Don’t Sweat It

During the pandemic, you can get fit and stay safe with virtual options.

Writer: Karla Walsh

While I’m passionate about all things food and restaurants, my love of fitness runs even deeper. I double majored in journalism and kinesiology (the study of human movement) in college, and my first adult job was at Fitness magazine. I’ve also earned certifications as personal trainer, group fitness instructor and indoor cycling class teacher.

So when my local gym closed during the pandemic, I didn’t sweat it. I began sprinkling in an hour of yoga to fight off the stir-crazies of the stay-at-home recommendations. I also started each day with 45 to 60 minutes of strength training or circuits. With some willpower, a yoga mat and an 8-pound pair of dumbbells, I discovered that you don’t need a fancy gym, expensive equipment or a trainer to stay fit. (Yep, I admit it!)

In fact, in July, the Texas Medical Association reported that working out at a gym is one of the riskier activities for virus transmission. What’s more, Japanese researchers concluded that indoor activities are nearly 19 times more likely to lead to positive cases than their outdoor counterparts.

“COVID-19 upended the business model that is predicated on [delivering services to] people being in close proximity to each other,” explains Graham Melstrand, the executive vice president of engagement for the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise. “Both large and small facilities have made significant efforts to engage members digitally with programs and other content that they can consume at home.”

Locally, many gyms and studios that were allowed to reopen still offer virtual and outdoor options so their members can stay in shape while feeling safe and at ease. Brands like Pure Barre and Power Life Yoga quickly pivoted to online streaming classes and outdoor boot camps (see more examples on page 116). Other facilities rented out equipment so members could cycle, lift and pose at home just like they would in the studio.

“I predict home gyms and virtual fitness will continue to be popular, as people were able to spot the benefits of home workouts during the shutdown, like no commute time and no bras or shirt required,” says Annie Brees, a West Des Moines-based personal trainer and co-founder of the wellness company Balance365. “A few resistance bands and a set of dumbbells go a long way.”

As challenging as this new fitness landscape has been for Katie Bell, co-owner of Pure Barre in West Des Moines, she says she is a big fan of online options. Her studio livestreams classes for those who don’t feel comfortable attending in person or who can’t fit in the studio due to social-distancing capacity limits.

“The value of being able to work out where and when you can right now is exponential,” Bell says. “We’ve found that our members still really treasure being able to tune in to a class taught by an instructor that they know and trust. It’s provided a unique need for local boutique fitness studios to fill.”

Kati Colby, co-founder of the local wellness app the Drop, views this year as an opportunity for growth and change. “Trying a new activity from the comfort of your own home takes away a level of stress,” she says. “For those wanting to make the leap to change up your routine, this is a perfect time to get curious, shake off those first-timer nerves and try.” The app she created with co-founder Natalie Dayton is designed to help users find and experience gyms, studios and health-related classes, shops and events.

With home workouts, “you might not have all the fancy equipment, heavy weights or the camaraderie of your friends,” Brees says. “But when it comes to exercise, something is almost always better than nothing.

“It’s possible to get and keep gains in even small spaces with little or no equipment; it just might require a bit more creativity,” she adds. “Milk jugs and canned goods can substitute as weights, and dance parties in the kitchen totally count as cardio.”

Local Fitness Options

This list includes both virtual and socially distant classes. Please visit the website or social media sites to confirm current availability.

Capital Row: Watch this East Village rowing studio’s website and Facebook page for details about virtual challenges you can join from home, or hop on a safely distant rig in their studio. (

Des Moines Parks and Recreation: Instead of offering Yoga in the Park classes at Gray’s Lake this year, the city began offering free Yoga From the Park videos on Facebook and YouTube. Access them any time for a stretch session at home or outside in your own backyard. (; YouTube Des Moines Parks and Recreation).

Farrell’s eXtreme Body Shaping: Hop into the boxing ring via taped-live, now-saved-on-Facebook videos to practice your punches and kicks. Then if you get hooked, you can join a 10-week challenge at one of their nine metro locations. Class capacity has been reduced to allow for social distancing. (

Campus Cycle: This locally owned spin studio limits each class to nine riders and one teacher to allow for ample spacing between bikes. (

Power Life Yoga: To pair with their four locations across the metro, this yoga and barre facility now offers free online classes on YouTube. When the weather cooperates, Power Life also offers outdoor boot camps and outdoor yoga classes at their West Glen location. You can also join semiprivate classes that vastly limit capacity. (

Pure Barre: Join PureBarre Go for $29.99 per month to recreate the barre studio experience in your living room, or join a class that’s been modified to include contactless check-in, less shared equipment and more space between members. (

Shakti Yoga: Join this studio as an online member, and for $110 (less than $10 per class), you’ll receive Zoom links to join real-time Zoom classes. The studio is also open for small classes with social distancing. (

Yoga & Co.: Sign up for small group classes at this Drake neighborhood studio or attend al fresco flows for a free-will donation. ( 

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