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Fitness from a Distance


Coronavirus does not discriminate.

Both in terms of who it infects and who it impacts.

Aside from the public health risk, the virus has caused major disruption for countless workers. Many businesses have been left with no choice but to lay off staff. One area which will take a hit economically is the fitness industry. Many coaches and personal trainers are self-employed with no alternative income sources. Shayne Quigg, founder of Rebuild Fitness in Kilrea has had to close his gym due to the crisis. He made the decision to close when the reality of the pandemic became clear and in-person classes were no longer safe. This decision was difficult for him to make, considering the impact on himself and his clients.

“I was conflicted, I didn’t know whether to open or close. My clients were telling me to open because a lot of my clients go for the mental benefits as much as the physical. There was no government guidance at this time. I was left with a moral question, do I keep going and earn some money, or do I effectively make myself redundant by sending one message? I had to pull the doors down and it was a hard decision. I’m sitting here now, and I fully don’t expect to be in the gym again until July.”

Under normal circumstances, Shayne leads classes every weekday for people from a wide range of ages and abilities. Whilst increasing people’s fitness is important, there is also a strong social element to his classes. Going to the gym on your own can be a lonely experience. It can be difficult to motivate yourself and achieve your best results with no one pushing you on. Fitness tastes have changed in recent times with more people training in groups with a dedicated coach. Exercise is becoming a more collective and less individualist pursuit. Increased fitness is important, but membership of a strong supportive community can be just as vital.

For the sake of his business and clients, Shayne knew he needed to innovate somehow. He asked himself;

“How the hell do you do something that keeps a bit of money coming in so that you can cover your overheads? Something that when this crisis is over, I still have a business and a community to go back to.”

One of these regulars is Conor, a 25-year-old musician.

“The change to the Zoom classes was a bit weird at the start. I needed to think about what room to use and make plenty of space. But once you get going in the class you’re too focused to think about any of that. It just becomes a normal class. It’s also great to see some of the older members embracing the new technology and staying part of the community.”

The social benefits of exercise can be just as important as the physical gains. Mental health and physical health do not exist independently of each other. They don’t always perfectly align but training consistently alongside dedicated people has obvious benefits. Shayne said;

“If ever there was a perfect chance for you to focus on the other aspects of health and wellbeing this is it. You can focus on your sleep quality, step count, nutrition, hydration and being a good person.”

If you aren’t in a fitness group and prefer exercising alone, there’s still plenty you can do. Press ups are a simple and effective exercise that can be done in the safe confines of your bedroom. Jamie Bryson has challenged his followers to upload a video of them doing 20 press ups. I’m not suggesting we all do that but holding yourself accountable is good for sticking to plans. Shayne stressed the importance of using your time well during this period.

“People need something to buy in to. They will need something in the next few weeks. All you’ll have is the four walls of your house, the local grocery shop and a bit of exercise.”

There’s temptation in every cupboard during isolation. When you’re spending all day in doors it’s possible for your diet to falter. No one’s going to tell you off for indulging, you’re free to do what you please. However, there’s the danger that treats can become the norm. If you find yourself having a Coke with your breakfast, or polishing off the stockpiled chocolate, it’s time to take stock. Habits like these can undo the benefits of exercise and sap motivation. Takeaways and restaurants have closed, leaving us to make do with the necessities. Introducing changes like adding fruit to porridge and substituting fizzy drinks with water will go a long way during this crisis.

The outbreak of coronavirus has reiterated that in business, and in life, nothing can be taken for granted. There is a new normal these days and we have no choice but to adjust to it, however hard that may be. The fitness industry is changing, and we need to change too for our own health and wellbeing. Incremental changes such as substituting your YouTube binges for some kettlebell swings could yield significant long-term results. Shayne and trainers like him are doing all they can to prevent a post-coronavirus obesity crisis. It’s up to us to live well during this period, stay connected and stay healthy.


Mark McKillen a 22 year old MA journalism student at Ulster University Coleraine. History and Politics graduate from Queen's University Belfast.

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