We may not rush back to the office after COVID, but the gym is a different story

When the pandemic hit, we were all forced into our homes for every activity. And while many of us have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, working out from home is a bit different.

When you think about the gym in the age of COVID, how do you feel about it? Does it bother you that you might have tens of complete strangers breathing heavily around you? What about those surfaces that get touched by all those people every hour? Or do you not sweat that stuff at all?

The pandemic has changed a lot about how we feel about communal spaces. When it comes to the office full-time, it doesn’t appear we’re rushing back to it.

Indeed, one survey of 32,500 workers across the globe said that more than 70 percent want a mix between remote and in-person working. But it doesn’t seem the same can be said for exercising.

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A new report from Xplor Technologies, Australia’s largest provider of health and fitness management software, analysed the data of 1500 health and fitness facilities across the country, which represented around 1.2 million direct debit paying members.

The report found that while gym membership cancellations are up post-pandemic, it’s not as dramatically as predicted and, in some places like the Northern Territory and South Australia, new gym memberships has actually increased.

“I hated exercising from home,” Ella, a friend, and former colleague based in Melbourne tells me. She’s a member of two facilities, one of which even loaned her a stationary bike for the entirety of the Melbourne lockdown period. But it wasn’t the same and when gyms reopened, “I went back as soon as I could.”

For Melburnians, the unpredictability of lockdowns seems to be what drove them from committing to a gym membership and sure enough, it’s the state that has seen the largest drop from last year, down 8.8 percent.

“Once the second lockdown hit, I cancelled my membership because the inconsistency—one week on then lockdown—drove me insane,” says Alexis, who is now doing Pilates class and personal training.

Methods of payment seem to have shifted, too. Monthly payments, according to the Xplor report, are nearly twice more likely to experience unsuccessful transactions than weekly payments, suggesting members are seeking more flexibility.

Alisa, on the other hand, moved to a pay-as-you-go plan as she didn’t want to keep paying for a membership she couldn’t use during lockdown. Now that gyms are open again, she says a visit to the gym is an important part of her mental as well as physical health.

“I work from home five days a week. Going to the gym is essential for me to get out of the house and see humans IRL which is important for my sanity,” she explains.

“In saying that, I’ve got a subscription to an online gym/workout program that I switch on and off whenever there’s another lockdown.”

In New York, where I’m based, the sentiment is surprisingly similar considering how much more the virus ravaged the city compared to Australia. New York City has lost more than 33,000 residents to COVID since March, though the infection rate over a year later hovers around 0.5 percent and as of today, 64 percent of the state is fully vaccinated. For the most part, people are raring to get back to the gym.

“Everyone was wearing masks. I honestly felt, besides my apartment, that gym was the cleanest and safest place in the city,” Mickey, a Manhattan resident, says, who returned to the gym in September as soon as they opened and was never really concerned about the spread of germs.

“I prefer the gyms because it has all the equipment and I like seeing other people working out. It’s easier to get into the zone.”

It’s not to say there aren’t those who enjoy the convenience of working out at home. As a mum working from home, Emily enjoys the hybrid approach.

“I do Kayla [Itsines] twice a week and probably do spin once a week when I can get time away from the kids,” she says.

“I like that I can have full control over when and where I work out. Plus, it’s cheaper.”

I too am in the camp of ‘dying to get back to the gym’ for the same reason I look forward to getting back to my co-working space. I’m just sick of being at home all the time.

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