January: the time of year dedicated to purging fridges, replacing fries with fruit and flocking to gyms. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stand in the way of Gainesville residents’ New Year’s resolutions.
Despite the surge in Alachua County omicron COVID-19 cases, local gyms’ memberships and business increased this month.
Victoria De Alba, a 19-year-old UF computer science sophomore, heads to the gym about five or six times a week. She’s observed the flock of people returning since the new year.
“Being that it was the beginning of January, I noticed a lot of people came and a lot of people started joining, so I think it's busier at the moment,” De Alba said. “Also, people have their resolutions.”
De Alba exercised from home at the start of the pandemic when gyms were closed. This year; however, she isn’t letting the omicron variant interfere with her goals. She feels comfortable working out in-person without a mask, she said.
“The thing is, we live in Florida, so I feel like the restrictions are more flexible in comparison to other states,” she said. “I also take into consideration a vast majority of people are vaccinated or have gotten the booster, so I feel pretty comfortable going to the gym without a mask.”
She enjoys the community at the gym.
“It definitely is easier to transition into fitness if you have other people surrounding you that also have similar goals,” she said.
But some people aren’t as comfortable with maskless patrons, especially when exercising.
RecSports personal trainer Nalin Saraf said the thought of interacting with college-aged strangers during a pandemic is anxiety-inducing for some people. Adding exercise into the equation may escalate this fear for new gym-goers.
“I can definitely see how coming into the weight room or the cardio space during packed times — it can be a little daunting seeing no one have a mask on and everyone's breathing heavy,” he said.
Masks are recommended but not required in UF RecSports facilities, which are free to UF students.
Only about 40% of all personal training clients wear a mask inside the private personal training studio at Southwest Recreation Center, said Saraf, a 21-year-old applied physiology and kinesiology junior.
RecSports had a much longer waitlist for personal training than it has seen in previous years, Saraf said. He observed an increase in student clients at the start of 2022.
Regular gym-goers at Southwest Recreation Center have noticed the spike in students heading to the gym this January, too.
With students back on campus, the past two weeks have been especially busy compared to last Fall, said Asher David, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman. He works out at Southwest Rec about three or four times a week.
He wore a mask in the Fall when the gym was especially crowded and began to wear one regularly when the omicron variant spiked, he said.
David admitted going to the gym in-person is more motivating and offers more amenities than at-home fitness alternatives.
He compares working out in a gym to studying in a library. Separating himself from an environment where he is able to relax makes him more productive.
“You find studying at the library or somewhere outside your home a lot easier than trying to study in your bedroom because then you just tend to lose focus,” he said.
For David, the gym eases his mind and allows him to forget about his rigorous classes and the demands of being a STEM major, he said.
“Being active, for me, I think it’s kind of been a way for me to escape for the past couple years,” he added. “It’s a good way to relax your mind and just kind of forget about everything.”
Contact Carissa at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Carissaallenn.
Carissa Allen is a third-year journalism and political science double major. She is excited to continue her work on the Metro desk this semester as the East Gainesville Reporter. In her free time, you can find her scuba diving, working out or listening to a podcast.