) class from an Israeli who seemed to be recording his class in a public park. Although, it gave me new appreciation of the Ong Bak martial arts movies, I didn’t see myself doing this three times a week.

I also checked out The New York Times which in its subscriber/member offerings has a series of three six-minute all body workouts. They also have an introduction to Yoga series that teaches ten important poses. All good but fairly antiseptic and uninspiring.

If you are a dancer, or dreamed of being one, there all kinds of Ballet-inspired and dance classes offered at a very serious level – you can workout with the New York City Ballet or classes led by dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. There are barre classes adapted for home to be done holding on to a chair or standing by the wall. There are classes offered by Modern dance companies, including the Gaga movement classes inspired by the Batsheva Dance Group. And doing these classes in the privacy of your home really does mean anyone can try. I had imagined unleashing my inner dancer but those classes are really hard! The motions may be small but, man, do they hurt!

Next, I ventured over to Instagram to see what was available  there.

What I discovered (and it’s really no surprise) is that the majority of workout content is led by women with the assumption that it’s mostly women working out. Yet – and perhaps I am imagining this – the videos still seem very ‘male gaze’ – there is not a great diversity of body types and the trainers are always in form-fitting revealing outfits. I’m not complaining – I’m just reporting.

And I’m not saying there aren’t workouts for those looking to be inspired by the male form. Chris Hemsworth has a fitness app, Centr, that he has made free for the quarantine. Honestly, I found myself trancing out on Hemsworth rather than working out. And the workouts were hard. They are currently offering “Centr Unleashed” a six week body weight program (meaning you need no equipment), They also offer nutritional advice and meal plans. Led by Luke Zocchi, Hemsworth’s personal trainer and fellow trainer Ashley Joi. There are meditations (even one guided by Hemsworth – they say it’s for kids but… I won’t tell if you don’t). But Hemsworth is the exception (in every way).

 More typical, for example, is Casey Ho’s Blogilates (@blogilates), which focuses on certain exercises that you can do easily at home with no extra equipment, repeated in sets that the very long-legged and flexible Ms. Ho makes look easy – maybe a little too easy. But she demonstrates her exercises and gives you the set, and it is fast, efficient, and gets the job done. She has even posted a 14 day Quarantine workout on Blogilates. But after 14 days (it might have been less…), I was out.

 Somewhere on IG Live, I discovered #DoYouRumble. Rumble Fitness is a boxing-inspired fitness class with instructors in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and Miami. Although every class includes throwing the collection of punches they teach you, I wouldn’t rely on this if you are planning to get in a ring and fight. This is really a conditioning class which can be very aerobic (or like me you can do the exercises without bouncing around the room or off the walls).

To repeat myself: The great thing about doing a class in the privacy of your own home is that no one is watching you. You don’t care what you look like or what you are wearing. You can do the workout at your own pace and activity level. No one will check if you stop five or ten seconds before the end of each set. No one cares if you hit pause for a water break. No one is checking if your plank is intermittent rather than being held for the entire time.

 What matters is doing it. So whatever gets you to show up and do the workout as best you can is what matters. I discovered my preference is for trainers with an Aussie or Kiwi accent. Not sure why but there you have it. At Rumble Fitness, I fell under the spell of @courtneywatts, an Aussie-raised former Clipper Girl turned fitness instructor whose upbeat fun and energetic personality was very much a inducement for enduring her half-hour workouts. Courtney Watts also seems to hold classes on Instagram Live for other sponsors such as Vuori Clothing – I like the men’s clothes but I like the workouts more.  

That being said, at the start of the quarantine Rumble had a lot of free workouts online by a variety of their trainers from all over the country, each of whom had their own brand of upbeat energy so there was a fair amount of choice. However, as time has gone on, Rumble moved to an online class pay structure. Alas!

So I moved on, and found my jam at Nike Fit, Nike’s training app. The Nike Fit app is free and  offers a varied choice of workouts and fitness plans. With weights and without. Conditioning and Yoga. Even a very good Muy Thai class. They also offer premium content that offers training programs from Nike top trainers. Normally the premium tier runs $14.99 a month or $119.99 a year – but is currently free. And I am in favor of FREE.

On the Premium tier, there are trainers and programs such as six week conditioning program or a four week Yoga program, led by their top trainers. I signed up for Burn with Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso, a New York City based Kiwi trainer who is ridiculously fit but calls exercises that are particularly demanding “spicy.” It’s a program of six stages with three workouts per level. I’m 78% done and it’s been great.

Now, let’s be clear: There are moments when Kirsty starts kicking her legs in the air like a donkey rearing up for a big kick – I don’t do those. She is the self-proclaimed “burpee queen” and I do a slow non-jumping version of those, but who cares? Not Kirsty. That’s one of the reasons we get along so well.

 Adidas has their own fitness app. Under Armour too. The idea is to find one you feel comfortable doing. And doing the next one.

Summer is a comin’ in, sing the birds. I am venturing out – ever so gingerly. I don’t see myself as being one of those people working out en plein air – the privacy of my guest room suits me just fine. But a bike ride, a walk on the beach – who knows?  It was only some 100 days ago, that I didn’t imagine I could work out to an Ipad in a small room with wall to wall carpeting.

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