Has Covid really changed our fitness habits?

When Covid hits, almost everything has gone virtual: work, doctor appointments, school, whatever. While remote living, or some version of it, has become the new normal for many, on the other hand, the pandemic has thrown the importance of certain physical spaces into sharp relief. We’re talking about fitness, folks.

At local outposts of three workout brands — Flow Fitness, Fremont Health Club and Orangetheory — attendance is back between 75 and 80 percent of what it was before the pandemic. That’s a significant number considering that at the end of 2021, gym leaders expected online options like Zoom training to continue to expand and permanently change the fitness industry.

Covid has really promoted distance exercise in some ways, but Flow Fitness owner Justin Young says: “I think it’s been a bit over the top. People didn’t really like them that much… They stare at the screen all day. Do you really want to stare at a screen for your workout again?” His gym stopped its virtual sessions a few months ago because fewer people were coming in.

Fremont Health Club owner Lillian Cowdrey similarly ended the online component of her gym when she saw numbers dwindling in January. She attributes the recent lack of interest in part to a glut of virtual workouts, many of which are free. For gyms, offering online options is no longer necessary to maintain membership.

Orangetheory has an app that still offers pre-recorded workouts for its members, but the chain has similarly suspended live virtual workouts. Regional fitness manager Cosmo Friu points out that initially those who had good fitness habits were able to maintain their exercise routines even in isolation at the start of the pandemic. But as the months went by, “people started to get off the wagon again, mainly because the social atmosphere was lost.” As members have returned to the class-only gym, he says people are excited and grateful to be back in person.

One change, notes Young of Flow Fitness, is that all-day attendance is more disproportionate. A large number of gym-goers drop by in the evening, while the morning and afternoon groups are significantly thinner.

He points out that the advent of telecommuting is partly responsible, as people now don’t have to get up and leave the house early in the morning to commute or take an official lunch break. Especially for his South Lake Union-based gym, with its high concentration of now-empty tech offices, the old practices of people hitting the gym on their way to work are no longer the norm. Cawdrey also noticed that large groups of techies who used to come together after work are now absent from the Fremont Health Club, signaling a decrease in people going to the gym with co-workers or in groups.

In Seattle, this tech worker shift is significant. According to a May survey, 85 percent of the nation’s tech workforce is fully or partially remote. With 11 percent of Seattle’s workforce employed onsite, programmers and the like working from home have undoubtedly contributed to these different patterns in the gym. However, both Flow Fitness and Fremont Health Club have seen a higher interest in personal training as more people return unsure of how to resume their fitness routines.

And the concerns about Covid? Cowdrey says people seem to “realize that there will be new strains, there will be new viruses that will most likely continue to emerge. And they realize that the best thing they can do is stay active, healthy and strong.”

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