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A love letter to Canberra gyms

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I think it’s safe to say that COVID has affected all of our fitness regimes in one way or another.

Some mourned the closure of their gyms, counting down the days until they could return and finally commencing their routines with glee.

Others are loving their at-home workouts and the convenience of on-demand, online fitness that can be accessed from the comfort and privacy of their loungerooms or garages.

Many took a break from fitness altogether, shunning the idea of a “lockdown glow-up” in favour of rest, or a slower approach to well-rounded health.

While I was very pleased to hear that gyms reopened in Canberra, I also understand some people’s trepidation in returning.

I write this from London, where gyms are still very much closed. As much as I miss my gym workouts, I can confidently say that even if they opened tomorrow, I wouldn’t be going back. London still has many active cases of COVID, and we all need to exercise a degree of caution.

However, not all gyms will be reopening. Globally, many are facing the real possibility of having to shut their doors permanently. There’s research coming out that indicates that many Australians, particularly Australian women, may not be continuing or renewing their gym membership after lockdown.

To be honest, I can understand why. “Gymtimidation” is a real thing, and working out from the privacy of your home can feel safe. Many of us have invested in home fitness equipment and subscriptions and have established new routines.

But here’s the thing: gyms aren’t just about fitness. And every time I’ve read an article about a gym or studio struggling or being forced to permanently close, I think of Canberra.

I think of all the gyms that I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in, the communities who opened their arms to me, and the dedicated, knowledgable instructors who were kind enough to spare their time and passion.

They’re not just about the infrastructure (although let’s be honest, a lot of the gyms in Canberra are packed with incredible equipment). Personally, the gym has always been my escape. It’s the place that I press pause on my worries and doubts, and I fully focus on becoming stronger.

It’’s the place where I felt powerful. I’ve been able to replicate that feeling in all kinds of gyms in the UK and Europe, but when it comes to my loungeroom, it’s just not the same.

When you’re home is a place where you like to be comfortable, it can be challenging to push yourself into a place of discomfort—and it’s that discomfort that helps you to improve.

It’s also about the people: the coaches, the personal trainers, the instructors, who can completely transform your experience of fitness. Whether it’s helping you learn the technique and form that becomes the foundation of your strength, or leading you through a dance routine that makes you feel amazing, a good instructor can have an intense and lasting impact on your relationship with fitness.

And then there’s the community. As much as people fear the judgement of others in a gym setting, my experience is that far more often, they’re a place of support and camaraderie—and I believe this is particularly the case for Canberra.

I’ve seen people build friendships and relationships with people they’ve met in the gym, fostered on shared experiences and common interests. It can be really challenging to make new friends as an adult, but the gym gives you the perfect opportunity to get to know people and expand your friendship circle. Some of the greatest people I know, I’ve met in personal training sessions, classes, or fitness events.

Gyms aren’t just a place to score a PB or torch a few calories. They’re the perfect setting to push through self-doubt, challenge your self-limiting beliefs and cross paths with people who you otherwise might not get the chance to meet.

Don’t get me wrong: if you’ve found a new way to exercise that you absolutely love, don’t ditch it for the gym. Personally, I’ve loved working out with gymnast rings in the local park and running on the oval or through the countryside. They’re things I’d like to maintain long after gyms reopen.

However, if you’ve been nervous to join or return to a gym, I think now is one of the best opportunities you have. Our routines have been shaken up, which means that a lot of people will be finding their feet in fitness again—even the seasoned gymgoers.

When my husband and I safely make our way home to Canberra, I’ll be eagerly making my way to gyms and studios. Of course, the environment will feel unfamiliar, and I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to stand in a squat rack or on a deadlift platform. But I’ll stumble and fumble through until I can regain that same sense of strength, power, and community.

When the time comes, and when you feel safe and ready, I encourage you to consider making the return to the gym.

Support the people and communities who’ve done so much to support us over the years. Push through the initial discomfort or intimidation.

You might be surprised at what you stand to gain.

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