Humans are social beings and community is a necessary component of physical health — even in a virtual world
Before the pandemic, I was a member of a local gym, and a big motivator for me to show up to class each week was knowing I would see my buddies. We’d send group texts or Facebook chats to each other: “Who’s in next Sunday morning?”
Knowing I would see those familiar faces or have someone to save me a spot in the studio was always a major draw, and a big reason to smile once I made it through the door.
While fitness is an important aspect of my identity, it’s not everything. Most adults have multiple identities and show up differently in different social circles. A mother of young kids, a breast cancer survivor, a software executive, a fabric artist — we can be many things to many people. Identity is defined internally and reinforced externally by others through the social circles we inhabit.
Friends Who Work Out Together…
Working out isn’t just about working out. Group classes provide a social outlet and shared experience to build relationships upon. Exercise psychologists particularly recognize the power of social factors in motivating people to build enduring fitness regimens. While not everyone is socially motivated in fitness, a good number of us are.
Multiple studies point to the power of social factors in relation to fitness. Psychologists who study the science of healthy habit formation showcase how relationships with others who have shared goals help keep us on the right path. At my gym, we called these friends our “accountability buddies.” We relied on each other for check-ins to stay committed to a goal, for as long as it took to turn a behavior into an intrinsic habit. As 2020 began, my fitness community felt invincible. The next 12 months, of course, would put it all to the test.
COVID Changed Things…
Can a communal fitness experience flourish in a virtual world? We were forced to find out when the pandemic struck last spring. By early April of 2020, 48 out of 50 states had forced gyms to shutter. As a direct result, IHRSA (International Health & Racquet Club Association) estimates 15 percent of gyms in the U.S. had gone out of business by September 2020. The outlook was bleak — for studio owners, for trainers, for clients. For everyone.
In a post-COVID world where sweating together has been long prohibited, fitness communities have had to evolve. We’ve been forced to question the constructs of these brick-and-mortar-studio-based communities in the first place.
Our habits are changing rapidly. A survey of 3,500 Americans by The New Consumer and Coefficient Capital reported that 76% of people tried working out at home during COVID—and importantly, 66% now prefer it to gym-based workouts. TD Ameritrade found that 59% of Americans don’t plan to return to their gym after the pandemic. Gyms and fitness studios as we know them could become a thing of the past.
Here’s a silver lining, though: fitness social networks are no longer constrained by geography. You can now easily connect with people all over the globe for livestream fitness classes of all types. For me personally, there’s something magical about being able to take a Friday Cardio Dance class with my sister, when she lives over five hours away! I love feeling like I’m visiting her in her home, seeing her gummy black kitty and my four-year old nephew in the background, and just being together doing something joyful and soul-restorative.
In 2021, we’re discovering that social cohesion, bonding and shared purpose can extend beyond geographical limits.
The power to meaningfully connect across the virtual space is a key part of the bande ethos. If you take one of bande’s live-streamed classes, you’ll notice that the video feeds are two-way, and for good reason. Instructors carefully monitor form and provide cues, motivation, and humor to ensure every participant has not only an effective workout, but an authentic and inclusive experience. There are plenty of opportunities for pre-class and post-class chats, too — you might get to know someone amazing by showing up early and lingering afterwards. The “accountability buddy” network is still available.
The world has changed — and we’ve all had to change with it. But even though the setting for my fitness journey isn’t the same, the friendships I’ve forged haven’t. Those group texts are still coming through. “Who’s in next Sunday morning?”
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