New Year’s is typically a time of celebration, the denouement to a frenetic, all-consuming holiday season. The calendar marks the inevitable ends and the new beginnings, and this transition gives license for one last hurrah. And after the hangovers comes the introspection followed by a clichéd manifesto of self-improvement and conquest.
The movers and shakers ring in the new year with a self-congratulatory pat on the back, hoping to stay on the same trajectory. And everyone else gets a clean slate to break free from the shackles of mediocrity when unable to enjoy meaningful accomplishment. Year-end reviews can be a daunting prospect, but this particular annual ritual, the New Year’s season audit, is an almost fail-safe proposition; you either keep up the good work and stay the course, or you learn from your mistakes, offering a better tomorrow. The New Year’s bash is such a beloved racket because it has both sides covered; celebrate time well spent or add to a downward spiral and take your January 2nd mulligan.
This year is anything but typical, and most of us would just assume put 2020 out of its misery. It’s hard to imagine who might be thriving during this catastrophe other than the toilet paper moguls and the price-gouging kettlebell merchants. As much as we’d like to turn the page, we can’t resolution our way out of this one. We’re at the mercy of a global pandemic, and we don’t have the luxury of our familiar, next-day do-overs.
There’s nothing more annoying than a cockeyed optimist, cheerleader-type espousing positivity when you’re having a bad day. And no amount of silver linings is worth the devastation that comes with a public health crisis, but there have been a few bright spots and encouraging developments along the way.
I’m a proud, card-carrying member of the alliance for a more pessimistic society. Still, I have to admit that I’m heartened by some of the adaptive measures being embraced by determined and resourceful exercise enthusiasts during the pandemic. People who have become so dependent on gyms suddenly found themselves without access to the equipment they’ve grown accustomed to.
As Joni Mitchell foretold: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Many people scrambled to set up home gyms, but there was a run on equipment, and some items were pretty hard to come by. This gave rise to a back-to-basics movement through the fitness community. No-equipment workouts saw a renaissance, and people fashioned their own equipment out of household items, building supplies, nature, and anything else suitable when inspiration struck. Not always perfect replacements for the genuine articles, but definitely decent placeholders during a drought.
I watched this unfold with nostalgic delight, as I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this forced shift in exercise practice and what the founding fathers of modern-day fitness did during the dawn of their trailblazing days. What’s old is new again, the difference being that the old-timey physical culturists had to invent many of these exercises and training methods, whereas we have the benefit of their playbook.
I find that this environment drives less thinking and more doing. The classic tale of unfulfilled fitness aspirations is the ambitious neophyte who spends a year researching which brand of treadmill to purchase. Being an informed consumer is always a good idea, but never-ending excessive analysis is the tale of a person who likes the concept of exercise more than actually putting in the work. These days people are using what’s available to them rather than overthinking the usual lengthy number of choices, and that’s what brings results.
Even some of the exercise deniers have jumped on the bandwagon. In a strange twist on reverse psychology, some gym dropouts have become highly motivated to work out as an act of physical disobedience after being deprived of the opportunity to maximize their potential. Buying a gym membership and not showing up of your own free will is a time-honored tradition, but being cut off is another matter. “It’s my right to wither away, but I’ll be damned if the man is gonna determine the fate of my physical wellbeing.”
We have less access to traditional settings for group exercise and classes, but there are plenty of virtual opportunities. A virtual workout experience as compared to the conventional in-person experience is an apples-to-oranges kind of thing, but they both come with their own set of pros and cons. As a technophobe, I haven’t fully embraced the George Jetson exercise approach, but I can’t deny the logistical upside and the sheer convenience of it all. I have trained people in Iowa, Alabama, and Maine from the comfort of my New Bedford digs since this whole thing started. And these things wouldn’t be available to us had we been getting crushed by a pandemic in years past.
There are many resources for exercise help and information, but some of the familiar go-to tipsters we’ve grown to rely on are temporarily off the table. A problem that sometimes occurs with the personal trainer-client relationship is that the trainee becomes overly dependent on their trainer. A personal trainer should be an educator and a consultant, not a Svengali. When a person needs to be spoon-fed every last detail about leading an active life after years of working with a personal trainer, something went wrong. Having to step out on your own, spread your wings, and fend for yourself a little bit more than usual can be a good thing. I’ve noticed signs of more self-sufficiency and self-reliance since our everyday face-to-face interactions have been shelved.
Perhaps the most important change during these uncertain times is that many of us have more time. Of those lucky enough to remain employed during this mess, a considerable number now work remotely. They’re still working hard, but no more rush-hour traffic, lousy commutes, wearing uncomfortable clothes, and spiffing up for direct human encounters. It takes a lot less time and effort to fake your way to a proper physical appearance for a waist-up Zoom meeting.
This newfound surplus of time has afforded us the brain space to focus on some of those things that are neglected and overlooked when we’re overscheduled and running around like crazed worker bees. Physical and emotional wellbeing often gets lost in the shuffle, and this disruption has allowed us to allocate more time to some of these needs. Some things will be changed forever, and other things will return to their earlier state. As we slam the door shut on 2020, we can hopefully carry some of these positive adjustments forward when we resume our familiar pre-pandemic lives.
—Certified strength and conditioning coach Norman Meltzer, the owner/operator of MW Strength and Conditioning in New Bedford, was known during his competitive weight-lifting career as “the Muscleless Wonder” for his lean, mean physique lacking in the traditional bulk associated with strength training. Meltzer’s experience and knowledge has helped pro, college, and high school athletes and teams, and even regular people improve their strength and performance.
Schvitz’n with Norm
By Norm Meltzer