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14th November 2020

Opinion: With a PM like Boris, of course the gym is staying shut

Annie Dabb speaks for gym bunnies all over the country as she explores how this second lockdown will impact our ability to exercise
Opinion: With a PM like Boris, of course the gym is staying shut
Closed gym, Photo: Queven @ Pixabay

As we all foresaw, as of Thursday 4th November, the UK entered into the second lockdown of this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic – this time for a supposed 4 weeks. We’ll see about that.

Somehow, the smug “I told you so” that rests on the lips of the nation, directed towards the incompetent Prime Minister, is not as satisfying as it might be, given that the lockdown once again symbolises restrictions on our freedom. This time around though, there are so many different terms and conditions forced upon us, that it’s difficult to know whether or not we’re breaching the rules.

It is, arguably, significantly more difficult to actually care at this point, given how much the government has messed us around as a nation.

One of the groups who’ve been played around with most is, of course, students, who at this point don’t know whether they’re coming or going. University is the most on-again, off-again relationship I’ve ever had and, to be honest, if I wasn’t already at least £18,000 in debt, I would have absolutely pulled the plug on it by now.

Unfortunately, ‘the plug’ is connected to my laptop, whose battery level seems to dwindle in relation to my self-motivation and optimism for the future of my education. Thus rendering the time-old breakup line of ‘I just really need to focus on my work right now,’ useless.

“Unfortunately, ‘the plug’ is connected to my laptop, whose battery level seems to dwindle in relation to my self-motivation and optimism for the future of my education

To make matters worse, with new restrictions meaning that we are once again limited to our households – or boxy student accommodation flats in my case (I don’t want to concoct images of anything as lavish as stairs or 24-hour heating). I actually feel grateful for the scraps I’m being tossed. Nothing says one-sided relationship like Zoom links which fail to load and an online student system which crashes every so often.

Oh, overpriced education, you little flirt.

Part of the reason why I think this lockdown feels so different from the first one is that, before, we were wrenched from our carefully cultivated student communities closer to the end of term. While this meant that graduations were conducted via Zoom and exams drawn out over 24 hours periods, we’d not been initially sent to university under false pretences.

This time around, however, it has become painfully obvious that students’ money is valued over their mental and physical health. Especially here at Manchester, whose promise of blended learning in order to get students into halls was rapidly withdrawn less than a week after we’d arrived, and license agreements breached through the enforcing of flat isolation with people we’d only just met.

To borrow a phrase from the Spanish, which seems particularly relevant right now, ‘la aula es mi jaula’ (the classroom is my cage).

One of the closures imposed by the new lockdown which seems to be having the biggest effect on students, is that of the gyms. One of my flatmates even confessed that he’s going home for the month solely because his personal trainer back home has offered to continue training sessions during lockdown 2.0.

I think the closure of the gyms has caused so much push-back, both within the student community and outside it, because above all gyms are a place of mental, as well as physical, self-restoration. Joe Wicks is great and everything, but eventually the realisation that squatting in your living room actually just brings your arse closer to the cushions on your sofa becomes more significant than any motivation that even he can inspire at 9 am.

“Squatting in your living room actually just brings your arse closer to the cushions on your sofa

Once again, it seems that the mental health of the nation is poised precariously atop a helter-skelter of loneliness, boredom, and unproductive depression, with good ol’ Bojo behind it, ready to kick us down. Whilst this year has certainly been a rollercoaster, I’m not holding out much hope that a second lockdown will promise the same enjoyment inducing vertigo as a fairground does.

As well as the government’s undeniable incompetence and slow reactions, which are the primary cause of this new wave of restrictions, the statistics behind their rules and regulations seem contradictory. Based on data from ‘Test and Trace’, gyms have contributed to 2.8% of coronavirus cases whereas supermarkets contribute to 11.2% and secondary schools 6.8%. Yet my dad is still getting the train to the sixth form college where he teaches 5 classes of 30 students 5 days a week, and I don’t see Asda shutting up shop indefinitely. 

From my experience, I would argue that gyms and indoor exercise studios are actually one of the safest places, due to the rigorous disinfection performed at the end of each session. I can only imagine the germs that harbour on train tables or trolley handles, and I’m still haunted by 3 three-week-old gum emblazoning the undersides of school desks.

Furthermore, there seems to be disparities between the national effort to create a healthier nation, through healthy school meals and various exercise challenges such as ‘Couch to 5k’, and the assertion that gyms are not essential services. Surely keeping gyms open would ultimately create less stress on the NHS, as they’ll be able to worry less about the links between poor mental health and obesity, and focus more on the onslaught of sufferers of coronavirus?

Still, if the government are going to refuse free school meals to kids during half-term, at least they can’t be criticised for providing unhealthy options, so I guess that kind of balances out. Faultless logic there, so nice one Tory party!

Whilst I’m personally not a gym user myself, favouring the slap of my trainers on pavement rather than a treadmill, I completely recognise that many people use the gym as a place to de-stress and even socialise. My 80-year-old grandma, for example, attends a weekly exercise class, which is one of her main forms of social interaction. To be honest, in comparison to her, my social life currently reflects more that of a hermit.

Whilst exercising outside is preferential for a lot of people, it is something that becomes more and more difficult to find the time for. Especially as the winter months close in and day becomes night at roughly 4 pm.

It is painstakingly obvious that the Conservative government imposing these restrictions, composed largely of white middle-class men, have paid no mind to the effect this will have on vulnerable people like women or old people, who don’t feel safe outside in the dark, but don’t have any other time in their busy schedules to exercise.

In this sense, maybe the way that essential services have been ascertained is based on the fitness and physique of the Prime Minister himself, who certainly doesn’t look like weight training or a morning spin class are at the top of his list of priorities.

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