As the crises of 2020 stretch into 2021, it’s difficult to stay optimistic enough for something like a New Year’s resolution. What’s the point of drinking more water, if your state botches its vaccine rollout? What does it profit a man if he gains six-pack abs, but loses his Twitter account in the Purge?
Well, I can’t fault anyone for giving up resolutions adopted in the more hopeful days of last month, but I don’t have that luxury. My little sister is getting married in April, even if the ceremony has to take place in a bunker beneath the smoldering ruins of Pittsburgh. As the single older sister and maid-of-honor, it is my solemn duty to avoid becoming an object of pity at this event by looking very hot. So I’m on the hook for getting fit this year, no excuses. Perhaps some of my efforts in this area will benefit you, too, if you manage to pry your eyes away from one browser window and begin a workout regimen on another.
That’s the odd thing about amateur fitness programs during this strange time: they occur on the same screen, in the same space, often in the same clothes, as every other thing you do now. Take Yoga with Adriene, the home-fitness phenomenon crowned by the New York Times as ‘The Reigning Queen of Pandemic Yoga’. Adriene was popular even before the COVID crisis, but her online-only, at-home-optimized platform ballooned last year to over nine million YouTube subscribers. Part of Adriene’s appeal is the ordinariness of her set-up. Her actual dog often wanders into a Downward Dog. She wears sweatpants and baggy t-shirts she might have gotten for free at a 5k; her apartment is small and furnished with Ikea and sturdy houseplants. Adriene’s most earnest desire is that you feel mindful and connected after one of her videos, which is very sweet, but if your goals are more specific, you may need to supplement Adriene with another program.
Contrast the inviting and beginner-friendly Adriene with Lia Bartha, the Hawaiian ballerina behind the B the Method pilates app. The promise of B the Method is to ‘lengthen, strengthen, and protect your entire body’ through various hinges, pivots, and rotations. The ‘lengthening’ bit of the Method seems to have worked well for Lia herself, who is about eight feet tall. She’s made entirely of long straight lines: her torso, her legs, her teeth, her hair. She wears only matching sets of leggings and bras, which appear to have been sculpted directly onto her impossibly lithe body. These outfits, no matter how tight or cropped, are no more suggestive than if they decorated a mannequin, and in fact her completely visible musculature makes her effective as a close-up 3D diagram of the complex positions. It’s not uncommon, in B the Method, to find yourself in a sort of game of Twister: left knee on the ground while right leg extends, making tiny clockwise circles; right elbow down while left arm extends, making tiny counter-clockwise circles. Lia Bartha is the only person on earth who doesn’t look ridiculous doing this. ‘It’s almost like a little bit of a coordination thing,’ she giggles.
Like most yoga and pilates-type workouts I’ve tried, B the Method uses florid metaphors, which on first hearing seem to prescribe literally impossible actions: open your chest, soften your knees. I get the idea, usually, except when I don’t: reach through your head, breathe into your spine, add length in your core. I’m often reminded, on the mat, of the corporate metaphors that fill my workday, all the circling back and drilling down and moving parts. This makes sense: online workout libraries are full of videos that promise to protect your wrists and alleviate pain in your back and neck — typical injuries for knowledge workers hunched over screens all day, typing. Low-impact sweat-free 15-minute sequences are optimized for the time between Zoom calls, especially if you’re already wearing spandex leggings. My goals happen not to be specifically related to my posture or the avoidance of carpal tunnel, but if yours are, Adriene, Lia and plenty of other YouTube gurus have your back (or neck, or wrists).
Which brings me to my perennial favorite of the online exercise platforms, a program with no chill and no resemblance to my professional life: BodyBoss. I’ve done this 12-week program twice before, usually after the holidays, when I catch myself claiming that shortbread cookies contain ‘healthy fats’, or justifying Bloody Marys with the celery stick. The BodyBoss program is both severe and refreshingly honest. It does not claim that you will get a cuter butt by stretching and meditating. It knows you will get a cuter butt by doing 100 lunges and 72 jump squats three times per week. The instructors in the videos don’t joke with you about their dogs and kids; they are anonymous, drowned out by wordless techno music and robotically following the orders of the disembodied voice that booms the next assignment: ’24 half-burpees!’ ’30 tricep dips!’ ’80 high-knees!’ The building-blocks of jumping jacks, push-ups, squats and planks are recombined over and over to innovate new ways of being miserable for eight minutes at a time. I wish that it didn’t work, but it does.
My mother has taken a more sane route to getting her steps and preparing for my sister’s wedding, by finding a YouTube channel that teaches her the Cupid Shuffle and the Cha-Cha Slide, and practicing in the TV room with my five-year-old nieces. As far as I’m concerned, as long as what’s on the screen isn’t the news, you can’t really go wrong.