The Underground Fitness Movement During COVID-19

James Logie

Have you been dying to get back to the gym?

Did the first lockdowns hit you hard when you realized that something that was a part of your life was taken from you?

I’ve been a personal trainer for half of my life, so the gym is a big part of who I am.

Like many others who love to stay fit, the announcement of quarantine created an unpleasant reality where fitness would have to take a back seat.

For myself, I had some equipment at home, but it would never take the place of a proper gym.

During the quarantine, I tried to go back to my earlier days of running and took more walks and hikes. Thankfully, the weather was getting better, so outside fitness was doable.

But there are only so many bodyweight HIIT workouts you can do.

If you really love the iron, spin classes, and group fitness, you just had to put it out of your mind as gyms would not be open for months.

But not everyone has been going along with that.

The Underground Gym Movement

Yes, fitness is available everywhere. You can always be active and move outside. But in all honesty, that doesn’t take the place of a full gym.

For many (myself included) the gym is a sanctuary. It’s a place where you can tune out all distractions and focus on yourself for around an hour.

Working out at home presents too many distractions, and it’s hard to dial in.

Also, your equipment will never measure up. When you only have a pair of 15-pound dumbells, it's hard to recreate benching hundreds of pounds.

There is also the mental health component: some people stay sane by being able to go to the gym — myself included.

Since so many were desperate for the gym, secret gyms were starting to operate. Not unlike the prohibition of the 1920s, people will risk health — and the law — to work out.

Where I live, a few friends have some decent home gym setups. They started allowing friends to come workout, then friends of friends.

Soon, they were scheduling times for people to come — even people they didn't know. I’ve heard stories of people driving two hours to get to one of these backdoor gyms.

People are crossing state lines to find a gym that they know is operating underground. It's almost like fitness clubs have become the new speakeasies of the 21st century.

With the home gyms, there has been a monetary exchange some of the time, but it was honestly about trying to help people out.

With some of these places, the demand to train in secret has been so overwhelming that the homeowner shut it all down.

The Problem When Fitness is Your Livelihood

For most of us, fitness is just a hobby. But for some, it’s a career.

Whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, fitness competitor, or model, your livelihood is based on your physique and appearance.

It’s imperative for them to stay on top of their conditioning. If you're used to deadlifting 500 pounds for competitions--it's hard to recreate that at home with those 15-pounds dumbbells.

People in this situation have been happy to pay a premium to work out in a gym alone. The gym owners have also been happy to get an income, as all memberships have had to be frozen.

Personal trainers haven’t been able to train one-on-one clients, and they halted group fitness classes.

All over the country, more and more of these underground gyms have been operating despite the restrictions.

Other gyms have been blacking out the front windows and letting people in through the backdoor. It’s of course been kept hush-hush.

Some locations have even taken to moving their equipment outdoors to allow people to train and to run group training sessions.

What About the Safety Aspect?

Some people have just been willing to risk this. I’ve been training at a backdoor gym at someone's house.

It’s only been one person at a time, everything is to be wiped down after each use, and hand sanitizer is plentiful.

I have no problem with that, as I’ve always been conscious of the level of bacteria, disease, and viruses that are rampant in gyms.

I’ve worked in some fitness clubs that look as clean as a hospital, but when we would get back the bacteria reports — it was shocking.

FYI: you may never want to use an exercise ball again, lay on a mat, or handle dumbbells and barbells without some form of glove…

With the secret gym movement happening during COVID-19, the cleanliness issue is still a problem, as there aren’t any regulations for something that is black market.

There are also big legal issues if someone was to get hurt in a gym that wasn’t supposed to be open.

Prohibition lasted more than a decade. The fitness prohibition has been less than a year. Gyms are opening back up — but with a lot of restrictions.

And then just as quickly they can close again.

Fitness clubs, where I live, are requiring people to book time slots. Many are still closed but the ones that are legally allowed to be open allow only a handful of members in at a time.

They always require masks and social distancing inside.

Even if this isn’t ideal, it’s a step in the right direction. The black market gym movement of quarantine reveals the risks people will take.

Reopening is happening in more and more places, but then they shut down just as soon as they open. It's become really frustrating.

As we are going through the winter, more and more gyms are closing, and these black-market gyms are in even more demand.

Depending on where you live, the winter weather is making it nearly et out impossible to get outside.

Simple activities like walking aren't even doable with the harsh winter conditions, so many people are left with almost no options if they want to get fit.

Fitness is a non-negotiable in the lives of many, and the underground fitness movement is a chance many have been willing to take.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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