Virtual Fitness: It’s Working Out

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Brian Steiner (front right) gives the thumbs up after teaching another grueling spinning class_ he teaches regularly at PSC in Radnor and at Rodin Place, LifeSport Fitness in Fairmount and AFC Fitness in Bala Cy
Brian Steiner (front right) gives the thumbs up after teaching another grueling spinning class_ he teaches regularly at PSC in Radnor and at Rodin Place, LifeSport Fitness in Fairmount and AFC Fitness in Bala Cynwyd (Courtesy of Brian Steiner)

In a time before the pandemic, the home had much more freedom — it wasn’t burdened with being everything to everybody all the time. Work used to be done in offices, learning used to be done in stately buildings on leafy campuses.

The place to let off some steam and burn some calories — that was called the gym; it was a place different from the guest bedroom at your parents’ house that shares a sad old treadmill with decades’ worth of old office supplies.

The boxing gym, the yoga studio, the all-purpose fitness center with the smoothie bar at the front, the JCC. Places to meet friends, places to put headphones on and ignore the outside world; places to breathe as one single body in a yoga class or stoke your competitive fire by spinning faster and longer and feeling like you need to throw up more than the guy next to you.

For two months they’ve been closed. And it’s been a struggle — for them and for us. All have tried to adapt to this reality. Some have adjusted better than others; all have faced challenges; all have experienced either pleasant surprises or unlikely triumphs or have derived new, unconventional ways of delivering what people are looking to get out of a gym or fitness studio.

Brian Steiner, a workers’ compensation attorney, is a spinning fiend — he takes classes; he teaches classes. Steiner likes to cycle, but he goes to spin class for the competitive dynamic that’s fostered there.

It’s what he said is missing most in the virtual classes.

“The weakness (of the virtual regime) is that you’re not shoulder to shoulder, and you don’t feel the energy,” Steiner said. “Group classes are all about energy. They’re about working as hard as you can and trying to stay up or trying to outdo your classmates.”

Steiner who teaches regular spinning classes at two Philadelphia Sports Club locations, LifeSport Fitness in Fairmount and AFC Fitness in Bala Cynwyd said he’s thought about buying the popular and notoriously pricey Peloton bike, but he didn’t feel like waiting months — that’s how backed up Peloton orders have been, he said.

So he tries to replicate his spin classes at home, but says he’s been unsuccessful thus far.

“It’s a lot different when you’re looking at your iPad or your laptop and the instructor is in a room by herself and the cat is walking by or the dog is walking by or the kid is walking by in his underwear and she’s trying to teach a class.”

Yoga, not surprisingly, has brought an element of flexibility to pandemic practicing.

“One of the pleasant surprises is that you can reach out and extend the invitation,” said Brittany Everett Palugod, owner of Grace and Glory Yoga in Fishtown. “It’s been so nice to have people from Romania or Iceland or even people who have moved away from the neighborhood and the studio join us for class. Without the pandemic and the studio closing, there’s probably no way that happens, even if we did livestream
our classes.

Jon Simon still teaches virtual excercise classes for kids every afternoon after school_ parents are encouraged to join in.
Jon Simon still teaches virtual exercise classes for kids every afternoon after school. Parents are encouraged to join in. (Courtesy of Jon Simon)

Palugod also said that allowing trepidatious first-timers to engage virtually, from their homes, has created space for those who might’ve been too intimidated to walk coldly and blindly into a yoga studio by themselves.

“Now you’ve taken something intimidating and put it in a place where they’re comfortable. They’re free to explore and discover what we do in a place that’s totally comfortable for them.”

Meanwhile, Jon Simon, the head trainer at the Milton & Betty Katz JCC in Margate, has experienced both ends of the virtual experience — the anguish and the exaltation.

“My biggest pet peeve with virtual training is that you’re not there to correct their form,” said Simon who prefers a hands-on approach with personal training clients and students in his boxing class.

Still, making things available virtually has opened up the JCC to new faces.

“We know some people may not feel comfortable in the gym. If my brother in Omaha or my sister in Long Island want to take my class, they can now take my class,” he said.

Plus, numbers are actually up.

“In a normal class if I killed, we’d have 30, but a bad virtual class gets 100-150 views. So you go figure.”

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