I quit the gym before the quarantine — here's how I stay in shape

It’s not about any single machine, app or workout — it’s about finding an activity that works for you.
Sprinter seen from above with shadow and copy space.
I noticed that when I went running outside, I sweated harder and my mood was brighter.Getty Images stock

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By Ronnie Koenig

A few months ago, I was just like many other people who relied on the gym to keep up my fitness. A trip to my local fitness center was a built-in part of most mornings for me. After many years of working out to keep an extra 25 pounds off my 5-foot frame, I relied on my treadmill time not just to maintain my weight loss but also as a way to burn off stress.

Around New Year’s, I was feeling uninspired by my gym workouts — I was doing the same cardio all the time and I was no longer looking forward to it. Coupled with the fact that my gym felt more like a senior center with dusty, worn out equipment that often didn’t work I started to wonder why I was paying a monthly fee (plus annual dues) for something I didn’t like or maybe even need. I noticed that when I went running outside, I sweated harder and my mood was brighter. Plus — and this was a big bonus — #outsideisfree! Mustering up my courage, I turned in my cancellation request to the gym and never looked back.

If you’re one of those people who are missing your gym time in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak — I get it. Not having a place to go where you can exercise and be part of a fit community can be a scary thing. It’s normal to wonder if you’ll lose your current level of fitness or abandon a weight-loss regimen that’s been working for you. But before you resign yourself to eating cookies and watching “Tiger King,” I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. I actually quit the gym two months before all of this sheltering in place started, and the fact is, you can make it work — without shelling out for tons of expensive equipment.

I spoke to two strong, female owners of two of my favorite boutique fitness classes in NYC — Sadie Kurzban, founder and CEO of 305 Fitness, and Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of SLT and Stretch*d, for their advice on staying active without the gym or in-person classes.

“There are so many free resources out there right now,” said Kurzban, whose own company is offering free cardio dance workouts on its YouTube channel every day. “Many fitness professionals are hosting free or donation-based classes on YouTube, Instagram Live and Zoom. Whether people are sticking to a tight budget or have more to spend, there’s something for everyone.”

After cancelling my gym membership, I started running outdoors most mornings and loving it. But then one morning, after a run, I felt my knee make a decidedly not-normal pop. I quickly realized that I needed to find a different form of exercise, something with less impact that was still easily accessible.

After doing a few trials with different apps, I homed in on the My Fitness app by Jillian Michaels. I have loved Michaels since her days on “The Biggest Loser” and remembered doing her DVDs back in the day (her “fast feet” move still kills me!). Her app seemed to offer one of the most comprehensive, customizable plans, plus I love her tough-but-informative, tell-it-like-it-is training style. The workouts are all around 20 to 30 minutes long and pack a serious punch.

Since being quarantined, I’ve learned that the best way to squeeze my exercise sessions in with work and two home-schooled kids is to go into my kids’ playroom and work out first thing in the morning. Freeman agreed that this is the way to go. “It’s helpful to choose the one time of day when you have the most energy and the fewest obligations pulling at you and stick to that time,” she said. “For me, it’s best to work out an hour after I wake up, so I’ve had my green tea, but I haven’t gotten too involved in work yet. I love checking it off my list first, so I can focus on work and my kids for the rest of the day and night.”

Freeman also advised putting workouts into your calendar just like you would any mandatory meeting. “You wouldn’t skip a virtual meeting with your boss or your child’s teacher, so view it the same way,” she said.

And while some people might decide to use this quarantine time to get in shape, a better way to look at it might be to let go of those expectations and just focus on moving your body every day in a way that feels good.

“As we navigate this new time, let’s be kind to ourselves, take it one day at a time and choose to move for the sake of feeling something,” Kurzban said. “Take the pressure off.”

“If you’re juggling more right now, aim for shorter but still impactful workouts,” suggested Freeman. “Think 20-minute runs or 30-minute bodyweight HIIT sessions. If you have the time to commit, find an hour-long sweat session you’ve always wanted to try or double up on 30-minute classes. For example, you could pair an abs class with a cardio blast class.”

I don’t think there’s just one single machine, app or workout that’s the solution to exercising without the gym during this unusual time — it’s about finding the activity that works for and inspires you, and then making the time to do it non-negotiable.

It’s really your mindset that’s going to keep you feeling fit, looking good and staying active — and take heart that this same philosophy will still hold true when the world opens back up. Maybe you’ll be first in line to hit the gym, or maybe you’ll have found a whole new way to move that feels right for you.