PROVINCETOWN — It’s early Monday morning at Mussel Beach Health Club and gymgoers are filing in and out. Some arrive on bikes, already warmed up. Some are wearing masks because of Provincetown’s recent uptick in detected Covid-19 cases. But all who enter the gym seem focused and determined.
After a pandemic year that forced many to change their normal fitness routines, recovering and maintaining health has become a high priority.
Mussel Beach was closed for three months during the peak of the pandemic. Even though it reopened last July, following the state’s guidelines, Mussel Beach, like most gyms and fitness clubs in Massachusetts, has still just begun to return to normal levels of operation.
Tatsiana Hurst, a personal trainer at the club, said she thinks they are getting close to pre-pandemic numbers of gymgoers, especially since vaccines have become widely available. But, she said, this re-emergence is only partly due to high vaccination levels. People are hitting the gym, she said, because being stuck at home during the shutdown was a setback for our bodies.
Natalie Ballesteros, who lives year-round in Provincetown and has been working at Mussel Beach for three years, was stationed at the front desk on Monday. She said she had not been wearing a mask since the gym fully reopened this summer, but with the report of new cases of Covid-19 in town, she made the decision to wear one again while at work.
Though the club has been busy with year-round residents and visitors, Natalie said she has still not seen some pre-pandemic regulars.
“I think quite a few people still feel a bit unsure, so they hesitate,” Hurst said.
Mussel Beach has a public weight room and cardio room, and offers personal training and two to four fitness or yoga classes each day. More men than women were in view working out on a Monday, but the gym offers spin classes, and several women emerged following that day’s session.
Hurst said that most of her year-round clients actually stuck with her during the pandemic while gyms were shut down. “My husband and I also have a private home gym, where clients came to see me while Mussel Beach was closed,” she said.
What’s different this year, she thinks, is that now, more than ever, people are seeking the help of personal trainers to get back on track with an exercise routine. “I had quite a number of new inquiries this year,” she said. “I think the pandemic really put the importance of good health in the forefront of people’s minds.”
For some, the long period away from the gym became a chance to try something new.
Scot Presley, who lives in Provincetown half the year, is one of those who developed a different fitness routine thanks to the pandemic. He has been a member at Mussel Beach for a few years now. He originally focused on weight training at the gym, but home, outdoor, and online classes got him to experiment more. Gradually, his fitness routine shifted from weight training to yoga.
“I found that yoga helped me find a healthy mindset,” Presley said. That was not something his weight training helped him with.
When Presley finally set foot inside Mussel Beach again two weeks ago, it was for a Monday morning yoga class taught by instructor Lipe Lucarelli.
Lucarelli, originally from Brazil, also lives in Provincetown half the year. He’s been a dancer since he was a teenager and first came to Provincetown in 2019 to perform in Cabaret with the Peregrine Theatre Ensemble. He met his husband in town and found a little bit of a life here, he said.
He now teaches four yoga classes each week at Mussel Beach, as well as being an instructor for Outermost Yoga. But yoga is a new direction for him.
“I come from dance,” Lucarelli said, “and during the pandemic I didn’t have dance.” That’s when he started to shift gears and learn. He became a certified yoga instructor, he said, and he’s enjoying the relationship between his past and new modalities. “Now I’m working with the parallels between yoga and dance,” he said.
At the same time, seeing people’s need for individualized coaching, he is now working to get his personal fitness training certification as well.
Both Lucarelli and Hurst are thinking about ways to alleviate the uncertainty people may still feel — or may feel anew — about working out indoors. Outdoor yoga, for example, could be an important option.
But the main factor affecting people’s enjoyment of a return to the gym, Hurst thinks, is an individual one. At a time like this, she said, setting a realistic fitness goal is key.
“Starting small and building on that base will get you further than starting huge and failing to follow through,” she said. “For example, commit to one day a week and stick to it for a month,” she said. That’s a good start, and once that’s your routine, add another day, she said.
People make unreasonable demands on themselves, she believes. And that can backfire. “People say, ‘I will go to the gym every day and spend an hour there,’ ” she said. “Once life gets in the way and you skip a day, it tends to fall apart quickly.”