‘End of Pandemic’ Workouts: How Americans Are Exercising

All it took to finally motivate me was a bit of vanity. For the first time in a very long time, the pandemic is easing up in the United States. Coronavirus cases have plummeted from their January peak. Vaccinations keep climbing. Like a butterfly hatching from its cocoon, we’re finally on our way toward fluttering out of quarantine and into a world in which we can get together without the constant threat of infection. Packed movie theaters! Packed bars! Packed … conference rooms?!

Soon enough, that is, we’ll have to figure out how to be around one another again. And I sure as hell want to look good when we do.

I had to know: Are other people acting as self-absorbed as I am? Every year there’s a frenzy to get that svelte summer beach bod, but ahead of this summer, something special might be happening. “People are legit getting ready for the end,” says Taryn Stewart, a personal trainer in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Since the start of February, attendance at her virtual classes has doubled, and many of her in-person clients who used to come see her monthly are now showing up once a week or more. “I can tell this is not just a summer bump,” Stewart told me. “I’ve been training for a long time, and I’ve never seen this amount of pickup.”

Other trainers and gyms told me the same. Matt Wiedemer, the owner of Beat Personal Training, in Cincinnati, says that his gym is busier than it was before the pandemic, even with all the social-distancing measures he’s had to institute. February is usually one of the slowest months for the Brooklyn pilates studio Yo BK, but it has seen an uptick in visitors over the past few months. Now that many states are loosening their restrictions on gyms, the exercise-curious will have even more ways to work on their bod.

Not all places I reached out to are seeing a horde of new clients crying out for six packs: It’s not as if every American is suddenly stepping up their fitness game to look their absolute hottest for a return to normalcy. Many people don’t have the time, resources, or yes, the desire to get jacked during a still-very-bad pandemic. Meanwhile, the most annoying overachievers among us have already spent the past year Peloton-ing their way into the best shape of their life.

Even so, over the past two weeks, I found seven Americans who have embarked on their own fitness journeys to get sinewy summertime bodies. I heard about burpees galore, interval sessions that make quads ache for days, and every single possible ab workout known to humanity. Although the newly minted workout fiends have a range of different pandemic circumstances, they all told me they’re channeling that back-to-school feeling: Everyone wants to look their absolute best getting off the school bus.

Jessica Rosario-Calcaño, a 40-year-old New Yorker who works in fashion, told me she’s feeling the squeeze to catch up on her fitness. During the day, when her kids and husband are out, it’s just her and Alexa—Amazon Alexa—and she misses the thrill of dressing up and hearing compliments at work. In January, her archnemesis Instagrammed a braggy photo of her flawless pandemic physique, so now Rosario-Calcaño goes on 40-minute walks in the morning and does interval workouts from her apartment, hoping she’ll one-up her frenemy by July. “I’m getting ready to be seen again,” she told me. “I know it sounds superficial, but I didn’t realize until the pandemic that it’s important to me.”

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