I can go back to the gym now – but do I really want to?

Fit in my 40s

What’s the atmosphere, is everyone masked, do you feel as if you’re dicing with death?

It’s funny how, when there’s a huge array of things you’re not allowed to do, you simply forget about them. I haven’t missed the gym day-to-day: unlike the guys in the park, who were lugging around their own weights and trying to do pull-ups on branches, I’ve never had a fixed gym routine. What I’ve missed most is the country club-style experience, where there’s a creche and a tennis court and a bar where fancy mums come for the smoothies and stay for the prosecco. But then I only ever went to a gym like that once in my life.

What’s the regular gym like now? That’s the question. Well, that’s part of the question: what’s the atmosphere, is everyone masked, do you feel as if you’re dicing with death? The more important part is, was this ever a real, worthwhile pursuit – gathering more and more equipment into one place so we could worship at it? Or was it just a peculiar consumer evolution which, once we’d had the jolt of exercising outdoors, would seem very last century?

On the first question, it must depend on where you go and at what time. So many people on social media and IRL have complained about maskless scofflaws and the impossibility of social distancing, but in my nearest local authority gym – three visits, all in office hours (but who goes to the office anyway?) – it felt like a secret society only I and three other people knew about. People wore masks going from place to place, but took them off while on machines, which seemed fair enough. It was a bit hallowed and whispery, more like a disused church of historical interest than a gym, and I missed those bursts of random noise you get when a bunch of endorphined people troop out of a class.

The bad news for the industry is that the weights machines seem obsolete now. If there’s one thing we all realised in lockdown, it’s how much pain we can inflict on ourselves just with our own bodyweight; sure, deadlifts are cool, but have you ever tried a push-up? And so on.


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