With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, people around the globe are isolated in their homes. The shut down of all non-essential businesses subsequently closed all the gyms in Massachusetts. However, in these trying times, many people are turning to fitness as a method to relieve stress. Others are simply looking for ways to maintain their health and a sense of routine in their homes. The Centipede recently had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Oakes, the owner of Fitness Together – Concord, a local gym and personal training studio. Together, we spoke about staying motivated and healthy while stuck at home, as well as the effects of COVID-19 on the fitness industry. 

Michael Oakes was exposed to the world of fitness at a young age. He pursued wrestling into college, where he had to follow strict regimes and diets. This was the time in his life where Oakes says he, “fell in love with the science behind [fitness].” Throughout college, he began independently training other students and faculty and finished with a degree in exercise science. He now owns Fitness Together locations in both Concord and Westford, Massachusetts. Training people of all ages and walks of life, Oakes places emphasis on maintaining health for daily life, such as lifting groceries or climbing a flight of stairs. He also coaches both hockey and lacrosse at Concord Carlisle Regional High School. 

During this time, Oakes has decided to continue operating the gym virtually over Zoom. He now focuses on plyometrics, bodyweight exercises, and corrective moments. Oakes says there are many ways to exercise without high-grade equipment. “We’ve written down, my staff and I, probably 800 movements that you can literally do with nothing,” states Oakes. Oakes is very conscious of his clients and their living situations and wants to make sure that he provides exercises that can be done with nothing but their own bodies. He designs workouts specifically for the individual and the environment that they are in.

One of the primary reasons that people choose to go to an in-person gym is the community. Motivation and encouragement are hard to come by when isolated from your home. Oakes insists that staying candid and honest with your clients is the most important way to motivate them. He tells his clients that he too is battling motivation himself. Everybody struggles to hold themselves accountable and Oakes wants to make sure that every client knows that they are not alone in their endeavors. “It’s easier to find an excuse to not work out than it is to work out.” Oakes uses technology to motivate himself without the support of his coworkers. He hopes to stay connected with his clients so that he can lead by example. He schedules daily check-ins with clients, even those who do not have an appointment, just to see how they are doing. He stresses, “that something is better than nothing.” So anything that you can do, whether it be an hour of interval training or a five-minute run is worth your time.

“Clients really appreciate that human aspect of it. Because prior, they just thought, of course, he’s motivated, he gets up, he’s in great shape, he has no problems getting motivated to go work out and everybody is right now. Life is different.”

Michael Oaks

Why work out now? Michael Oakes says that “there is no better time than right now because depression is at an all-time high, anxiety is at an all-time high, and exercise is one of the most underutilized and most powerful antidepressants. The stress hormone that our body generates is called cortisol. And when our body perceives external or emotional stress over a certain point, it increases our cortisol levels, which then brings our immune system down. Having a healthy immune system is imperative and it’s the key. So how do we boost that immune system? Exercise.”

Oakes hopes to slowly begin reopening the gym when it is safe to do so. He will be taking the client’s temperatures at the door and cleaning every piece of equipment after use. “When they walk into my facility and it smells clean and my staff is constantly wiping stuff down, it gives them peace of mind. I think it’s going to be a gradual process. I think the business will recoup, I do not think it will recoup immediately.”