Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

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Exploratory Park is now open for use from early morning till dusk, daily – just a 12-minute walk from Brent Cross tube station.

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Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

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27 December 2020

Lockdown takes sports online – and it’s a surprise hit

Woman doing yoga on balcony
You can still have the benefit of exercise online if you bring the right energy into the session as a teacher.

“We have been online pretty much since the first lockdown in March, and I’m not sure we would even want to go back to just in-person classes now!” For Maxine Levy, who runs Maxine Yoga in Golders Green, the move to online exercise classes has been a surprising hit. “There’s a real joy to it,” she says. Her clientele spans the full range of ages, and she offers everything from active flow to restorative yoga, as well as pre- and post-natal yoga, and classes for kids and teens. “I also have a chair yoga class for people aged 60-70, which has gone from strength to strength. The community has really built during the pandemic.”

At Brent Cross Town we are committed to bringing people together through sport and play, and the pandemic has made this difficult. Everyone has had to think differently about how to stay happy and healthy this year – and exercise businesses that have never considered remote practice before have adopted it out of necessity. The industry’s embrace of digital-physical hybrid might just be a change that sticks.

Woman sitting cross-leggged in yoga pose
Online yoga was a new venture for Maxine Levy
I’m not sure we would even want to go back to just in-person classes now.

Like many fitness operations, Maxine Yoga didn’t have any digital offerings before the pandemic upended our lives. Suddenly we couldn’t go anywhere, let alone to the gym, and we were stuck doing at-home workouts (remember the government-sanctioned daily walks of the spring lockdown?). Many took the opportunity to really lean into fitness: Strava, the popular app for recording workouts, reported that people had nearly doubled the amounts of runs and cycle rides compared to last year, with women driving the increase.

But while running is good, once you’ve felt that good burn from your favourite fitness class teacher, you’ll want to keep going. Necessity forced exercise, an activity that prized face-to-face contact, to go digital. Workout DVDs, apps and on-demand classes via the internet are nothing new, but what the lockdown brought many of us for the very first time was the opportunity to stay connected with an in-person exercise community via the internet.

Woman doing yoga in front of white curtain

Levy says that going online was a steep learning curve. “I had absolutely no idea about any of this before, but in one weekend I sat down and made myself learn all about Zoom. I then contacted each person individually and step by step, I got most people back,” says Levy. “Not everyone likes it, but for so many it’s been a lifeline.” She knows everyone who comes to her classes, and she’s spent many hours this year helping people set up Zoom so they could keep joining the remote classes. “I like having maybe eight to 10 people in the Zoom classes so I can speak to them as much I did when it was face to face,” says Levy. She wants to maintain that sense of community and connection: “I don’t want to dilute the benefit of yoga, which above all is about wellbeing. Even on Zoom, people are chatting away before and after the sessions. You can still have all that online if you handle it right, and bring the right energy into the session as a teacher.”

Zoom was also the digital tool of the season for CrossFit Atara in Golders Green. “It was literally a way to survive when we were closed,” says owner Sariet Pretz-Davidson. During the spring lockdown, Pretz-Davidson actually decided not to charge her customers for the Zoom classes, and she let everyone borrow equipment from the gym to bring home. “I created a home training programme that revolved around using whatever equipment people had available.

Twice or three times a week, I’d put on a Zoom class,” says Pretz-Davidson who, during the autumn lockdown, moved to a full online schedule. She’s found people prefer the incentive of having signed up to a class, nudging them to actually do the workout. “But people absolutely use the [Zoom classes] as a substitute for the gym – they prefer being in the gym whenever they can,” says Pretz-Davidson, who prefers coaching in person too. CrossFit isn’t just exercise, she says: “We deal with a lot of emotions! For a lot of people, it’s an emotional transformation journey.”

We deal with a lot of emotions! For a lot of people, it’s an emotional transformation journey.
Woman working out in gym
Fitness instructor in front of whiteboard
CrossFit Atara in person earlier this year. Photos: Sam Bush

Despite the mostly-remote nature of this year, Atara has found its membership numbers increasing. “The only positive that came from Covid is that it definitely made our community stronger,” says Pretz-Davidson. A point of connection is the Atara WhatsApp group, where people discuss workouts, share performance scores, or participate in daily or weekly challenges. This is particularly great if people can’t attend a class, says Pretz-Davidson: “People will make videos of them trying to complete a challenge and post that in the WhatsApp group. It means they still feel tied into the community – they want to get a better score!”

Moving exercise online may have started out as an emergency tool, but for Maxine Yoga, it’s  become a real asset. “I have people joining from France, Germany and Italy, who might have gone to my classes when they lived in Golders Green and now they’re able to join again,” says Levy. “People who live elsewhere in London, who might have only been able to go on the weekends before, can now join during the week. [Digital yoga] has brought more people together, and it’s made it easier to build a community.”

Photo at top by Avrielle Suleiman.