As gyms reopen, how will they compete with the great outdoors?

I returned to teaching in a gym last week. As a Pilates, yoga and barre teacher in various Melbourne gyms, it has been eight months of adjusting to new methods of both teaching classes and doing my own training.

For many, including me, there has been a fundamental adjustment to how we approach our fitness regime. I’ve become accustomed to my dog being with me almost constantly. She walks with me for hours daily, sits on the couch looking frankly puzzled by my Pilates training on the floor of the living room, and I haven’t set eyes on a dumbbell since gyms closed in February.

A woman works out on some outdoor gym equipment in Bentleigh.Credit:Simon Schluter

I’ve noticed in returning to work that gyms are almost empty. People haven’t flooded back to them as they have with hospitality venues. There are a few reasons, I think, but mostly that people have learnt to exercise outdoors and in new ways that are convenient for them – like Zoom in their lounge rooms.

I’ve been teaching twice-weekly classes on Zoom since February. I love seeing each of my students in their own living rooms, or bedrooms, or home offices. The convenience of Zoom classes in our own spaces, without the travel and parking demands of going to the gym, or the queuing for a class ticket, make it a strong competitor for gym classes. What Zoom can’t replace, though, is the sense of community and friendship that going to your local gym provides.

I believe gyms that offer a genuine community experience will thrive soon, as people crave relationships, support and guidance in their fitness endeavours, but any gym that doesn’t abide by COVID-19 rules, or doesn’t acknowledge or supervise members during their workouts, is destined to fail. We have all been at home, forcibly distant from friends, family and colleagues for months now. We crave attention, kindness and togetherness. These are what classes offer, rather than walk-in-walk-out gyms.

People are heading to the great outdoors to exercise instead of returning to gyms.Credit:iStock

The outdoors provides a great alternative source of commune and fitness training. In the past two months, I’ve struck up conversations with new friends in parks and streets near my new home as we stride purposefully through our daily dog walks and the number of couples doing yoga or boxing in the park gives me hope that more Melburnians will stick to their new outdoor fitness regimes. The beauty of Melbourne is that it’s a city where parks and trails are abundant, even if the weather is unpredictable.

Though my work depends on people wanting to come back to gyms, I am thrilled to see people doing push-ups in the park, running along the beach and cycling with their kids. I hope the reopening of gyms doesn’t alter people’s enthusiasm for getting fit out in the world. Our bodies are designed, like nature, to thrive near sun, water and open air. It’s free to train outside and Melbourne is beautiful. This is the new (outdoors) fitness age.

Cat Woods is a Melbourne writer.

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