When Your Spotter Favors Social Distancing

            We’re living in very strange times in which our daily lives have been upended. Most of us want to be safe and compliant without surrendering every last one of our normal and familiar daily rituals.

            For so many of us exercise is an important part of our lives, and the thought of sacrificing a healthy avocation for health reasons is counterintuitive.

            As health officials preach distance between people and avoiding crowds, where does this leave working out at the local gym (if and when they reopen for business)?

            Exercise may boost your immune system, but the widespread transmission of a virus isn’t a very useful contribution to fitness. Reducing the risk of transmission is good, but skipping a workout to stay home hoarding toilet paper while binging on canned aerosol cheese hardly seems like a good tradeoff. The “Catch 22s” are afoot.

            I’ve actually never been a fan of group exercise classes.

            A great concept, and thousands of people have benefited from them, but they do have their fair share of shortcomings.

            The student-teacher ratio is problematic and doesn’t foster the best environment to learn or be supervised. It’s very difficult for a single person to demonstrate, watch and make corrections on different yet simultaneous biomechanical problems.

            There are usually too many divergent backgrounds and varying skill levels within the same group. Gyms may offer beginner and advanced classes, but labeling classes by ability doesn’t adequately match compatible students.

            Instructors tend to throw in the old failsafe countermeasure of advising everyone to “Go at your own pace,” but when’s the last time you’ve known a person to use common sense? Peer pressure didn’t get to be so popular because of humanity’s discretion.

            At the other end of the spectrum, there are many remote, online exercise options these days.

            As a strength coach, I’ve dabbled minimally in virtual training. It’s a great way to help people in different geographical locations, but I personally feel that it’s a poor substitute for being in the same room with hands-on instruction.

            In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to share an embarrassing little mishap. I’m one of the few people who has managed to incur an injury during a stationary-bike workout. I was regrettably on one of those seldom-advertised Peloton bikes. The ride itself was fine, but the unfortunate episode occurred when disembarking. The hard-molded plastic convexity on the bottom of the specialized shoes did not quite jibe with the hardwood floor that I stepped onto. My bruised buttock and ego soured me on the whole concept of high-tech, Jetsons-style telecommunication exercise, though the piece of equipment itself was very well engineered.

            One of the most wonderful aspects of exercise is its versatility. You can exercise with equipment or without, you can work out in a specialized facility or in your own house, inside or outside, with a workout partner, by yourself, or in a group, and the list goes on. You can burn calories on a gym’s elliptical or walking in the park. You can work your pecs benching in a weight room or doing push-ups on the beach.

            Gyms will be up and running again before this COVID-19 problem is fully resolved. The order of the day is social distancing, and we should all exercise judgment when exercising our glutes and quads.

            Nobody wants to share a kettlebell with a sickly looking, drooling gym rat these days, or any other for that matter. Reducing risk is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Small groups are better than large groups; open space is better than close quarters; you can exercise with someone else without sharing equipment; and you can aggressively and relentlessly disinfect when you do share equipment.

            Don’t forget the doorknobs.

            Dust off that exercise graveyard that’s part of so many basements. It’s safe because it hasn’t been touched in years. When things begin to normalize and we reenter pre-coronavirus society, join a struggling empty gym rather than a successful popular one.

            There are countless ways to strength train, improve flexibility and burn calories:

            * lifting weights, body-weight calisthenic exercises, bands, climb a tree, chop wood

            * yoga, static stretching, twister, movement itself 

            * stereotypical cardio equipment, go for a walk, or basically any activity you can think of as long as you do enough of it and at a sufficient work rate 

            Make choices that are socially responsible. It may mean changing things up for a little bit, but it does not mean going without or sacrificing exercise value.

            — 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 Muscless 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

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