How COVID-19 Is Equalizing Fitness Opportunities

Woman doing weightlifting on the floor

 Richlegg / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has leveled the playing field for fitness opportunities in many respects.
  • With gyms closed, more people picked up free and outdoor forms of exercise.
  • Free and low-cost digital fitness apps have increased access to fitness.
  • It’s still not perfect: Many people still face barriers to fitness, such as time constraints.

The pursuit of fitness is inherently geared toward middle and upper-class consumers. Traditional fitness opportunities, such as paying a membership fee to access a gym or fitness studio, are cost, time, and transportation-prohibitive.

The COVID-19 crisis initiated a long overdue and incredibly necessary equalization of fitness. With gyms and fitness studios closed, two important shifts occurred: Consumers' perception of fitness changed, and the number of low-cost digital fitness offerings skyrocketed.

These two shifts have reduced the barrier to entry for fitness and allow lower income families with time-restrictive jobs to enjoy more physical activity.

How COVID-19 Is Equalizing Access to Exercise

People who don’t have the financial freedom or time flexibility to utilize a gym membership may feel precluded from fitness opportunities and decide that exercise isn’t worth it if they can’t access a traditional facility.

However, thanks largely to the novel coronavirus, people have begun to understand that you don't need gym equipment or a fancy studio membership to get fit. Your body and a few minutes each day is all it really takes.

What Experts Say

“COVID has definitely changed the face of fitness services,” says ShaNay Norvell, fitness expert and author of Stretch Your Stress Away with ShaNay, nodding to the fact that the boom in virtual fitness classes has expanded access to those who can’t afford conventional personal training or boutique group fitness. 

CJ Hammond
, a certified personal trainer with RSP Nutrition, says he thinks the biggest change to the fitness industry is the way people think about fitness. “The individual’s mindset and perception of working out” has shifted, Hammond tells Verywell Fit. “More individuals are involving themselves with outdoor training — running on the track, going for a walk.” 

And Maillard Howell, a trainer and owner of The Beta Way in New York City, says that although digital fitness is booming, the “human touch is priceless” — and it’s going to be up to the good trainers and instructors to bring that feeling to consumers through digital platforms. 

CJ Hammond, CPT

The individual’s mindset and perception of working out has shifted...More individuals are involving themselves with outdoor training — running on the track, going for a walk.

— CJ Hammond, CPT

There’s absolutely no doubt that the fitness landscape has shifted dramatically. Here are seven things people have started to realize about health and fitness during the coronavirus pandemic (and why things should stay this way). 

1. You don’t need a gym membership to get or stay fit. 

A woman stretching outside in a park.

The “all or nothing” mindset is so pervasive in the fitness industry that many people feel as if exercise isn’t worth it if they don’t have access to the nicest and newest tools, weights, machines, and platforms. But, that’s not true in the slightest: All exercise is worth it, and the COVID-19 pandemic has helped many people understand that. 

Norvell says coronavirus-induced gym closures have “encouraged many to use free outdoor access and be creative at home.” You might have probably noticed more people exercising outdoors in your neighborhood or elsewhere during the coronavirus pandemic. People have turned to walking, jogging, hiking and even socially distanced activities such as kayaking to stay fit as gyms remain closed.

Among those who enjoy more structured exercise, many have realized that at-home workouts can be just as challenging as workouts in a gym or studio.

Some research even shows that working out with low-cost equipment, such as resistance bands, is comparable to working out with traditional equipment . 

2. Walking is the most underrated form of exercise. 

A woman with white hair walking across a bridge.

Walking is free, accessible, and amazing for your health. There has to be a reason walking is so often recommended by health professionals, right?

Science has long shown us that walking can improve your heart health, help you lose weight, increase your endurance, reduce your risk of chronic disease, and strengthen your joints. Walking can even reduce stress and boost your mood.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, many fitness enthusiasts may have felt like walking was pointless — why walk when you can burn more calories and build muscle in the gym? However, with gyms closed and the weight of the world bearing down on people, walking emerged as a relaxing, efficient, effective way to exercise during the coronavirus pandemic. 

3. The best exercise is fun and accessible. 

A young woman having fun hula-hooping outside.

Everyone has been faced with persistent stress, anxiety, and fatigue during the coronavirus pandemic. Some people lost their jobs and others found themselves working more than ever; parents were forced to figure out ongoing childcare when schools closed; many people have lost friends and family members, and everyone’s dealing with the mental weight of the ongoing pandemic. 

No matter what your scenario is, there’s a good chance you have learned one very important life lesson: It’s not worth it to endure things we dislike because we feel obligated to do so. 

Case in point: Why do high-intensity interval training when you don’t like it and it just adds to your overall stress levels? Exercise should reinvigorate and rejuvenate us — not bring us down and beat us up. 

We all have to do things we don’t like sometimes, but a workout routine that includes chronic dread isn’t a good one for you. The key to getting fit and staying fit is finding a type of physical activity you actually enjoy: You’re much more likely to stick with it for life. 

4. Digital fitness offerings are up to par with in-person options. 

Two friends looking at a fitness app on a smartphone.

The COVID-19 crisis accelerated what was already happening to the fitness industry: the shift to a digital-first landscape. There’s no turning back to pre-coronavirus fitness — at least not 100 percent — although many fitness professionals are confident in the ability of brick-and-mortar fitness businesses to reinvent and rebound. 

In the meantime, there are so many fitness and diet apps, as well as online training programs, that provide the key components needed to successfully improve your fitness, Hammond says.

Now that individuals don’t feel comfortable going to a gym (or just can’t due to closures or other barriers), online training has risen to the forefront and it’s beneficial for both clients and trainers. 

“It’s much cheaper than buying a training program with a monthly membership fee, with a transportation fee to get to and from the gym,” Hammond says, “... and you’re still able to get the individual attention of your trainer.”

Just remember, he cautions, there is no “cookie-cutter template” for virtual training programs.

“I wish I could just recommend a particular app for individuals, but it wouldn’t be fair,” Hammond says, explaining that he can’t know everyone’s constraints or training preferences.

If you’re serious about digital training, it’s definitely worth experimenting with free fitness apps and free trials for paid apps before making a commitment. 

5. Working out at home can encourage consistency. 

At home yoga with baby.

In terms of fitness, the coronavirus has been a blessing in disguise for people who have always felt afraid or intimidated by the gym.

There are so many “individuals who would not regularly train in the gym based on their phobias,” Hammond says, referring to fears like being judged for the way they look, the workouts they choose, or the simple fact that they’re a beginner. 

“Having an online training program [gives] you the freedom that allows you to focus on your results” instead of the way you look, Hammond says. This has been crucial for people with gym intimidation, he says, helping them to understand how fitness can change their lives without facing judgment (whether said judgment is perceived or real).

That sense of accomplishment can lead to a ripple effect of positivity, Hammond says.

People who followed online training during the coronavirus pandemic may finally feel comfortable to join a gym once they open back up — or continue to stick to a strong at-home program, Hammond says. 

6. Exercising outdoors comes with more benefits. 

A young man kayaking in a river.

We know that exercise comes with tons of physical health and mental health benefits. Turns out, taking your exercise outdoors can turn it up another notch. Exercising outside can improve your mood and help you get enough of the critical and ever-elusive vitamin D, which is essential for immune function and general health. 

Research suggests that spending time outside can improve your mood by reducing stress and anxiety. In fact, spending time in nature is thought to reduce mental fatigue and restore mental clarity (two things we all need in the midst of a global pandemic). 

Why is this important? The coronavirus pandemic forced more people to take their workouts outside, and outside is someplace everyone can go: There are no barriers to your backyard or your neighborhood sidewalks. 

Everyone can step outside and enjoy a sunshine-filled workout, so now, more and more people are reaping the benefits of both physical activity and sun exposure (just be sure to wear sunscreen in direct sunlight!).  

7. Simple is usually best.

A man going for a run in a foggy city.

Point blank: People are busy. Most of us run around like startled chickens all day, quickly switching from one task to another, answering phone call after phone call, furiously slashing through to-do lists, cooking dinner, helping kids with homework, and trying to save a sliver of time for ourselves and our significant others. 

The last thing most people want to do is expend the mental energy it takes to create a workout. Of course, that’s where a professional personal trainer would come in, but we already know that one-on-one fitness instruction is not financially available to most people. Enter: simplicity. 

Second to fun and accessible, simplicity is another key to a successful workout routine.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of your workout before you even start it, that’s not the right workout for you. The right workout for you is one that feels doable, one you’re excited about, and one that doesn’t require too much mental effort. 

What This Means for You

This shift in the way fitness is delivered means the pursuit of good health is available to more people. At Verywell, we hope the equalization of fitness opportunities means that more people start to take advantage of the outdoors and at-home workouts for fitness.

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