Should You Rethink the Way You Use the Gym in an Ongoing Pandemic?

Trainer Troy Perez on how to rethink your local gym post-quarantine

Most 14-year-olds see lifting weights as a launchpad to escape an awkward teenage body. Troy Perez saw the practice as something else: a bridge to connect with his dad, who had been struck with a brain aneurysm. “He was a man’s man—he built everything—and when the whole right side of his body became paralyzed, so much was taken from him physically,” says Perez.

The high schooler spent hours daily training his father, noticing his joy as his strength improved, even slightly and incrementally. “I realized then that if you’re not moving, you’re not living,” says Perez.

Now 50 years old, Perez is part of a new wave of personal trainers. He and others emphasize that 
“gains” can be more than just a bigger bicep measurement and preach that the gym is not just a place to get swole.

“Physical fitness is more than getting buff—it’s about other physiological processes you 
can’t see, and the mind as well.” Perez espouses the philosophy in personal training sessions and at Club Metro USA, his gym in Franklin Park, NJ, where he’s helping clientele get back in shape after the long COVID layoff away from the gym.

Black and white portrait of man in T-shirt
Marius Bugge

Returning to post-pandemic gyms

Perez points to the fact that America was hit so hard by the pandemic in part because so many people here are overweight. The CDC’s figures show obesity booming and link it to an increased rate of hospitalization and death. Though the COVID vaccines are providing relief from the worst outcomes, they are not the answer alone.

“We all wanted the vaccine, and that’s great,” says Perez. “But now everybody thinks they’re fixed. That’s wrong. You need to get to a local gym and put yourself on a program so that your life is more sustainable, with less injury, less sickness, and with a stronger immune system. That’s how you will be fixed.”

To anyone who will listen, Perez preaches that as we return to the gym, we should see it as a holistic place to grow both physically and mentally. “Curveballs get thrown in everybody’s life,” says Perez, who says he found his life’s calling when his father fell ill. COVID, he continues, was the curveball that came for us all. Here’s how to reengage with the gym after that lapsed membership—and get your health back on track.

1. Switch it up

Over a year in quarantine, you might have leaned in on one exercise routine that works for you, like Peloton or running. But now it’s time to branch out. “Switch it up. Hit cardio, weights, and flexibility over the course of a week. Stimulate your body in multiple ways and you’ll improve your functional strength.”

2. Take that free session

Join (or rejoin) your nearby fitness center and they’ll probably offer you one free personal training session. “Most people don’t take it, and that’s a huge mistake. Nine out of 10 times you’ll hear someone say, ‘I never knew I was doing that wrong.’ ” Use the session to fix your form on your favorite equipment.

3. Don’t choose a gym on price alone

Some corporate gyms have raced to the bottom, price-wise, with the intention of signing up as many people as possible, then hoping they don’t come back. “Shop around. A few bucks more a month at a local, more personal gym might just be worth it.”

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