On a Thursday afternoon at Fisher Hill Reservoir Park, trainees meet to start their one-hour free fitness class led by Victor Oks, personal trainer at Brookline-based fitness center Gray’s Anatomy Inc.
“We’re trying to provide options for the community to stay active during COVID that are accessible for everybody,” said Zack Gray, 27, owner of Gray’s Anatomy.
With spring weather arriving in Boston, outdoor classes are one way gyms are encouraging current and potential clients to stay active.
“Our outdoor classes are convenient, they’re walkable and our trainers are able to accommodate all individuals,” said Gray.
Barre3, a U.S. fitness franchise, will begin outdoor classes on May 1 after hosting outdoor classes last summer, according to Simone Bernstein, 28, owner of the Brookline branch.
“It’s a nice opportunity to connect with nature, especially [for] people who sit inside on a computer all day,” she said. “It’s nice to combine your hour of exercise with fresh air and sunshine.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adult Americans exercise at least two hours per week, ideally incorporating moderate aerobic activity and strength training. However, lifestyle changes as a result of the pandemic — ranging from increasing stress levels to indoor gym restrictions — are affecting how people exercise.
“During the winter, I was not able to exercise, and at work I sit all day,” said Vivek Allu, 33, during the Gray’s Anatomy outdoor session.
Allu’s desk job means he spends most of his day working on Zoom, despite using at-home fitness apps. Allu says he will continue to attend the bootcamp sessions due to the warmer weather and because he enjoys learning new techniques.
“I was always exercising at home, but not doing outdoor exercises was not easy and made me lose some body muscle,” said Allu, a Waltham resident who works for a software company.
Half of Americans reported being less active during the pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a nonprofit fitness industry trade association.
Lack of exercise and prolonged sitting periods can impact physical health such as weight gain. During the pandemic, 34.37% of surveyed Massachusetts residents gained weight, according to a 2021 research study by RunRepeat, an athletic footwear review company.
After shutting down in-person operations in March 2020, Barre3 in Brookline also expects to resume indoor classes next month. Live-streamed and outdoor classes helped the studio attract new clients, in addition to offering a different workout environment for existing clients.
“We have our members, but also lots of people who are ready to get out, to try something new and support local businesses,” Bernstein said.
The gym industry lost $13.9 billion in 2020, leading to employee layoffs and bankruptcy for many gyms, according to an October 2020 report by the IHRSA.
As people spend more time at home, gyms and class-focused health clubs also saw an uptick in competition from fitness apps and at-home workout machine companies such as Peloton. Sixty-eight percent of Americans said they are much less likely to go back to the gym based on what they know about COVID-19, according to an April 2020 survey from Statista, a market and consumer data analysis company.
Fitness centers are finding alternative ways to provide exercise sessions, not only through outdoor fitness classes, but also online classes, facilitated by Zoom and other live-streaming services. But outdoor classes provide the in-person element, which is difficult to replicate online, Bernstein maintained.
“There’s a lot of Zoom fatigue,” she said. “The last thing you want to do after a long day is hop on a workout class on Zoom as well.”
Gray’s Anatomy began offering outdoor bootcamp classes on April 12 in Fisher Hill Reservoir Park in Brookline and Nahanton Park and Albemarle Field in Newton. The fitness company will also host a charity flag football event at the Ridley School May 1, benefitting the Boys and Girls Club in Roxbury.
As of April 19, all adults in Massachusetts are eligible to take the COVID-19 vaccine, which could mean a return to the gym for many people.
“The eagerness to get back into social activity is definitely present,” said Gray. “As people become more vaccinated, they’re more comfortable doing things in a social setting.”
The warmer weather also provides more and more opportunities for residents to start — or resume — fitness activities.
“We’re hoping for good weather this summer,” said Bernstein. “We’ll be masked and have our awesome music.”
Khadijah Khogeer is a Boston University journalism student writing as part of a collaboration between the Brookline TAB and BU News Service.