Pouring rain, below-zero temps, heat waves: Die-hard exercisers are known for working out in extreme conditions. But snow is one thing – what about a category 1 hurricane? As hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, the most dedicated (or a little crazy?) fit folk say they’re not going to let some wind slow them down. Even if that wind is predicted to be 85-115 miles per hour.
I’ll admit it: When I first got this story assignment to write about the effect of hurricane Sandy on people’s workouts, my first thought was “Who cares about workouts?! Shouldn’t we be asking them if they’re safe and know where the waterproof matches are??” I even felt a wee bit sheepish posting my query on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to do a short interview on how the hurricane had changed their workout plans. But as dozens of people responded and as the day went on and I talked to lots of gym owners/managers and fit folks, I began to see the importance in the story. Of course personal safety and survival come first. I hope that all of you and your loved ones in the path of the hurricane are safe and sound and taking appropriate precautions! But I learned two important things:
1. Fitness is a place of safety for many people, myself included. Whether it is because of the routine that your workout provides or whether it is because of the personal strength, inner and outer, that exercising fortifies you with (both?), for a lot of people, fitness is playing a big part in how they react to the storm in particular and to difficulties in general.
2. It says a lot about the importance we place on personal fitness in our society.
It all goes back to where the story started: With the announcement from Equinox gyms that not only would they be staying open come hell or high water (literally) but they were offering free workouts to anyone who felt like braving the storm.
“There’s a lot of shock and appreciation from our members but so far it’s one of the busiest days this year,” explained Ronnie Gallant, the assistant general manager of Equinox Greenwich in New York City when I called to ask him about the chain’s controversial decision to stay open. “I think it’s a combination of most people not having to work today and people wanting to get their workout in before the brunt of the storm.” Then he added that even though most other gyms like Crunch and New York Sports Clubs closed for weather, Equinox felt it was important to to “be there for their members.” He added that the goal was not to encourage people to take unnecessary safety risks but rather “to keep all the gyms open for normal hours on a normal schedule. We just want to provide a sense of normalcy for people.”
While I wasn’t sure that offering free workouts was the best way to encourage people to make the healthiest decision, I could see where they were coming from. (Well that and – let’s not be naive – the insane amount of marketing they’re getting out of this.) I go to the gym to help me deal when I’m sad, scared, stressed out or angry. Living in Minnesota, taking a long walk outside isn’t always an option (plus I have the childcare issue!) so being able to work out my feelings in a safe place has got me through a lot of hard times in the past. Whether it’s been pounding the weights to get out some aggression towards a boss I can’t confront or sweating out my anxiety in a kickboxing class surrounded by my friends, I definitely use the gym as therapy. Plus, you guys know this, having the routine of knowing I’ll get that endorphin release, see my friends, get a break from my kids and have some time to think is sometimes my lifeline during a crazy day. And while this has led to some overexercising issues for me in the past – it becomes a real problem when your only method for dealing with anxiety is to workout – I can understand how this is so important to people.
In previous times people may have congregated at a church, civic hall, Elks club or some other social establishment but thanks to the nature of our modern Internet-dispersed society, the gym is one of the few places you’re actually required to be physically present to participate! While I think it also says a lot about the undue importance we place on physical perfection and the lengths people will go to achieve it – I got at least half a dozen responses from people saying they completed their usual run as usual, even if that meant running amongst falling branches and pelting rain – I also think it shows how gyms have become one of the main hubs of our culture and exercise one of the most common shared experiences.
But enough about me, me, me already! (I’m not even in the path of the storm!) And enough about the Equinox members who, according to all the managers I talked to, were, as a whole, thrilled. How was the Equinox staff feeling about being called in to work on a day when the New York City Stock Exchange and the entire public transit system was shut down? Gallant explained that employees were given a choice of whether or not they wanted to come in. “We’re very fortunate; Equinox is a lifestyle for our employees too. Most of them chose to come in anyhow and they brought extra clothes and food. Plus it’s not a typical workday so most of them were excited to come in.” He adds that they did make preparations for other contingencies. “We have water, food supplies. Since we knew about this in advance we also partnered with other businesses in the neighborhood that are staying open.”
And what about individuals? I got a wide variety of answers when I asked people how the hurricane was affecting their workout.
A few chose to hit the gym anyhow but most of those who answered saying they were still working out, switched to home workouts. Mostly this meant DVDs or laptop workouts or improvised circuits in the case of intermittent power – one friend posted “Be careful running on the treadmill during a storm. The power might flicker, bringing the treadmill to a sudden halt, and you might trip…just saying.”
Another tactic was to take the storm in stride and take it as a sign to take a rest day or two. Another friend posted “If it takes an act of God to make me take a break from marathon training, I should probably listen!” Most people were practical, saying they’d be fine missing a few workouts.
Still others, especially those with young kids, chose to take the time to focus on keeping their families safe and happy. And then there was this: I guess I have “the not-so-popular vacuum-the-whole-house-and-deep-clean-three-bathrooms workout to keep me busy!” My kind of girl! And it probably would take a hurricane to make me deep clean my boy’s bathroom.
After all of this though, I was talking to my sister on the phone. She pointed out that she thought I was asking the wrong question. “Rather than asking people how the hurricane affected their workouts, you should have asked them how working out affected the way they dealt with the storm. Does being physically stronger make people feel more prepared for unpredictable weather? Does working out give them more self confidence to make hard choices?” Of course she’s right. So now I’m asking you:
How has your fitness affected how you deal with disasters, both natural and unnatural (?!) in your life? Did you workout in spite of Hurricane Sandy? Or because of it? Or focus on other things? But most importantly: How are you all doing?! Everyone okay?
And here’s my full article at Shape if you’re interested in reading more!