‘Gyms and fitness studios are reopening, but I won’t be rushing back any time soon’

‘Gyms and fitness studios are reopening, but I won’t be rushing back any time soon’

Kate Lancaster spoke to studio owners, and fitspirational women – including Elle Ferguson, Laura Henshaw and Stephanie Miller – about if and how their workout habits will change when gyms finally reopen their doors to the public. 

I remember how I used to feel about exercising at home. Although a few at-home programs had piqued my interest over the years, I’d always found the concept a little, well, daggy. It’s not that the programs weren’t great or the convenience wasn’t appealing, it was more about the feeling I would get when I set off on a purposeful excursion to my local fitness studio. Each morning, before I even attended class, it felt as if I had accomplished something extra just by leaving the house.

But by that same token, I also found it easier to concoct elaborate excuses as to why I couldn’t attend. ‘It’s raining,’ I’d reason, or ‘Nah, I feel way too tired from my last workout’ – knowing full well it had been a solid seven days since my last session.

In the years since, I’ve come to enjoy it. I still make excuses, but they feel particularly hollow when my exercise gear and high-speed streaming devices are only a few feet away. I still opt for reformer Pilates at my local studio, but on the days I can’t bring myself to get out of my pyjamas, I’m happy to exercise at home. I can wear what I like (finally, I can be one of those girls who wears a crop top to workout) and I feel less self-conscious about looking silly during some of the trickier yoga poses.

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At-home workouts became our saviour in iso

So when COVID-19 happened and we were all told to cancel our barre classes and stay inside, I felt prepared and maybe even a little smug. I already had everything at my disposal to make isolation exercise work, but I knew others would be trying it out for perhaps the first time. I wondered if they would come to prefer it as I had.

Local influencer and founder of Elle Effect, Elle Ferguson, was one such first-timer.

“Before we went into isolation, I would sit on my laptop while [fiancee] Joel would work out in front of me pretty much every night,” she recalls. “I would always push myself to leave the house and go to a studio to workout instead. I guess I was just programmed to think that you had to be somewhere other than your house to get a complete workout.”

During restrictions, Ferguson threw herself into an energising mix of mat Pilates and running on the treadmill in her lounge room, six days per week. “I started documenting my at-home workouts to keep myself accountable because I knew if I put it out there and I could see it, I would know if I’d worked out in the last 24 hours, which would inspire me to keep going,” she said.

What she didn’t anticipate was the response from her 684,000-strong Instagram following, who felt inspired to start or stick with their own home exercise routines. “I’ve been really raw in posting my at-home workout journey and people have identified with it,” she says. “It’s hard work and I’ve had good days and bad days but I’ve shared it all. The messages I receive are just amazing and to know I’ve helped so many people has been incredibly rewarding. They’ve also encouraged me to keep going.”

Keep It Cleaner co-founders Laura Henshaw and Stephanie Miller have been championing at-home workouts for years as part of their online-only programme.

“When we launched KIC, we wanted to create the opportunity for all members of our community to have access to a fuss-free, healthy lifestyle that could be done anywhere,” explains Henshaw. “In my opinion, working out at home is always beneficial, as an option to get some movement in when you have a spare moment and feel like getting active or mindful.”

Miller agrees, having recently converted her spare room into a home gym during isolation. “For me, I know I love to mix up my daily fitness routine and that’s what COVID-19 has provided for some people – the opportunity to experience new styles of working out, being mindful and moving in different ways [at home].”

Ferguson’s studio of choice, Fluidform Pilates, already had an established online program for her to follow, but not all businesses had virtual offerings when restrictions first came into effect. Big franchises such as F45 and Barry’s Bootcamp quickly launched virtual extensions of their classes, but smaller businesses had to find ways to adapt too.

For Lucy Beaumont, owner of Scout Pilates in Sydney’s St Peters, temporarily forced closure required a sharp shift towards online delivery to keep her popular studio afloat. “I had to pivot my business almost overnight! We had to invest in cameras, lights, and mics, which has been a large cost – especially at a time with very little revenue,” she says.

The future for at-home workouts

Although online classes had always been an option for Scout, Beaumont had previously been hesitant to invest in creating a program for an already-crowded marketplace. But having already shelled out on the expensive equipment, the success of the studio’s streamed sessions has made her give it more thought.

“We have grown our community and our social following substantially, with new clients from all around Australia and the world now attending our virtual classes – we also have quite a few former clients that moved out of the area, who are now thrilled to be back in class with the instructors they love,” she says.

Despite restrictions lifting and the Scout space likely to reopen soon, Beaumont has been receiving a lot of requests to continue with remote classes. “It will all come down to what the restrictions are and what makes sense business-wise,” she says. “We have recorded a lot of our classes so [we may] have a platform of classes that can be accessed anytime rather than live.”

With the success of local offerings and a large number of us now loving the ritual of working out within our own four walls, it’s looking unlikely that at-home exercise will end anytime soon. Ferguson, for one, is converted and won’t be going back to the studio full-time for the foreseeable future.

“I actually love working out at home. It’s an absolute game-changer and I’ve really embraced it,” she says. “Besides the obvious convenience of not having to drive somewhere, find a park, and pay for parking, it’s just the ease of being able to do it when I want and how often I want. You get a more intense workout because you are purely focused on yourself and your form, and I like the fact that at-home workouts are much more accessible… so that we can do it together,” she says.

If slick boutique studios are the Nagnata separates of the exercise world, then perhaps at home fitness feels a little closer to my decidedly-less-glamorous but ultimately more comfortable Kmart track pants. And I don’t know about you, but right now? They’re feeling pretty good.

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