Out and about

Keeping up with a fitness routine in the time of COVID has led trainers, their clients and the rest of us to be more creative in the ways we get moving.

by Andrew Cruickshank

When the pandemic first broke out in this country in March 2020, gyms shuttered, leaving many people feeling stranded, cut off from the fitness routines upon which they relied to stay both physically and mentally healthy. Meghan Cox experienced a similar feeling, only worse, because it also jeopardized her livelihood.

Like other small business owners, Cox was hit hard by the pandemic, but as a personal trainer who owns and operates Just Movement Fitness out of Minden, she didn’t have a product to sell. There were no curbside pick-ups or home deliveries. In short, the success of her business depended upon people showing up to her studio.

Within the first month, she was forced to permanently close her Haliburton studio, run out of the Haliburton Dance Academy, followed by her Minden studio above the town’s Pharmasave, where she had been located for 18 years. “(The government) closed us around March Break. I had actually booked that period off because people are usually busy, but I worked every single day, almost 24/7, to figure out how I was going to get people online,” Cox recalls.

The reason for the immediacy was, in part, because the fitness studio was Cox’s main source of income, but also because she couldn’t imagine her clients living without exercise. “If you have adopted fitness as a lifestyle, that’s just what it is, a lifestyle. And the saying’s true: If you don’t use it, you lose it. So, I wanted to make sure I was still available for my people if they wanted to continue online.”

Exercise feeds mental health

Statistics Canada reported that in the spring of 2021, one in four Canadians aged 18 and older showed symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder, up 4 per cent from the fall of 2020. Studies have shown that exercise benefits mental health, but it’s been hard to stay motivated, especially over the last few months.

Emerging from a long, cold winter filled with Omicron variants, it’s easy to tell ourselves we’ll get back to being active when it’s warmer out, or when we feel safe enough to return to the gym. But are we really committed? Exercise is, after all, a lifestyle habit, and once we’ve fallen out of the habit, will we re-engage?

Cox grappled with this mindset in her clients, which was precisely why she started thinking of ways to get people outside – and active – while at the same time staying safe. She always taught outdoor classes at her Haliburton studio, but, generally speaking, during the summer. And, of course, winter is a different animal altogether. In early 2021, she began piecing together her Snow Fit program.

“I was still teaching online, but being that I own 100 acres and I have snowshoeing trails, I decided I should incorporate those and include fitness training,” she says.

Cox’s Snow Fit program includes guided tours along the snowshoe trails on her property with exercise sessions thrown in at predetermined locations. Clients will snowshoe to a clearing or a hill where they’ll perform exercises, such as squats, tricep dips and lunges, before continuing along the trail.

“It was all trial and error. I was going out and playing and I decided, okay, this would be a really great spot to do tricep dips on this log or this rock,” Cox says. “I mean, we only have six movement patterns in life: squat, lunge, push, pull, rotation and gait. That’s how my entire fitness programming is developed. And then it’s just modifications or tweaks on those patterns, putting them together, tempo changes, that kind of thing.”

“Outdoor classes also felt less regimented,” Cox explains. “They were a chance for much needed socializing with some solid exercise, making the classes less intimidating for beginners.”

Fitness classes, however, aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking to get active on your own, Cox advises focusing on something in which you’re truly interested.

“Do something you enjoy,” she suggests. This could be as simple as going for a walk. Cox suggests picking somewhere calming and picturesque, rather than walking along a busy highway. And try listening to music. “Music will definitely drive your movement. It’ll either make you walk faster, or slow you down, depending on the tempo.”

Take it outside

If you’re looking to tackle more complex activities, say tai chi, cross-country skiing, cycling, or even ice climbing, there are classes available to teach you the skills you need to continue the activities on your own. Yours Outdoors, a Haliburton-based company, offers outdoor experiences for any skill set or expertise.

“This past winter, what we had on a regular basis were ice climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing,” says Emily Stonehouse, co-manager of Yours Outdoors. “What we try to do is give people the opportunity and the tools to be able to learn how to do something for the first time.”

In the warmer months, the company offers guided hiking tours that focus on a range of different topics, from bird calls to edible mushrooms. Or you can take part in a guided bike tour that stops in at local art studios, hop on a paddleboard for some yoga, or take a canoe out on the lake for a guided trip. Yours Outdoors even offers a class where you spend the morning in a woodshop designing your own paddle and the afternoon on the water trying it out.

“Something we see a lot in people is newfound confidence,” Stonehouse says. “Many of our experiences are catered to those who’ve never done them before, people who’ve always wanted to paddle somewhere, or try this hike on their own. We notice that when they get out there and experience support along the way, they find a new level of confidence, and they’re kind of awakened to whatever that experience is.”

Regardless of whether you’re looking for structure, or simply to get active on your own, why not hike the trail that you’ve always talked about? Or run to the end of your road? Or cycle into town? Or climb a hill? Honestly, there are so many amazing ways to stay active, surrounded, at all times, by fresh air. So why not take advantage, and awaken – or reawaken – that ambition to get fit, all the time enjoying the great outdoors?