Reflecting on Group Exercise Podcast Episode 5

Reflecting on the Power of Group Fitness

On February 27, 2020 I recorded a podcast episode with my niece Alix.  I titled that episode “Try it, you might love it!”  Alix is one of those people who almost always says “YES” when it comes to trying a new group activity – especially group exercise.  Alix’s theory is that you just never know when you might be about to have an amazing experience.  And, Alix loves those group settings.  It is motivational and it builds camaraderie.  So, how is COVID-19 and shelter in place restrictions impacting group fitness, the experiences that group fitness provides and the people that typically would participate?

Obviously group exercise is popular.  Why else would there be so many group exercise class offerings at gyms and community centers.  Why else would there be so many Soul Cycle, Flywheel, Orange Theory, The Bar Method, Barry’s Bootcamp, CrossFit and yoga studios – just to name a few?  

So… when COVID-19 hits us and we are relegated to our homes how do we summon the power of the group?  By this point in time, we’re all hearing about virtual training classes.  Live group yoga and pilates, live zumba classes, strengthening classes, stretching sessions.  Almost every instructor and trainer I know are offering private video sessions for those who prefer and can afford one-on-one or small group training sessions.

And, let’s not forget virtual communities like Zwift and Peloton.  Admittedly, I’m one of those people who has both apps downloaded on my phone and has bikes set up in my basement that facilitate both. 

On Zwift I can ride my bike virtually through cities around the world with thousands of other cyclists. I can follow fellow Zwifters on Zwift and read about their stories on Reddit groups and Facebook groups.  

On Peloton I can take spin classes, yoga classes and many other fitness classes with thousands of others.  And on Peloton, I can follow my favorite instructors on Instagram – making them a part of my everyday life!  In fact, when studios started closing, Peloton went almost exclusively to previously taped classes.  Now, Peloton instructors are again teaching live classes – from their homes!  

So, we’ve conquered the stay-at-home group exercise dilemma.  Using Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Team, Skype, Go To Meeting and other technologies brings us all into each other’s homes.  Case closed until the pandemic passes – right?  Well, maybe….

What I’m wondering is whether COVID-19 accelerated a technological approach to at-home training?  Is this a case of technology existing and the circumstances accelerating its usage?  The real question is whether people will flock back to gyms and studios for exercise in the same numbers that were at those group exercise facilities in the past.  Undoubtedly, many people will get back to the gym just as quickly as they are allowed.  BUT, equally undoubtedly, there will be a number of people who will hesitate to return due to any number of personal concerns.  Are they immunocompromised?  Are they germaphobes?  Or, perhaps the risk of sharing heavy breathing and sweat molecules is just something we need to avoid going forward.  

My sense is that there will be gyms, studios and group exercise facilities in our future, but I would not be surprised if their numbers decline over time.  And, if we have reached our peak of in-person training, we quite possibly have reached the birth and growth of virtual, at-home video group training.