Kudos to all the early morning workout risers, those doing planks between calls, the Saturday spinners and the downward dogs. Cheers to those who made the trek to work out in tents in empty parking lots or to do yoga on a cold day in the park. Yes, during the pandemic we’ve done it all. We are grateful that we had our virtual and socially distanced workout sessions, but now it’s time to get away from temporary pop-ups and from Zoom meetings in houses filled with family photos, wandering cats and refrigerator magnets. Permanent open workout spaces call, and they’ll be filled with mats, specialized equipment and mirrors. We’re looking forward to spaces that look and sound like they were made for exercise.
How the pandemic affected workouts
This past year as COVID-19 struck, we were kept isolated in our own homes and unable to visit our “temporarily closed” gyms and fitness centers. Workout classes were missed, and the camaraderie of the gym seemed like a distant memory. We became less active overall, and we know it. In a study of 2,000 Americans, 63 percent reported that they had a more sedentary lifestyle during the pandemic, with people on average sitting an extra four hours per day.
While different states had varying closure rules, by last September 87 percent of fitness clubs had reopened in some capacity, but 60 percent of the members didn’t return and 20 percent reported having stopped exercising all together. Now, more than ever, we need to come back to engage in the communal physical activities we’ve been missing, and to start to regain our fitness spaces.
Moving forward from here
This next evolution will flex its way toward more innovative methods and places to exercise. Outdoor spaces that had been temporarily set up to accommodate physical distancing and optimal air flow will continue to evolve into more permanent spaces to cycle, boot camp and yoga. The boutique pop-up fitness idea will become larger, as teachers and instructors find new places to stage their programs.
In suburban settings, parks, beaches and natural open space areas will continue and grow as exercise zones. In some cases, this will be the result of runners and bikers who previously spent time on a treadmill or stationary bike and had migrated to outdoor activity simply sticking with their new routine. Or, that parking lots will take new form with the ability for them to be furnished to make working out with others more desirable. The urban setting will grow too, setting up shop in alleys adding lights and canopies, heading to rooftops and integrating signs that will signal that, “It’s here! This is the place for your workout.”
Boutique fitness will need to continue to change and innovate
The static gym experience takes on a new social imperative in the realm of boutique fitness providers. The design challenges for this networked experience are substantial. Colder regions will find outdoor space utilization rather low. Western and Sunbelt states can capture a larger and more frequent audience but will need a way to keep sun exposure to a minimum. Physically, these spaces need to meet the basic playbook for fitness. Enough room to have a full class, but for everyone to be far enough apart for safety, plus shade or covering against the elements and containment of a dedicated space are essential.
On top of that, programs might need to be changed as well, which means equipment will likely be different than that of an indoor facility. There needs to be a way to avoid having multiple users for each piece of equipment, or a sanitization process in between each user. This might mean rethinking a whole class or sections of a class with participants using their body weight for resistance instead of free weights or machines. The flexibility of these spaces in some cases gives enthusiasts the ability to bring friends and pets. The importance of word of mouth about the safety and effectiveness of these facilities can’t be underestimated as the boutique fitness world tries to bounce back after over a year of being shuttered, only able to accommodate reduced capacity and seeing membership drop off.
The big picture
The essentials of the workout will remain the same—sweat is a constant—but the utilization of indoor/outdoor spaces will be completely new. Individuals will lean toward a more tribal community experience. Think: An eye-opening spin followed by tea and conversation. It’s a “follow the experience” mindset. Workout, tea, farmer’s market and a follow up walk with a friend—all pointing toward a shared experience that will now take place mostly outdoors.
About the Author:
By Paul Haden, president of C2 Collaborative
Paul Haden has 45 years of experience as a landscape architect and planner for a variety of public and private sector projects. He has planned and designed numerous institutional, residential and commercial projects in California, the nation and overseas. This work has included neighborhood, regional and local park planning, streetscape and trail design, commercial, residential and civic design guidelines, single and multi-family housing, shopping centers, office and industrial buildings and recreation facilities. As founder and president of The Collaborative West, Inc., and the re-branded C2 Collaborative, Haden directs the schematic, preliminary and final design functions of the firm.