If there’s one good thing the lockdown has yielded to, for UFM 105.5 DJ and host RJ Atlas, it’s that he could finally start on his fitness vlog. A week into the quarantine last March, Atlas uploaded his first exercise-related video “MY PHYSIQUE TRANSFORMATION (from 192 lbs to 179 lbs) HARD WORK, DEDICATION, AND A TON OF INSPIRATION” on YouTube. He positioned his videos to cater to those who (still) wanted to keep fit with gyms then closed, as the country tightened its measures to combat the pandemic. Uploading 10 more with the recent one last June, Atlas imparted one message to his viewers catching his content: Gyms will reopen later than everyone thinks, but guess what, shaping up without ever needing a gym membership again is possible.
The root of Atlas’ confidence? Well, he’s living proof.
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“I started weightlifting in 2009, at 19,” says Atlas, now 29. “Ever since, I’ve been subscribed to a gym. But one day, I decided to end it. On April 9, 2018, my gym membership finally expired and I never reapplied.”
“It was kind of mundane after the many years at the gym and going through the motions. I was really looking for a new kind of stimulus.”
Atlas has been “gym-free” for two years now, relying on calisthenics and some basic but versatile equipment at home. He has a pull-up bar and these “extremely inexpensive and portable” gymnastic rings for bodyweight training; and a weighted vest, some dumbbells, and battle ropes for weightlifting.
Atlas admits not being consistent throughout his entire fitness journey—but with his indoor workouts alone, he’s proud he has become so. He claims feeling healthier and fitter as ever, notching around 179 lbs. at 5’10” these days.
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The rise of home workouts
Gyms have been tagged as high-risk facilities allowing proliferation of any virus.
“By their very nature, athletic facilities like gyms tend to be germy,” The New York Times declared, citing a study on infection risk reduction on pathogens in school training rooms. “Researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in four different athletic training facilities.” Gyms are also “devilishly difficult to sanitize,” and with some not being well-ventilated, social distancing and scrupulous disinfecting rules should be applied.
The temporary closure of gyms since the pandemic does feel ironic, as never before have exercise and fitness, in general, been more encouraged as a way to boost immunity. Yet, keeping fit and healthy is a trend nowhere near collapse. With news of multinational brands like Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness filing for bankruptcy, it’s just gyms that are.
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With mandatory social distancing restricting gyms to fully operate, the idea of home workouts has shot up to take over and perhaps steer the fitness industry’s direction altogether. For one, more people have since purchased workout tools for delivery, so much so sales in gym equipment soared at 300% increase within 10 weeks, Forbes’ Michael Gale reports last May.
Gale, with Les Mills Media CEO Jean Michel Fournier in discussion, notes some “revolutionary” adjustments like live streaming to adapt augmented reality schemes and fitness clubs to “follow” clients “anywhere, anytime.” These, he says, are “change dynamics we have seen that will shape fitness in the next decade.”
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Why home workouts?
Those who’ve never bothered working out since March 15 had (lack of) time or space and/or mental health issues getting in the way. But with time’s passing hopefully spinning everyone’s head back to orbit, getting back at it is further advocated—but only gradually.
Crossfit level 1 trainer, World rugby strength and conditioning coach, NASM certified personal trainer, and GNC Philippines ambassador Kit Guerra notes counting a gap of six to eight weeks before one can pick up from where he left off.
Start with bodyweight training, he tells ABS-CBN Lifestyle. “People think they can lift the same weights and do the same thing. So there’s a risk of injury. The body is not used to lifting the same amount of weight. From a biomechanics standpoint, your system is not used to the kind of resistance you’ve had in training.”
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Besides the earlier point that gyms can carry viruses aplenty if not meticulously sanitized, advantages of home workouts cover a lot—from convenience to inexpensiveness. Yet, expect a few flaws.
Guerra points out, “Accountability is the big issue. Back then, you have to get yourself to get ready to the gym. Going to the gym is 70 percent of the battle, it’s very mental. There’s every intent. The whole process makes them excited. And while there, they can do all kinds of exercises—compared to how limited a home workout is.”
Guerra, who also trains online via the app Flight, specifies, “I have clients trying to work out from home. The hardest thing for them is they’re next to their couch, food, TV, or other distractions. It’s very easy for them to find an excuse not to exercise. You’re a few steps from several different excuses because of the atmosphere.”
Online trainer Jaco Benin seconds that accountability is key among those getting into home workouts for the first time. Talking about his clientele, whose number catapulted to a quadruple increase since the COVID-19 outbreak, he says it’s actually a good thing. “They like the accountability, when I follow up on them every weekend. I’d ask them to send me a post-workout photo every time they finished a workout. That helps them a lot, it makes them consistent.”
“So, whether you have a coach or ‘workout buddy’ you’re doing home workouts with, try to be accountable to them,” he adds. “Mahirap pag mag-isa ka to stay motivated.”
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How effective is it?
But while indoor workouts strike effective to beginners now only fully realizing the importance of fitness, how does it differ to those who grew sanay around an array of machines and a (strict) coach physically there inside the gym?
Guerra believes at this point when immunity matters more than vanity, exercising at home using one’s bodyweight does produce almost the same results.
“You don’t necessarily need lift weights to be necessarily fit. The core principle is we have to work on our basic stability and bodyweight before we move to implementing equipment. So, just because you don’t have a gym doesn’t mean you wont be able to maintain a healthy active lifestyle,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to be holistic with our fitness.”
Benin seconds, “If you’re used to bodyweight training, it’s easier to stay fit all year less reliance on gym.” He adds, “There’s something about being able to achieve something with your bodyweight. May isa akong client—he started not being able to do a single pushup. But recently he just showed me a post na he's doing pushups na nakapatong sa kanya yung anak nya.”
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Yet, both trainers say the results hoped to be achieved are dependent on the goals set.
“You have to manage your expectations, in terms of the outcome of working out at home,” admits Guerra, who himself built a makeshift gym at home complete with a squat rack and some weights.
“It’s easier to stay lean. Mali yung conception na you can’t pack on muscle with bodyweight training. Actually, you can! Bodyweight is a good way of approaching it,” says Benin, who does have a mini home gym but has since explored many bodyweight exercises as he preaches it to his clients. He says he even grew leaner muscles himself, relying less on equipment. “And it’s more functional to (employ) as you take on your daily errands.”
To avoid plateauing, Guerra and Benin thus suggest changing up one’s workout routine—it’s the same principle when working out at the gym. They advise to slowly integrate equipment into the usual bodyweight exercises—starting with dumbbells, bands, a rope, a kettlebell. They also advise opting for online classes or online instructors, if budget permits.
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It’s a looming thought, but not totally impossible—all things considered. There’s just some unquantifiable kick in slipping into your Dri Fit, packing your gym bag, plugging in your earphones, and then zoning out into environment of fellow fitness freaks sweating it out and catching their breath. Going to the gym is, indeed, still socializing.
It’s also no secret how exercise generally massages one’s mental health, with having a workout community a plus.
Model turned photographer Gee Plamenco attests to this. He was initially keen on working out comfortably at his home gym until the 50th day of the lockdown—“as in pumitik talaga ako, I got crazy 'cause I had to let go!”
He tells ABS-CBN Lifestyle, “It was a conscious decision. It’s very tricky. I think without the lockdown, I see (working out at home) as very effective and efficient to anyone who’s a fitness enthusiast. But with the lockdown being a factor, it’s become a mental thing. I just had to let go.”
Plamenco has since asked the owner of a gym inside their village to rent the nook out. Ever since, he would go do his thing there alone from 11 AM to past lunchtime. He’d pay 300 per week.
“It’s really different when you have a equipment at home, and a community at a gym. It’s a mental thing for me. For me, the endorphins come out at a real gym setting,” he says, assured that the small gym he now frequents is regularly disinfected. “I bring a car and have Starbucks in between.”
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But not everyone has Plamenco’s level of convenience and confidence, and definitely not all gyms even have the assurance of reopening.
Take 24 Hour Fitness’ petition, to which Bloomberg contextualizes: “While some gyms start to reopen, it’s no guarantee that members will come flocking back, and cancellations could be even more devastating. It costs twice as much to recruit a new member as it does to retain an existing one. Roughly 28 of 100 US gym goers are expected to bail this year, according to trade group International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.”
Gold’s Gym, on the other hand, permanently closed 30 of its US branches (mostly in St. Louis, Alabama, and Colorado Springs). The Gold’s Gym Philippine franchise, however, remains unaffected while in suspension. As it restructures en route to reopening, it announced an extension of all memberships the pandemic has inadvertently cut short.
And so for many former gym goers or those like Atlas who have since stuck by indoor workouts as a choice, getting fit is now a matter of status quo.
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Banner image taken from RJ Atlas YouTube account