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The future of fitness

Gym bunnies, moms and athletes alike have turned to the digital space for creative ways to keep moving during the lockdown. Has Covid-19 has changed the way we exercise?

When I found out gyms and athletics tracks had closed, and we weren’t allowed to exercise outside our homes, I feared I’d lose all the hard work I’d put into my training and the strong bonds I’d forged with a like-minded community of athletes. Some people say I’m mad for waking up at 5am every day to work out, but without that dose of feel-good hormones, I worried my mental health would deteriorate.

My husband and I had had to cancel an upcoming holiday to Zanzibar due to travel restrictions, so we decided to use some of our savings to buy an indoor cycle trainer. In layman’s terms, it transforms a regular bike into an indoor bike. You attach it to a machine, which connects to an app via Bluetooth where you can control things like the resistance and how much power you want to produce with your legs. Some of them can connect to apps like Zwift, which are virtual training tools that look a bit like video games and allow you to compete with other users around the world. Although it could never replace running, having an indoor trainer meant I could follow a training programme that involved speedwork, hills, and regular fitness tests to monitor my progress.

I watched YouTube videos for inspo, looped resistance bands around my staircase and used a toning ball for core strength. I even used the five-litre water bottles we’d stock-piled during the drought as weights. Who knew one crisis could help out in another?

With a little imagination, I could do most of my gym workouts at home. Plus, it was more convenient: my workout equipment was in the same one- bedroom apartment as a ‘café’, a ‘sleep pod’, a home office and a shower.

Even more surprising was the fact my beloved community still existed; it was just connecting in different ways. My gym’s frozen its memberships until the end of lockdown and posted free workout videos on its app, covering anything from boxing to meditation. Coaches are offering training sessions via Zoom such as spinning and pilates.

Major sporting events have been cancelled this year as they’re (obviously) mass public gatherings. So, the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon has launched a virtual race that’ll take place on 18 October. Participants will start the marathon at 6:30am, and an app will track them as if they’re running the race itself.

Then there’s Cape Town-based Atlantic Triathlon Club, who’ve been hosting cloud races every weekend. Participants choose between a duathlon or an individual cycle or run. They use a barcode to start the race online and indicate when they’ve finished each stage, and their results appear on a live leaderboard.

The majority of participants have bikes and can run, but the conditions are varied: one participant might have access to a straight road, while another is confined to a 10-metre balcony, so their results won’t be the same. With this in mind, the races are less about competing against other people and more about the athletes setting a benchmark for themselves during the first week, then aiming to improve their times as the weeks progress.

Covid-19 has changed the way I exercise. I can work out at home if I need to, and I’m impressed by how my community has adapted. But I’ll still go back to the gym because, for me, nothing beats face-to-face interaction: passing a fellow runner and sharing a knowing glance. After all, you’re connected by the same experience. Later, you’re in the changing room, talking about how incredible your workout was with someone who’s also been to the brink of physical exertion, and who’s just as sweaty as you – someone who gets it.

What are your options?

David Souter is a strength and conditioning coach and celebrity trainer who offers his clients on-demand workouts, meal plans and mental health strategies. “Via Zoom classes, I challenge my clients with bodyweight exercises that burn maximum kilojoules by working many muscle groups. It’s safe and effective yet fun,” he says.

The benefits

Privacy. You can turn your camera off, so no one else can see you working out.

Community spirit. Online classes bring people from all over the world together, no matter their fitness levels.

No pressure. You can workout at your own pace and stop to rest at any time. You could even start by doing half an online session and build from there.
A different view. Beginners who usually hide at the back of the class can see the instructor more clearly. You can also compare your position to the instructor’s, which is a good way to check if you’re getting it right.

It’s cheaper. By paying instructors directly, you cut out the middleman.
No need for childcare. Your kids can join in or watch you exercise.

Lose the shoes. You can train barefoot at home, which strengthens your ankles.


  1. YouTube workouts.
  2. Personal training.
  3. On-demand meal plans and workouts.
  4. Live fitness classes.
  5. Mobile fitness apps.

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