Reshma Sood had bought kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, weights and a workout bench during the lockdown and worked out regularly on her terrace. But as soon as the Mumbai gyms reopened late last year, she immediately packed up all the equipment and put it in the garage. Then she promptly returned to her neighbourhood gym.
In Kolkata, Suraj Juneja was enjoying the home workouts using online trainers and group sessions but when his old gym owner called and assured him about the precautions that were being taken, he decided to give it a try. He hasn’t gone back to home workouts since.
Or take Navdha Patel, who diligently worked out for the first two months of India’s lockdown. She bought everything she needed and exercised for five to six days a week. Slowly, her enthusiasm and discipline wavered and her workouts became more erratic. When the weighing scales shocked her after the end of the year celebrations, she too signed up to her old gym in Kolkata.
Sood, Juneja and Patel’s move away from home workouts and heading to a real gym is in line with the general trend observed by Fitternity, the gym and workout discovery platform. “We have observed a rise in the demand among fitness enthusiasts keen on getting back to gyms and fitness centres increasingly post the lockdown,” says Neha Motwani, co-founder and CEO of Fitternity. “Between March and November last year, Fitternity saw a massive demand for its digital offerings including live stream workouts, online personal training and fitness challenges. Thereafter we are experiencing a steady decline in the number of people opting for online fitness classes and workouts due to overall screen fatigue.”
People have been cautious for almost a year and sacrificed one of the most human things ever — social interaction, says Sandeep Sachdev, co-founder of Easy Human fitness studio and café in Mumbai. “Response fatigue was bound to set in. While people continue to somewhat heed mask-wearing, they are seeking social interactions again. That’s what gyms actually are… social spaces,” he says.
Another reason people are moving away from home workouts is because in a home set-up, the options are limited, explains Rishabh Gupta, co-owner of Endorphins Corrective Exercise Studio in Kolkata. “Most people cannot have the same amount and quality of equipment that gyms have. And no home gym would be able to offer the environment because there are other people who tend to serve as motivation,” adds Gupta.“We are already back to 80% of our pre-pandemic numbers in the four months since we have reopened.”
There are multiple reasons behind fitness enthusiasts heading back to gyms.
After studying the data from Fitternity, Motwani says home workout fatigue has set in among people now. “We definitely believe that fatigue is setting in for online workouts. With the work-from-home setting, Zoom meetings going on the whole day… screen fatigue has set in and people have started limiting their screen time. This has resulted in more people opting to go to gyms and studios, have an ‘outlet’ in form workout to break the monotony,” she says.
Juneja was having a lot of fun working out with cricketers, celebrity trainers and other athletes online during the lockdown. When his gym reopened in September, the owner called him and asked him to give the gym another go. “I went for one workout and realised that this was a lot more effective and satisfying than working out in my drawing tiptoeing around sofas, tables and TV. Home workouts are just not the same as sweating it out in a gym,” says Juneja.
Another factor behind this trend is better awareness about safety and precautionary measures being taken by gyms and studios. This has instilled confidence for people to return to gyms.
For Patel, maintaining the discipline of working out all by herself each and every day became so difficult that she ended up gaining weight. “Unless a personal trainer comes home or you have a workout buddy, it is impossible to have the discipline to leave the comfort of your bed or sofa to put yourself through a strenuous activity such as a workout. Home workouts don’t work for me at all,” says Patel, who returned to the gym in February after she was convinced that the establishment had put in place multiple measures to ensure members’ safety. “I will always need the gym,” she says.
However, home workouts did have a big overall impact on people. Fitternity’s consumption data shows that the pandemic has resulted in more users becoming interested in fitness than ever before. “Fitness penetration levels - which our country would have taken probably 2-3 years to get to, have been leapfrogged during the last 11 months. People who started working out at home in the lockdown for the first time ever, have also now reached a phase wherein they wish to access a gym or a studio to meet their fitness goals, interact with like-minded people and access not just the facility but also the vibe and community associated with it,” says Motwani.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.