Gyms and yoga studios are shuttered. Crossfit boxes and boutique fitness centers have gone dark. Marathons and 5Ks are cancelled, and even mountain biking trails have closed their gates. If you’re following the rules and still want to stay in shape, you’ve gotta learn how to exercise alone.
And — aside from the whole global pandemic piece of it — I’ve been preparing for this for years.
While I love other humans as much as the next introvert, I don’t generally enjoy working out with them. Running and biking in groups stresses me out, and I’ve been known to stomp out of group fitness classes in frustration. Even as an avid longtime exerciser, having people around makes me feel self-conscious. I like to do things at my own pace, and stay in my own head — or at least in the head of the NPR reporter I’m listening to (ok, ok, or Taylor Swift).
Thanks to garage sales, Facebook Marketplace and a creative husband (not necessarily in that order), we’ve slowly been growing a basement gym over the past few years so we can exercise at home. It’s nothing fancy: it includes a treadmill, free weights, pieced-together mats, a stability ball and an old Trek on a trainer. But in combination with occasional outdoor walks and bike rides, it gets the job done.
I guess you could say I’ve been quaran-toning before it was mandatory. So — for those of you who are new to the workout-for-one — chin up! There are a lot of really great things about exercising alone. Here are five.
You can wear whatever you wore to bed the night before. No Lululemon? No problem. It’s amazing how well pajama pants perform on a treadmill. Anyone who thinks they need an $80 workout tank has never tried planking in their concrete basement without a mirror. When nobody’s there to see you, you’ll quickly learn that the socks you find at the bottom of your partner’s drawer work just fine — if not better — than the pricey ones you buy at a running store. The only exception is the need for a pair of good shoes if you’re running or walking, but otherwise, Crocs provide enough stability for squats.
You can finally exercise at a time that’s convenient for you. Before work? After work? How about at 3:42 in the morning when you’ve been tossing and turning for the past hour stressing about something you said during a presentation on January 6, 2018? Or, even better, at 5:02 p.m., approximately 2 minutes after your last meeting, because you spent the entire workday in your exercise clothes? When your gym is a few steps from your desk or from your bed, you’ll never again have to fight rush-hour traffic to make it to a class or be the creepy one at Planet Fitness in the middle of the night.
You don’t have to spend money. I mentioned earlier that we own some equipment, but you don’t need equipment. All you need is a floor or even a sidewalk. If you prefer the guidance of an instructor, try a video workout from YouTube or the Planet Fitness Facebook feed. Even Peloton, best known for its feminist commercials, is offering a free 3-month membership to its subscription service. I am no Peloton wife, but will admit some of their their 10-minute workouts are killer.
Social distancing is the new social awkwardness. For an introvert, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than spotting a stranger running toward you on a narrow bike path. There’s the immediate inner monologue: Do I wave? Do I smile? Do I make eye contact? Do I jump aside to avoid her, or do I wait for her to avoid me? Wait, is there a *dog* in that stroller? Even worse is that moment when you come up behind someone to pass them and you’re not sure if you should shout ON YOUR LEFT! or try to sneak past without startling them. (I never pass anyone. But someday it might happen.)
During a global pandemic, there’s no more social awkwardness. It’s called social distancing, and it’s required by law! You see someone up ahead, you jump into the middle of the street to avoid their respiratory droplets. No questions asked, no fancy footwork required.
Nobody cares if you don’t show up. I get that accountability is important, and that many of us need it to stay focused. But sometimes it goes too far. A few years ago, when I got high-pressured into joining a high-pressure fitness studio, I got a minor injury and missed a few days. Upon my return, the instructor disparaged me for not sticking to my routine. “No pain, no gain!” he said when I told him that I had twisted my ankle and couldn’t walk without a limp. (??) But when your gym is your living room, nobody cares if you show up or not. There’s no pressure, no drama and — perhaps most importantly — no germs.
While this essay may seem anti-gym, I can assure you that I am not, in fact, anti-gym. I applaud the millions of gyms, yoga studios and fitness instructors out there who are providing incredible services right now: streaming workouts to raise money for charity, crowdfunding to save their employees’ jobs, even posting free classes for the unwashed masses (and let’s face it, the masses are currently unwashed).
Right now, I’m not only sending good vibes to gym employees, but I’m also counting down the days until I can go back to being the occasional Planet Fitness creeper at 3:42 in the morning when I need a change of scenery.
But until then I’ll continue to enjoy exercising at home, in my basement, all by myself. Well, at least until Lululemon launches its hazmat suit.