The topic of working out and creating a home gym has been hot since the start of the pandemic. Since last March, I’ve seen a countless number of articles and stories about how people have been keeping active, that they’ve started working out at home and how they’ve taken advantage of quarantine to better themselves and their bodies through physical activity and eating healthily.
It’s phenomenal what people have accomplished during lockdown without the gym and how they’re maintaining that level of activity since most gyms have opened back up. From social media and trending topics on news sites, there seems to be a significant amount of people who have strengthened and prospered in their relationships with working out.
I am not one of those people.
Before quarantine, going to the gym and working out was something I loved doing. I started in the summer of 2019 and continued to work out at least five days a week until the end of February of 2020. My body had never looked or felt better. I would leave the gym feeling happier and with the energy to start my day. My confidence and physical abilities grew; I’d feel extremely powerful when I beat a lifting goal or ran a bit longer without losing my breath.
Spring break and midterms were coming up by the end of February and working out became less of a priority, but I told myself I’d continue working out after I got back from break.
Spoiler alert — that didn’t happen.
Suddenly all of the gyms were closed and everyone had to remain indoors; who had time to think about working out when the fear of the Coronavirus hit us like a truck? The lazy part of myself was relieved — I didn’t have to get out and force myself to exert energy just to be sore the next day.
I didn’t realize until the beginning of July just how much my lack of working out had caught up to me. My weight does not define me and definitely was not the most important focus of the pandemic; however, my mental health, motivation and general energy suffered due to not staying active.
The body image issues I had tried so hard to overcome from high school slowly crept back into my head, especially when I’d see posts from people on Instagram or TikTok achieving extreme home workouts. It wasn’t a surprise I started feeling like this: countless studies have shown that exercising improves mental health, your sleep schedule, anxiety, depression and more. It’s annoying how much consistently waking up early and working out makes you feel better.
Article after article throughout this entire pandemic has focused on how to get fit during quarantine or how to build up muscle or how to lose that bit of lockdown weight. We were being bombarded with success stories, telling us to do something and stay active during a time of extreme stress and preliminary trauma.
All of the positivity around working out from home started to get to my head, so I did just that. I bought the clothes, the hand weights, the bands, the yoga mat. I downloaded the Nike fitness app and bought expensive protein powder and got started with support from my friends. Everything seemed perfect, everything was right. Every day after my summer internship, I’d complete a home work out for about an hour, maybe take a walk, then drink my protein shake and go on with my evening.
But I hated it.
Working out from home felt like a burden, and the hot summer months made running or walking miserable. I missed the air-conditioned gym on my college campus where I knew which machines to use and how to use them. Using only my body and a few hand weights to “lift” and build back some muscle was impossible, I couldn’t focus on it. I became angry that I wasn’t enjoying it like I used to, and the fact that I couldn’t see any difference in my body was infuriating. I gave up, stopped before school started and forced myself not to think twice about exercising. I’d eat well and ate my fruits and veggies to at least have a healthy diet.
When the gyms opened back up, I refused to go for safety reasons, but after a while and some encouragement from a friend, I decided to once again try again. This is the stage I’m currently in, trying to get back to normal but staying home more often in the evenings instead of going to the gym. I love the act of exercising and the burn that comes with it one day, and can barely get off the couch the next when it’s time to work out. I did everything “right,” but don’t have one of those success stories I’d read about at the beginning, middle and (almost) end of quarantine. And I feel like I can’t be alone in my struggles or my comparison of my body from before quarantine to now.
My weight fluctuation should have been the least important part of quarantine — I should’ve just been focusing on staying healthy and alive. But it became a sick infatuation instead of a love of staying active. The amount of news and entertainment outlets that focused on staying in shape and losing weight when we were in the middle of a pandemic just perpetuates the idea that weight gain equals bad. Of course, people wanted to stay active and healthy, but I don’t think there should have been such a strong focus on the matter when there were bigger things going on.
If you Google “quarantine weight,” only one of the articles that pops up on the first page is about not being ashamed of your additional quarantine 15 or 20 or 30. My relationship with exercising has been negatively altered by society’s obsession with not gaining weight during the pandemic. It felt like I was being told that if I wasn’t working out during quarantine, then I was lazy and unproductive. I failed to consider all that I, and everybody else who didn’t have access to an expensive home gym, was going through: a literal deadly pandemic.
That amount of stress and trauma will definitely affect us in the future, and adding onto that by obsessing overweight will not help. We should’ve been — and still need to be — kind to ourselves and our bodies.
I hope that this change of how I view the gym is temporary. Instead of my mind being filled with “should have’s” and “needed to’s” that the obsession with working out from home brought me, I hope it can be filled with kindness and grace for myself.
I will continue going to the gym since I know every aspect of myself feels better when I do, but we as a society should not feel ashamed of our quarantine weight gain or feel guilty about not working out during lockdown.
Body image is tricky, but this is the time to think about our lives after the pandemic ends, and that stage should not begin with negativity, but rather gratefulness.
I am grateful that I am alive and healthy, no matter what weight I am.