Photograph by Jack Kenyon

How muscle maniacs are coping without the gym

Here five fitness fanatics tell us how the continued closure of gyms is impacting both their physical and mental health.

Last Saturday, Brits welcomed the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers – a decision that undoubtedly left many a punter giddy with long-awaited joy. A cold pint! A sit down dinner! Shiny new roots! But gains-loving gym-goers haven’t been able to get back to business and have taken to Twitter to question the government’s decision to keep exercise facilities shut, citing not just their physical, but also their mental health as reasons they want to get back to the benches, barbells and squat racks.

So we rallied five muscle men to find out how they’re feeling without their freeweights. 

Julian Williams

Julian Williams is 31-years-old and would visit the gym up to six times a week – his gym of choice was Legends Gym in north London.

How did you feel when the gyms closed in early March? 

I was sure it wouldn’t last this long and so I wasn’t overly concerned. It took me a while to recognise that this was going to be a long-term thing and the effect it would have on me. 

How did you adapt? 

To begin with I was doing push-ups, pull-ups and dips on the bars in Victoria Park. Then they took the bars down and since then I’ve stopped. My partner got us some resistance bands to use at home and I’ve used them a little but to be honest, they frustrate me. I’m all or nothing in most things – I could do push-ups for hours but it wouldn’t be the same as three heavy sets on the bench press. If I do a little I just feel worse.

Has the gym closure had any impact on you mentally or physically?

I’m about 10kg lighter than I was at the beginning of March because I’m losing muscle and I’m eating less than when I train. People have told me they prefer how I look now that I’m slightly smaller but they miss the point that for me: working out was never about how I look to other people. 

People have told me they prefer how I look now that I’m slightly smaller but they miss the point that for me: working out was never about how I look to other people”

How do you feel about Boris’ Super Saturday decision?

I’m annoyed that the thing I need most will be the very last thing I’ll get back. But I don’t buy into the idea that it’s because the government wants us all to be overweight alcoholics. You can run a pub or a restaurant under social distancing rules and with strict hygiene much more easily than a gym. In my experience people tend to sweat and breathe heavily all over everything less in most pubs and restaurants than they do in the gym. 

What equipment are you most excited to use again once the gyms reopen?

A regular Olympic barbell and a load of 20kg plates. I can’t wait to deadlift.

Freddie Barker

Before lockdown, 27-year-old personal trainer Freddie Barker would visit his gym, BXR in Marylebone and Roger Gracie in Hammersmith, three times a week, and his ju jitsu studio five times a week.

How did you feel when the gyms closed in early March? 

I wasn’t too fussed. I assumed they would be back open in a month or so and I have equipment of my own, but now that month has turned into four, my training has suffered! But my body is thankful as it has needed a rest for a long time.

How did you adapt? 

I used some old school kettlebells, and also had just bought a bike.

Has the gym closure had any impact on you mentally or physically?

The gym not being open hasn’t had any mental impact on me, but physically I have lost muscle. Not being able to train and compete in jiu jitsu is killing me, though – especially for how it mentally challenges and exhausts me. 

Not being able to train and compete in jiu jitsu is killing me, though – especially for how it mentally challenges and exhausts me”

How do you feel about Boris’ Super Saturday decision?

I don’t blame him… if I had to look at all these happy-go-lucky robot influencers doing Insta live workouts, I’d try to keep them as far away from the public as possible.

What equipment are you most excited to use again once the gyms reopen?

Leg press and assault bike. 

Kamanii Marrett

29-year-old Kamanii Marrett would visit the gym up to four times a week for a sense of escapism. Shoreditch House’s gym was his pumping playground of choice.

How did you feel when the gyms closed in early March? 

As annoying as it was, it was inevitable that gyms were going to close, as with everything else, when the lockdown started. My frustrations have been with the fact that I’m unable to buy gym equipment to have and use at home because everything has sold out for the last three months. 

How did you adapt? 

I started running around my local park but I hated it and found it boring, so then I started skipping, which I’m now obsessed with. I’ve been doing a lot of body weight training which I’ve been watching via fitness pages on Instagram and I’ve been using two five litre bottles of water as weights. 

Has the gym closure had any impact on you mentally or physically?

Frustration and anger due to lack of gym equipment online aside, not going to the gym has definitely impacted my mental health. The gym is a form of escapism for me. I’ve been very discontent with being confined to the four walls of my home for the last three weeks with no opportunity to work off the feeling.

Not going to the gym has definitely impacted my mental health. The gym is a form of escapism for me”

How do you feel about Boris’ Super Saturday decision?

As much as I’d like to go back to the gym, I would like to see how it would work first. My gym is very small so I can’t even wrap my head around how it would be a safe environment to work out in right now. With that being said, I also think reopening pubs is a bad idea but only time will tell.

What equipment are you most excited to use again once the gyms reopen?

I miss the free weights but I’m most excited to use the sauna and steam room – which sounds like such a bad idea right now. 

Jason Bascome

From Bermuda but now living in south east London, 33-year-old personal trainer Jason Bascome would visit Nuffield Health Gym in Wandsworth, and The Gym in Vauxhall up to six times a week.

How did you feel when the gyms closed in early March? 

My first thoughts immediately went to how can I keep my client base active? Do people even want to train? And how can I keep them engaged and motivated? And, lastly, how do I stay motivated at the same time to accomplish all of this? 

How did you adapt? 

I trained clients using alternative methods to interact like Zoom. Since 21st June I’ve been providing one-on-one circuit training sessions in Crystal Palace Park and Clapham Common Park. I’ve changed up my workout routines slightly, incorporating different methods that I don’t really get to try when I’m at the gym like EMOM (every minute on the minute), HIIT (high intensity interval training), using an agility ladder and even doing yoga.

Has the gym closure had any impact on you mentally or physically?

I now exercise 3 – 4 days a week. Mentally I’m a strong guy luckily but being stationary in one spot has tested me – my strategy is to take one day at a time. Physically, I feel like I am not in my best shape.

Mentally I’m a strong guy luckily but being stationary in one spot has tested me – my strategy is to take one day at a time. Physically, I feel like I am not in my best shape”

How do you feel about Boris’ Super Saturday decision?

It just shows you where his priorities lie. I think letting pubs and restaurants to reopen while keeping exercise facilities closed could lead to people becoming more at risk of Covid-19. Reopening pubs over health and well-being facilities doesn’t make practical sense to me!

What equipment are you most excited to use again once the gyms reopen?

The Smith machine and swimming a few laps in the pool. 

Matthew Dawson

26-year-old Matthew Dawson would regularly visit fitness chain Gymbox 5 – 6 times a week before lockdown.

How did you feel when the gyms closed in early March?

I thought it would be short-term, so I didn’t panic too much.

How did you adapt?

I got conned on an Instagram ad for resistance bands! I now use the Fiit app and run to Chromatica!

Has the gym closure had any impact on you mentally or physically?

I’m all-or-nothing, so I’ve struggled to stay motivated with home workouts. The gym helps me feel in control across different aspects of my life, but I can see the bigger picture. Some weeks are good, some weeks are bad.

I’ve struggled to stay motivated with home workouts. The gym helps me feel in control…some weeks are good, some weeks are bad”

How do you feel about Boris’ Super Saturday decision?

I don’t even like pubs! 

What equipment are you most excited to use again once the gyms reopen?

The squat rack because of my gluteus maximus.


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