It was the middle of May when I started to worry about winter. I was on a long run, gasping for air through my mask, thinking that everything wasn’t so bad as long as I could get outside, feel the sun, and move my rapidly atrophying body. But as I took in the beautiful day, my brain spiraled. What the hell was I going to do when it was 20 degrees outside? How would I exercise during the cold months in New York?
When COVID-19 shuttered the world, I quickly found exercising to be one of the few ways to calm my mind. My regular gym was closed, but working out at home seemed new and different. I could fit a workout in whenever I wanted! I’d finally explore every corner of the park where I run! I had an excuse to get really into yoga! But, there was an agonizing fear in the back of my mind that this would be a tough routine to maintain—especially when winter locked me inside my one-bedroom apartment. And as the summer has turned into fall, my gym remains closed for the foreseeable future (though some have opened in the city), and pockets of New York are seeing a rise in cases. Social distancing restrictions are tightening up again.
Exercise has always been the best treatment for my anxiety. I’m no meathead, just a stressed-out writer who’s found relief in moving his body. When I don’t work out, I feel guilty; I feel low both emotionally and physically. Imagine my guilt and stress on a day in quarantine when I walked only 15 steps from my bed to my laptop. To ease my worries, I decided to accept the fact that my 614-square-foot apartment/office, which I share with my partner, was now going to be an apartment/office/gym (as well as a bar, a restaurant, sometimes a club) for the long haul.
It required some fundamental changes to how I work out, obviously. My pre-pandemic gym routine consisted of weekly boxing classes, weekly yoga, running or cycling three times a week, and regular weight training. The boxing gym and yoga studios were immediately crossed off my list when they closed in March. The same went for weight training, as there was no way I’d have the desire to cram a bench press into my apartment. Nor do I have a bike, so it was goodbye to the pedals.
I supplemented the weight training with a few things: I bought a pair of cheap dumbbells and signed up for Core Power On Demand, which is $20 a month and has some pretty good options for lighter weights. I bought a doorframe pull-up bar, which was $30 and can be stored under our bed. I signed up for an $18-per-month Yoga Glo membership, which offers a dizzying number of courses, from stretching to muscle-building. Our boxing gym, Shadowbox, also streams a number of one-off classes that don’t require a bag for a great HIIT workout. (I think it’s good to support local gyms when it is safe and comfortable to do so.)
But the big, looming fear was always cardio. Jumping around during a Yoga Sculpt class is one thing, but I need to clear my head with a long run at least once a week, and I’m not a cold weather running guy. (I’m constantly terrified of slipping and injuring myself.) So, I started browsing treadmills, most of which are geared toward people with the space to own a treadmill. (Go figure!) But, after months of searching, I came across a deal on a foldable treadmill that could actually fit in our apartment, the GoPlus 2-in-1 Folding Treadmill. I will fully admit it’s not the best one I’ve ever used. The displays make no sense, the distance tracking is a mess, it’s pretty narrow, and it doesn’t go fast enough for a full-on sprint. However, it does fit under our bed and out of sight, it’s quiet, and it provides a moving platform that allows us to book miles indoors. And really, for just under $400, that’s the only thing I need.
To live in New York is to constantly be worried about space, and in putting together this home gym, my main goal was to be space-efficient. The yoga mats tuck into our closet, while the weights, treadmill (which we’ve lovingly named Treadmillie Bobby Brown), and pull-up bar all slide under the bed. During work hours, the apartment is an office. During down time, it’s a movie theater or bar. During physical activity time, it’s a halfway decent gym. And none of the workout gear clutters up our space when it’s not needed. As for cost, in the first six months of quarantine, I spent $820 getting all the gear I needed plus monthly subscriptions. Split with my partner, that’s $410 on my end. I would have spent $10 more than that over the same period just going to the gym.
I will admit, my apartment gym is not the same. My god, I miss taking out my stress on a punching bag. I miss the sweat-drenched release of a spin class. I miss getting actual adjustments from a yoga instructor. I only have myself to motivate me, which isn’t always the easiest. And the pandemic itself is brutal mentally. Trapped in my apartment, I felt like I was wasting away. My muscles shrunk, my hair grew long, and I didn’t care about my beard. I legitimately had a Tom Hanks in Cast Away thing going. But I’ve found over the past few months that my highly personalized workout routine is rewarding in itself.
I’ve seen a notable change to my physique. My arms and chest and shoulders are smaller but more toned (less weight, more reps), and my core and legs and backline are much healthier. My running and balance have improved drastically. (I had literally never thought about working my hips.) I’m the most flexible I’ve ever been in my life. And I’d like to think that taking the care to build the muscles that support my back and spine is extremely important as I rapidly age in quarantine.
I know that there are much bigger things to worry about in the world right now, like the collapse of our democracy for example, but through it all, mental and physical health is important. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. So, just because it is more difficult to stay healthy, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. I’m no longer worried about winter like I once was (in a working-out type of way). Investing a little effort in this makeshift home gym has given me the peace of mind to know that if things do go to shit, I’ll at least be able to keep myself physically and mentally there. I can make it through.
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