When it comes to studio fitness, many of us have sipped the Kool-Aid. The rapid growth of brands like CrossFit®, Barry’s Bootcamp, and SoulCycle are easy indicators that we’ve liked what we experienced. For many of us, we’ve silently vowed to stay loyal to the studio fitness brands we’ve come to love, but that devotion has been tested in unexpected ways by a global pandemic.
Thriving Digital Fitness Market
With the launch of Apple’s new Fitness+ program, the potential prevalence of Peloton in a post-COVID world, and the rise of cool home fitness gadgets like Mirror and Tonal, I have to ask: what are the studio fitness brands providing that we can’t get at home?
It’s taken me a few weeks to formulate an answer, but here’s where I arrived:
In my world of CrossFit and studio spin classes, some aspects sound easier to replace than others.
When it comes to spin, anyone can hop on a Peloton (if they can afford one and have the space) for 45 minutes, follow the digital instructor, get their sweat in, and move on with their day. In parity with CrossFit, one can assume a dumbbell and at-home programming from a company like CompTrain, Ladder, or StreetParking can get them where they need to go.
Key Benefits to Studio Training
Those are just the tangibles. They’re the equipment and the programming. They’re the easy boxes to check. The hard ones are the ones involving the moral support and staying power of supportive communities, the motivation of a purpose-built environment, and the accountability that comes with in-person relationships.
When I think about Ride Indoor Cycling, a smaller studio spin brand in Texas which fueled my love for the training methodology, I think of the intangible qualities a studio fitness brand provides me which Peloton can’t deliver: accountability via community.
I think of Deb, Ali, and Sandi, who still check in with me eight months, two-thousand miles, and a global pandemic since the last time I dropped into one of their classes. I still have nightmares about Ali, who somehow made five-pound dumbbells weigh a nonliteral ton. If you’re here for the training advice and are curious about her tactics, she did this through a combination of high-volume reps, high-volume coaching (yelling), and high-volume high-fives.
Workout Motivation at Home
There’s something a little awkward about twerking along to the music on a stationary bike when it’s just the dog staring blankly at you under the fluorescent lighting of your bedroom. It’s better when your fitness instructors join in and you have a whole class acting-a-fool alongside you. The bass rumble and lights of a DJ system don’t hurt either.
And, while Peloton tries to reinforce accountability through their app and leaderboard, they’ll never provide the relationships you build with your coaches, the socially-distant air-fives and air-hugs they give you, or their true interest in you as a human being.
Relationships Bring Us Back
In 2018 I drove down to San Antonio to participate in a local competition hosted by CrossFit Optimistic. It was one of only two times I’d set foot inside that gym, but I’ll be damned if I’m not friends with owner Michael Martinez on Facebook. In 2019 I joined CrossFit Fearless for a short period of time and quickly became obsessed with the livelihood of everyone in that gym. I even sat down with the owner Carlos Martinez over coffee one morning to consult on his website’s SEO.
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Last night we did a team building workout for the @sabo_warhawks basketball team coached by Optimist Jim Stewart, aka "Stewbo." Their first task was to carry two tires around the building without letting them touching the floor. Then we ran the team through a modified version of the WOD “Fight Gone Bad.” Great work boys! #alwaysanoptimist #basketball #team #crossfit #tires #teambuilding #basketballteam #sanantonio #texas #basketballtraining #teamwork #teambuildingactivity
Equipment Is Only Part of the Equation
I’ve always been a firm believer in the adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” It’s with that reasoning I’ve spent the last two years earning my CrossFit Level 1 certification and hoarding fitness equipment so I had the knowledge to train myself and the means to do so.
Unfortunately, if quarantine has taught me anything, it’s that you can have all the equipment and knowledge in the world, but having is a far cry from using.
I’d say the shape I’m in now is much more reminiscent of the years I spent at Gold’s Gym and 24-Hour Fitness in college, than when I was doing spin and CrossFit. That is, my shape is much more round. So then it goes without saying that there’s a reason Gold’s and 24-Hour have both filed for bankruptcy: large gyms have delivered the means of fitness but not the accountability that drives the results.
Where Large Gyms Let Us Down
Therefore, if having is a far cry from using, then using is also a far cry from using correctly.
There’s nothing wrong with digital training, and there’s nothing wrong with a large gym that gives you the equipment, but not the coaching or the community. They’re important pieces to a puzzle, but you need all the pieces to achieve the desired image. Whether that’s a workout buddy, a personal training coach, or a small class environment, it’s different for everyone.
Studio Fitness Is Here to Stay
Learning how to survive in a digital world has been a good exercise for gyms and fitness studios. Learning that they have the resources and capacity to train at home has been good for studio fitness members. Expanding access to equipment has been good for equipment manufacturers and those with the means to purchase from them. The end result of all this could be a healthier world when we return to the gym, because we now feel more comfortable with a home fitness element to compliment our studio fitness primary.
I’ve ordered a Peloton, but it’ll never replace Sandy, Deb, and Ali. It’s possible I’ve nicknamed my dumbbells ‘Oscar and Michael’, but the dumbbells are far from equivalent to the two gym owners they’re named after.
The day can’t come soon enough that I’m able to find new gyms and their respective communities, now that I’ve moved to Brooklyn during quarantine. Their value will never be lost upon me, no matter how many burpees I do in my kitchen in the meantime.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image courtesy of KANUT PHOTO/Shutterstock