The Covid effect, where staying at home is the new normal, married with concerns over long-term health, has seen many exercising more regularly for health reasons, and to get a respite from work/ boredom/endless virtual meetings.
Fuelling the trend is the rise of on-demand and connected fitness devices like Peloton’s exercise bikes, intelligent home gyms like Tonal, and Apple Watch’s new Apple Fitness personalised classes.
The increased accessibility to professional equipment – be it on a rental or purchase basis – also makes it possible to get a gym-standard workout without leaving the comfort and security of your living room.
“Resistance bands, dumbbells and kettlebells were the most popular equipment purchased during the circuit breaker period,” shared Jeremy Ko of Movement First, which sells fitness equipment online.
“We saw a clear trend in purchases of fitness equipment, then massage-related equipment about four weeks later from the same customers.”
With budget and space as important deciding factors, individuals living in small or shared spaces aren’t without options. Premium quality yoga mats were an immediate addition as evidenced by Sugarmat’s increased sales during the circuit breaker period.
“Most people invested in fitness equipment that has an all-in-one solution due to space limits,” said founder Heikal Gani. “They would get either a fitness or yoga mat that allows them to do the basic fitness moves, followed by other equipment that gives them resistance and weight.”
In light of the growth in home workouts, we speak to four women to find out how they have carved out space for their fitness needs, and the impact of doing so.
Margaux Ith, 28, lawyer
Long workdays bring on a sedentary lifestyle and with it, weight gain and related health issues. For 28-year-old Margaux, her fitness motivation started from “losing weight gained from hours sitting at my desk” and evolved into “challenging myself to grow stronger and fitter.”
Her regular workout regime saw her attending rhythm cycling classes at Absolute Cycle, HIIT sessions at Barry’s Bootcamp, and weight-related workouts at Anytime Fitness, a 24-hour gym located below her condominium. This all came to a halt when circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 7.
Putting together a home gym quickly became a priority for Margaux and her husband, an avid weightlifter.
“With the uncertainty of the pandemic, we decided that creating our home gym would be a worthy investment,” she says.
Accessibility was another factor, as the lines between home and work became non- existent due to remote working conditions. Hence, the ability to fit in a workout at any time of the day or night became paramount.
The couple converted their balcony into a weightlifting zone, adding dumbbells, a weight bench, resistance bands, a Reebok step and a pull-up bar.
As a first-year anniversary present, Margaux’s husband gifted her a spin bike purchased from Absolute Cycle, a welcome addition that allowed Margaux to continue her workouts uninterrupted.
“Having a spin bike in my living room makes exercise a lot more accessible,” she shares. “When I first got my bike, I was doing back-to-back spin classes, sometimes even up to three! It is also easy to follow up with a simple 20-minute weights session after cycling.”
While she admits there’s a difference between “having an instructor screaming at you live versus from the screen”, being able to exercise at will has its benefits.
“Covid has definitely blurred the lines of working hours, so I find myself working longer hours at the desk and unable to switch off,” she says. “Due to this sedentary lifestyle, I’m more concerned about my workouts than ever. For a lot of people, there’s also not much to do these days, so exercise is slowly becoming a way of life.”
Camilla Johnson, 28, marketing consultant
How a person approaches their fitness speaks volumes of their personality. For Camilla, working out is an integral part of her lifestyle, which she has taken care to incorporate into her routine.
“I exercise for many reasons but my main motivation would be to stay fit and healthy in both the body and mind,” shares the 28-year-old. “It’s a time for me to tune out from work and distractions, and focus on how I can challenge and reward my body with movement.”
A practitioner of pilates and gyrotonic training at Breathe Pilates, Camilla supplements her reformer and stability chair workouts with boxing sessions with a personal trainer, as well as yoga self-practice – a combination that leaves her “feeling energised, confident and with a clearer mind”.
Creating a home workout space became crucial when the circuit breaker came into effect. “My home became my office, restaurant, coffee shop and bar. I think – and a lot of people would agree – seeing the same walls all day can drive you a little crazy.
My main motivation was to have a place for my ‘me-time’, which for me is exercise, so it was important to carve out a space to move and take a break.”
Unable to fully recreate her typical workout setting, she adapted her workouts and readjusted her goals. She rented a Magic Circle (a rubber resistance ring) from Breathe Pilates to gently intensify her routine and tone up her arms, and switched to mat pilates sessions with Breathe’s on-demand classes.
She says: “This workout format is different from what I was used to – it helped me build strength in my arms and core. When I returned to apparatus-based workouts, I noticed they became easier as a result.”
Her pilates practice wasn’t the only area that saw positive change. “My yoga practice has improved too. Now I can do more challenging poses.”
Prioritising the need for a home fitness space also brought about other benefits. To create a space large enough for an exercise mat and to accommodate proper placement of her laptop to see her instructors over Zoom, she had to “Konmari” her home, an exercise she found surprisingly therapeutic.
“It’s important to explore and embrace new ways to exercise,” adds Camilla.
Tiffany Teo, 38, head of consumer bancassurance team
As a former competitive runner in school and a working mother of three, Tiffany treats exercise as one of the few ways to secure much deserved me-time. So when gyms and fitness studios had to close due to the circuit breaker, the 38-year-old admits: “I got really worried about the disruption to my fitness routine.”
Thankfully, both her trainer and Kulture Studios, where she attended Bouncefit (rebounding) classes, were quick to offer Zoom and live-stream sessions. “I started functional training with my trainer over Zoom twice a week using whatever equipment (resistance bands, a 5kg sandbag, and a 5kg dumbbell) I had at home at that time.
When Kulture offered a monthly rental subscription plan including a rebounder and live-stream bounce sessions, I took it up without hesitation,” says Tiffany.
While both virtual options were a “godsend in those times of lockdown”, not being able to leave her home to exercise felt a little stifling after a while.
“I did think of working out outdoors at the nearby park or fitness corner, but I considered the circumstances: crowd, proximity with others, unpredictable weather, and decided to keep working out in the comfort of my own home.”
To make this happen, she decluttered a corner of her living room so she could “bounce comfortably and with minimal disruption”, both to herself and the rest of her family. She also added yoga mats, kettlebells, dumbbells and weight plates to her workout space.
Months on, she finds herself working out more regularly, clocking at least five workouts weekly versus three during pre-Covid times. “Anytime I need to destress or just have a good sweat and cardio workout, all I need is to set up the rebounder and bounce away.”
While Kulture has reopened, she’s chosen to continue her home workouts. “I appreciate how I can just jump straight into a workout right after a meeting and vice versa. This home workout arrangement lets me achieve my fitness goals while being home with my family.
I will continue with a mix of working out at home, as well as at the gym and Kulture for as long as it is possible. Having a home fitness space has created opportunities for me to work out more, and in a manner that I still enjoy and find effective.”
Cheryl Ng, 31, lawyer
When gyms had to shut temporarily during the circuit breaker period, the thought of not being able to lift weights was the motivation Cheryl, a former competitive powerlifter, needed to set up a home gym space.
“Lifting is such an important outlet for me, so I wanted to have access to weights at home,” shares the 31-year-old, who has a membership at a commercial gym and does Olympic weightlifting classes at Level Gym.
“While outdoor spaces were available, we still had to wear masks while exercising, so it was not very comfortable at all.”
She knew immediately what she needed and decided to invest in equipment, which turned out to be more cost-effective than a gym membership.
“I went on Carousell and purchased a secondhand competition-standard weightlifting barbell and plates. Then I bought a weight tree, rubber mats, some training plates and attachments from Movement First.”
While her set-up experience was largely smooth, she did face some stumbling blocks. “When the weights I purchased didn’t fit the weight tree, Movement First picked up the weight tree from me, took off the arms and re-welded smaller arms on them.”
She also had to work around her parents who “hated the clutter in the corner” at first. On the bright side, she has since gotten her whole family interested in lifting weights.
“I hope to eventually resume weightlifting classes, but I think the days of the commercial gym are no longer necessary. While the benefits of classes are coaches and friends who keep you accountable, as well as the social aspect of the gym, these do not outweigh the convenience of having equipment at home that I can access any time.”
Aside from not having to wait for her turn to use the squat rack and not having her workout interrupted, Cheryl cites one other surprising benefit to working out at home. “I love how light my handbag is, now that I don’t have to carry gym and work clothes around!”
What you need to build a home gym
Regardless of your fitness goals, putting together a home gym requires proper equipment. Here are four categories of equipment to consider.
An often overlooked but much needed piece of equipment is a good exercise mat to cushion the impact on joints, and provide much needed grip when doing cardio and bodyweight exercises, such as jumping jacks, planks, push-ups, mountain climbers and crunches.
For a sleek and functional piece, try Alo Yoga’s Warrior Mat, which boasts a non-slip and moisture-wicking surface, and comes with a cushioned rubber backing.
Unless you’re looking to be a weightlifting pro, you’ll likely not need a full set of weights.
A more realistic purchase would be a set of adjustable dumbbells – lighter weights for shoulder or accessory exercises (such as goblet squats and chest press), and heavier weights for lower body exercises – or specific-weight dumbbells suited for your workouts.
Pro tip: Pair them with gym rubber mats of at least 12mm thickness to protect the flooring. Check out Movement First for quality dumbbells, kettlebells and other fitness equipment.
3. Cardio machines
Depending on what gets your heart racing, take your pick from treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes and rowing machines up for sale or rental at Homegym.
Fitness studios like Absolute Cycle also offer a rental or purchase option, while Kulture Studios has a Bounce from Home option that includes trampoline rental with online class memberships.
Tools like resistance bands, sliders, medicine balls and yoga blocks can level up your workout and help you go further. To aid post-workout recovery, consider getting foam rollers and/or massage balls to release tightness in your muscles and tissues.
Other accessories that will add flair to your workout space: a stylish yoga mat, yoga bolster and/or meditation cushion (shop whimsical, modern designs from Sugarmat), plus an essential oil diffuser for those wind-down sessions.
This article was first published in Her World Online.