Brooklyn Residents Adapt To A City Without Gyms

Caption: Darren Tomasso (left) leads a fitness class in Dumbo. Photo courtesy of Darren Tomasso.

Gyms are gone, and we don’t know when they’re coming back. But that’s not stopping Brooklyn residents from finding other ways of staying in shape. Gym rats, now without a home, are moving their exercise routines outdoors and adopting workouts that don’t rely on traditional fitness equipment.

“A lot of people think that in order to work out you have to have dumbbells or things like the fancy new Peloton,” explained Darren Tomasso, 25, a Williamsburg based Health and Wellness Consultant. “In reality, you don’t need that. Your body is the best weight and you can still challenge yourself.”

Tomasso, who fills the role of Director of Training at Session and Head of Strength and HIIT at Throwdown NYC, has been leading donation based workout sessions in Brooklyn parks, including MCarren, Bushwick Inlet, Fort Greene, and Maria Hernandez. He claimed that the growing trend of outdoor, body weight workouts may actually usher in healthier modes of exercise.

“With body weight workouts, you learn more about your body, and you gain motor control,” Tomasso said.

Tomasso illustrated this point by using the example of a leg extension machine, a popular piece of gym equipment that focuses on the quadriceps, a group of muscles located on the front of the thigh.

“In terms of functional movement in your daily life, when are you using that movement?” Tomasso asked. “It’s great, you may have built a muscle, but when you’re working with body weight, and when you hit that full body movement, you’re building more strength and conditioning that way because you have so much more of your body working in tandem.”

Bushwick resident Harrison O’Neal, 29, said that after his local gym closed its doors in March, he found relief and a dose of empowerment from a series of body weight workouts that he could delve into at his apartment or in nearby parks.

“I started doing these Youtube videos of High Intensity Interval Training,” O’Neil said. “They’re pretty popular, and you just type ‘HIIT Workout’ on Youtube and it’s like 45 minutes of using your body weight.”

Echoing Tomasso’s thoughts, O’Neil said that his newfound body weight workout routine has allowed him a new perspective on his own physicality.

“Doing these workouts in my apartment by myself, they got me in touch with my body,” O’Neil said. “There’s this meditative aspect to them, which actually led me into yoga and focusing on body mindfulness and stretching.”

With the future of indoor exercise in purgatory, many gyms and health club chains have been forced to close for good. In June, 24 Hour Fitness permanently closed all of its 3 Brooklyn locations and filed for bankruptcy. Town Sports International, the parent company of New York Health Club, is in similar straits, as it’s been reported that they’re also considering filing for bankruptcy.

However, there are a select number of fitness establishments that have been able to carve a foothold in these uncertain times. One of them is BK Fit Studios, whose co-founder, Adam Sturm, said that while body weight workouts are becoming more popular, there’s also a community of people desperate to return to weight training.

BK Fit Studios’ outdoor gym in East Williamsburg. Photo courtesy of BK Fit Studios.

“For me, I’m a powerlifter, that’s my superpower,” Sturm said. “When it comes to push ups, I can do a lot. I can do air squats and lunges, but there’s only so much I can do.”

Sturm explained that BK Fit Studios has obtained two outdoor spaces in Brooklyn where they’re now hosting the same classes that they were before the pandemic hit.

“We secured an outdoor space in East Williamsburg–totally outdoors, and we’ve got a pullup rig out there, dumbbells, everything,” Sturm said. “Now we got the same thing in Clinton Hill. We’re like, ‘Okay, we’re nomadic.’”

Sturm credited BK Fit Studio’s CrossFit oriented workouts with why they’ve been able to outlast more traditional gyms.

“The good thing about CrossFit and cross-training is it does lend itself to a lot of different environments,” Sturm said. “I think what’s going to go away is the Crunch, NY Sports Club, Planet Fitness–the whole gym industry is shrinking. The landscape has changed, and it will change, but it’s really about your ability to adapt.”

When asked what he’ll do when the cold weather starts to come in, Sturm pointed out that climate trends are delaying the freezing temperatures until mid-December.

“We’re hanging our hat on climate change, as horrible and as sad as that is,” Sturm said. “We’ll get heaters, and we’ll do our best.”

While Sturm has found ways to retain the workout regimes, equipment and all, that attracted people to BK Fit Studios pre-pandemic, Tomasso and O’Neil said the past few months have permanently altered the way they approach fitness.

“When gyms open, sure I’ll incorporate weight training,” Tomasso said. “But I’m taking from this experience that I won’t strictly use barbells and traditional weight equipment going forward.”

O’Neil, for his part, said he won’t go back to a gym even if they start opening up again.

“It’s on my to-do-list to cancel my gym membership,” he said. “I’m not going to go back. I’ve been enjoying doing things outside.”

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Sam Rappaport

Writer. Musician. Sandwich enthusiast.

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