Fitness after COVID-19 - By Henry ToraƱo

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Fitness after COVID-19 - By Henry Toraño

As I’m writing this it’s 6:00 am on a Friday morning. Yesterday, our governor announced the reopening of gyms and considerably less restrictive conditions on her executive order. While I have an insane amount of work to do this weekend in setting the gym up for Monday, I’ve been simultaneously reflecting on a lot of the things that have happened during this process. The past 90 days have been insane. So much to process. Conflicting information, so much uncertainty, a day to day rollercoaster of emotions. I can’t help but think what fitness has meant in a general perspective (for myself and clients alike) and how that has changed for what I believe to be forever.  


Information on COVID-19 has been rapidly evolving over the past few months. The knee jerk reaction is to feel like nobody knows what they’re doing because they keep changing the information that goes out. In a way this is true, nobody knows for sure what they’re doing. But it’s not because of incompetence, but rather due to the fact this is a new virus and what we’re experiencing is the growing pains of learning about it. However there’s one thing that has been consistent the entire time. All experts from all agencies agree that the absolute best way to combat COVID-19 is to lead a healthy lifestyle. It’s always pointed back to fitness, lifestyle, and nutrition. As a fitness professional, I have to say this is incredibly refreshing. Not because it’s merely what I do for a living, but mainly because I so heavily believe in this. I say it’s refreshing because in this day in age there’s more talk about quick fixes for conditions instead of actual prevention. I believe that this time, the masses are finally listening. You hear people talking about how they need to start working on their fitness, making better food choice, and changing their habits to healthier ones. For the first time in a long time fitness is being viewed primarily as a medium for health and vitality rather than for purely aesthetic reasons. This is a HUGE win for the cause. 


As a results of this previous point we saw an incredible amount of people looking for fitness solutions during the lockdown. Equipment companies had their heyday. Those who had always been active as well as those who hadn’t exercised for years took to some sort of physical activity. What’s most important, in my opinion, is that most of these folks were working out at home, by themselves. They were not feeding off the energy of a group. They were not doing it because they had a set commitment with their trainer. Instead, this was happening because in some shape, way, or form they realized that they owe to themselves to add movement to their daily routine.


However, it didn’t necessarily start that way for everybody. During the first 2-3 weeks of lockdown we saw a good amount of virtual fitness classes. People would gather at a set time and would meet with a group and a fitness conductor who would guide them through a set workout. The feedback that I got from people and fellow coaches who engaged in this was that within a few weeks, interest faded. On the flip side, my personal experience and that of other coaches who work with clients individually was the complete opposite. The vast majority of clients continued to work with their coach. For some, it was business as usual. For others, this was a time for making nutrition and lifestyle tweaks that had been overlooked for some time. For most, it reaffirmed the value of having a real coach. The situation required coaching support on different levels. I believe this was huge, not only on the consumer side, but also for coaches. It allowed for fitness professionals to step out of their routine and have to really stop and think about what each client needed in order to provide that support. Many clients reached out to express appreciation for what we do. But most importantly, as coaches, it highlighted the fact that when you honor your client’s individuality and have the right intentions in the service that you provide, you really do impact lives. That’s what I call real coaching. And the fact that coaches around the world saw this develop within 2-3 months and refined their craft on the relationship side of coaching is a HUGE win for fitness. I truly believe that this will yield a batch of highly motivated, well intentioned coaches that will highly upgrade the service offering, hence greatly benefiting clients.


On a similar note, this situation once again highlighted the upsides of individualized training. Throughout the process we heard more and more how the fitness industry would see a big shift to personalized design. Why? Because  of its adaptability. Life is dynamic. As humans our realities can shift in the blink of an eye. All reasons that solidify the fact that the way that way include fitness into our lives needs to adapt to where each of us has been and where each of us is going. Individualized Training is the only “type” of training that is 100% adaptable to purpose, goals, equipment availability, and time restrictions. Exercise shouldn’t be a rigidly established system that we go out of our way to get to. Instead, it should be meticulously design and molded to meet each individual exactly where we’re at. It also needs to have the ability to evolve with us. This includes the way exercise is prescribed. 


I’ve already mentioned the growing level of awareness surrounding the importance that exercise has on immune function. This was never really a secret, just that we now had a legitimate threat right in our faces that challenged our resilience in fighting disease. Many people who were aware of this fact adopted a hard core attitude. By these I mean they put themselves through high volume, high intensity training programs. In many cases this actually a mistake, detrimental to immune function. Allow me to explain. 


Most of you are familiar to times of acute stress. Whether it be from sporting events, studying for exams, meeting a deadline, or any other example of a period in your life when you had to really step things up to get the results you wanted. That high level of performance is possible due to increased production of adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones keep us active, mentally acute, and even have anti-inflammatory effects that allow us to work through certain scenarios with a numbed perception of pain. I bet that if you think hard, you’ll recall that right after that period of high output, you experienced a period of low energy, inability to concentrate, and in many cases, some sort of sickness. The reason this happens is that peaks of adrenaline and cortisol are followed by that steep drop. This is not a negative thing. We actually need this. It’s our bodies way of resetting, taking some time off to regenerate and make us stronger and able to handle these situations again. To provide a training analogy, let’s consider hypertrophy. As many of you know, muscles do not “grow”. Muscles actually break and new, bigger/stronger muscles are created. This is important to know because high intensity, stressful situations compromise our immune systems in the back end. While it’s a natural process, last thing we want is to be at a low point with a new virus in the air. All this to say that this was a time to slow down in training, make sure that intensity and volume are carefully dosed to provide immune support. High intensity training is the polar opposite of what we needed. Instead, quality movement, sustainable work, quality nutrition, and healthy habits would be immense contributors in the support effort. Sound familiar? These are the pillars of my coaching philosophy. Hopefully, these are topics that continue to be discussed in the fitness scene and considered by individuals

All in all, I’m most certainly glad that we’re starting to get through these unprecedented times. As a human, it’s been a tremendous learning experience. It has brought about quite a bit of reflection and growth. As a coach, I believe it has upgraded my craft. I reference only myself but am certain many coaches feel this way. It’s back to the gym come Monday morning and both I and my team of coaches is as energized and inspired as ever.

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