The student experience with exercise during COVID-19

Since NYU gyms are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, students are getting creative with their exercise routines to maintain their physical fitness and mental health.

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Alexandra Chan

404 Fitness serves as the popular gym for NYU students. With gyms still closed, students have become more creative with exercise routines during COVID-19. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

By Sabiq Shahidullah, Staff Writer

When most gyms were closed, and people were stuck at home, the sedentary lifestyle had never been more prevalent. Since the start of the pandemic, 42% of American adults experienced weight gain, while 18% reported weight loss.

America’s health shifts go beyond weight change. In January 2021, over 40% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to 11% in 2019. The mental health crisis increased due to job loss, isolation and other factors related to the pandemic. 

Exercise is essential to everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing during stressful times.  Regular workouts strengthen the immune system and offset the effects of a stationary lifestyle. Exercise reduces stress and anxiety while presenting an opportunity to go outside and enjoy the fresh air.

While going to the gym has been put on pause for many, students like Stern sophomore Gamal Zaky are finding ways to stay in shape at home. 

“The pandemic actually allowed me to develop a workout routine I was able to stick with,” Zaky said. “Working out at gyms can get difficult because they’re always so busy. But at home, I have no excuse to not exercise. I’ve also been able to try different workout plans to see what works best for me.”

The lack of equipment and space can make home workouts feel restricted. Some students have found creative ways to turn their small apartments into home gyms. Zaky invested in a pull-up and dip bar for his current workouts. 

He also focuses on Calisthenics, a type of bodyweight exercise that is convenient because it does not require a lot of space or equipment to get started. It can also be done at playgrounds and parks, but with the harsh New York winters, outdoor workouts can be a struggle.

“The bars were too cold to grip and the extra clothes I had to wear limited my range of motion,” Zaky said. “Exercising outside is so helpful because there’s more space to move around without having to worry about noise. The winter definitely limited my options, so I’m looking forward to the warmer weather.”

However, with summer coming and vaccinations on the rise, going to the gym is becoming a  normal practice once again. While students found effective at home workouts, there is a communal aspect that is missing from at-home workouts. 

Zaky mentioned that he was excited to work out with his friends, something he hadn’t been able to do when all gyms were closed. 

NYU’s Palladium and 404 gyms remain closed, but many non-NYU gyms have reopened with limited capacity and social distancing measures. While people are glad to be back in the gym, students like as Liberal Studies sophomore Christian Wentzel say the experience has changed.

“I used to go to the gym every day at any time. My main concerns were being able to use the machines I wanted during busy hours,” Wentzel said. “Now, I have to schedule an appointment in advance if I want to go.”

Many gyms require attendees to reserve a timeslot beforehand to prevent the risk of viral spread of COVID-19. Blink Fitness, for example, allows limited walk-ins before 2 p.m. but is appointment-only after that. Other safety measures include a mask requirement, wet wipe stations and machines closed for distancing. 

With so many necessary logistical modifications, the experience can be tedious for frequent gym-goers.

“My workouts have been pretty good, but the lines to get into the gym can get really long. You have to wait for other people to leave before you enter, which can take up to half an hour during busy times,” Wentzel said. “The reservation system definitely makes the lines shorter. But the appointments fill up so quickly. You have to reserve a timeslot two to three days in advance.”

Even with strict safety measures, people should be wary when going to the gym. Crowded fitness centers have been a source of COVID-19 transmission in the past. Not all attendees take necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from spreading the virus. 

“They have become more socially distant and the staff is always cleaning the machines, but I still don’t think it’s completely COVID-safe,” Wentzel said. “People stand pretty close to each other in the free weight area. Most people don’t clean the dumbbells or bars after use.”

Gyms must ensure adherence to safety guidelines, especially in areas that include open movement exercises. NYU has warned against group exercise in enclosed areas. But with the city’s reinstatement of indoor fitness classes, gyms with regular occupancy could return soon. 

Email Sabiq Shahidullah at [email protected]