Have lockdowns killed off gyms or will they be more popular than ever?

We explore the new normal of fitness routines.

For Steph Claire Smith, the reasons for choosing to work out at home are plenty. But there is a clear favourite. “You can just roll out of bed and work out in your PJs,” she says, laughing.

“It’s as simple as that. At the end of my bed, I’ll start with yoga or Pilates, and I definitely don’t feel the need to get into my activewear every single time.”

She is far from alone in her thinking, either. Long before the pandemic hit and gyms were forced to shut their doors and freeze memberships, millions of Australians were already embracing at-home workouts for any number of reasons: class schedules that didn’t jibe with their working hours, poor proximity to gyms, social anxiety… the list goes on.

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But for the gym bunnies who were suddenly stuck inside 24/7, wondering just how they were going to continue to stay fit and healthy, there were some worries.

Sure, they could go for a walk or run, but what about replicating the Zen from 45 minutes of yoga, or that Tabata burn?

Cue apps like KIC (Keep It Cleaner), the workout program that Melbourne-based model and fitness entrepreneur Smith successfully launched and co-founded with fellow influencer Laura Henshaw in 2018.

The virtual training program features everything from HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and boxing to Pilates and meditation, guided by trainers and instructors.

Smith, 27, says its biggest advantage is that you can work out “anywhere at any time. And as a new mum [her son Harvey was born in May], there’s no way I could book into a class right now. I need the flexibility.

Plus, some people aren’t confident working out in front of others. And if that’s a roadblock for you to move your body, you can work out in the comfort of your own home.”

Prompted by Covid, gyms and trainers around the country followed Smith’s lead, live-streaming or pre-recording classes to keep their members active (and their bottom lines replenished). Some loaned out their equipment, while others started offering personal training via FaceTime.

Ben Lucas, director of Sydney fitness studio Flow Athletic, tells Body+Soul it was an incredibly challenging time.

While his business was successful in adapting and pivoting to online offerings, Lucas admits he had to dip into his savings to pay the bills and his staff. Financially speaking, he says, “It will take a few years to recover. It will be a great day when we can all return to the gym.”

But what will gyms look and feel like when they reopen in the not-too- distant future?

Expect factors like the requirement of vaccine passports, smaller class sizes, a one-person-per-four-square- metres rule, and additional deep cleaning and far more extreme hygiene practices.

These businesses have become “masters at juggling the many challenges of Covid”, says Jess Sullivan, who owns an F45 studio in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo.

But despite the popularity of digital offerings, she is anticipating “demand to be crazy. There is no replacement for face-to-face coaching, and you can’t beat the energy of the studio. Having a dedicated training location means you walk in the door and you can forget about work, kids, what’s for dinner… and focus just on you. No interruptions.”

Perth-based sports psychologist Shayne Hanks, founder and director of Performance Boost, agrees. “From an exercise-psychology perspective, what we know works is group settings – the probability of exercising is increased, mostly because of accountability,” he tells Body+Soul.

“For a lot of people, these sporting settings become a part of their identity and culture, the sense of being part of a tribe. I think people will still want to be around others who share their interests, and understand their goals and aspirations.”

Smith asserts, however, that there’s no reason to pick favourites – because the beauty of apps such as KIC lies in the fact that they’re about complementing other forms of exercise. “It has felt really good to know that we’ve been able to bring movement and motivation to people in times like these,” she says.

“But we also understand there’s a reason why the fitness industry is as big as it is. Because there’s got to be something for everyone.”

Home or away?


“When lockdown lifts, you’ll find me at the hairdressers, nail salon and my favourite restaurants. Where you won’t find me is the gym. We’ve all done a lot of upskilling during this period, and when it comes to working out I’ve found my groove… at home.

I serendipitously received an Apple Watch just ahead of the Delta outbreak in Sydney in June, and having spent the past few lockdowns overdoing the carbs and overpouring the wine, I decided this one would be different.

Now, months later, I work out every day. I’m obsessed with keeping my step count up and regularly complete workouts using Kayla Itsines’ Sweat app or yoga sessions on Apple Fitness+. With a long work commute and busy schedule, I found it all too easy before lockdown to drive on past the gym.

But when my living room is my workout studio and the great outdoors my treadmill, I have no excuse to skip a workout.”

Bree Player, features & lifestyle editor

Pro gym

“Knock me over with a medicine ball and call me a masochist because I love to be yelled at – by a fitness trainer, that is. I love sweating it out and pushing myself to my limit only for the trainer to scream, ‘You can’t stop now, give me five more burpees. Don’t you dare cry. COME ON!’ And I’ll moan and curse, but I’ll still do it. Because my limit when I’m working out alone is never my real limit.

There’s nothing like an instructor yelling at you to really bring out your reserves. There’s a heady rush when you’re all there with the same goal: to get the perfect gym selfie. Just kidding.

I miss my gym buddies, too. We normally moan and complain about how the trainer is torturing us, which is a terrific bonding experience. We’ve tried working out over Zoom together, but it’s just not the same. That’s why I can’t wait for the gyms to open and let me back into their warm – albeit stinky – embrace.”

Adrienne Tam, senior features writer

Keep it simple

Keep It Cleaner head trainer Danny Kennedy shares some tips to get the most out of this easy at-home workout.

This is a beginner, low- impact, full-body workout. It will take you 20 minutes. There are two rounds of 10 exercises to complete. Do each exercise for 45 seconds, followed by a 15-second rest.

Complete all 10 exercises, then repeat.

  • PLANK: Lying face-down, lift up on to your forearms (shoulder-width apart) and toes. Hold your body straight and level off the ground. Keep your core engaged and don’t let your hips or lower back dip.
  • SQUATS: Chin down, push your hips back, force your knees out and finish with glutes “on” at the top.
  • SUMO SQUAT PULSES: Form a wide squat position, pulse between a deep squat and halfway standing.
  • HIP THRUSTS: Plant your feet on the ground, push through your heels, squeeze your glutes at the top and slowly control on the way down.
  • ALTERNATING FORWARD LUNGES: Step one leg forward, keep your weight through the front heel, chest slightly leaning forward, pelvis tucked back then drop straight down. Push back with your front heel to stand up straight. Alternate sides.
  • MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS: In a plank position, bring one knee to your elbow. Keep your back straight and your core engaged. Alternate legs.
  • BIKE CRUNCHES: Crunch, twist through your core and drive your shoulder to your opposite hip. Alternate sides.
  • WALL SIT: With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down against a wall, your legs bent in front of you and making sure your weight is through your heels.
  • GRAVEYARDS: Start in a plank position on your hands. Come down on to your forearms one at a time, then back up to your hands.
  • TRICEP DIPS: Palms down, gripping the edge of a chair, lower yourself down until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Exhale to push back up.

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