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Real talk: I am loving all the online workouts and fitness apps. But as a friend said to me, you just try harder in a group exercise class because you’re shamed into moving by the searing gaze of your instructor and classmates. Even if they are not looking at you at all! And since COVID-19 upended all our lives, I’ve really missed getting a serious sweat on. So when I heard about a Redondo Beach instructor who had basically MacGyvered his gym into a series of plastic cubes to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, I had to try it out. Here’s what the experience was like.

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Inspire South Bay Fitness is a 2,500 square-foot gym run by Peet and Tring Sapsin. With its tall ceilings and big double doors opening to a front street and back parking lot, it seems more like a warehouse than a gym—which is just the vibe I like in a workout space. However, even the airiest workout spaces make me nervous these days, since all this talk about micronized drops and asymptomatic carriers points to the fact that you don’t have to seem sick to actually have COVID-19. (Also, getting you heart rate up means a lot of heavy breathing.)

And even though gyms in Los Angeles County were allowed to re-open on June 12, it's not easy keeping all those miles of gyms sanitized. Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger even left Gold's Gym recently without working out because the facility allowed clients to pump iron without wearing face masks. As for me, I recently tried a kickboxing class where the instructor cleaned every inch like crazy but because the class was held in an air-conditioned storefront, there was no hope of not inhaling someone else's exhale. I left after five minutes.

The Sapsins were concerned about their clients feeling similarly unsafe, so they constructed nine workout pods for people taking classes. Six feet wide by 10 feet tall, the pods are created out of PVS pipes from Home Depot and transparent shower curtains from Target. The cubes are sturdy enough to withstand the breeze swirling through the gym from the open doors and large fans, and each one contains an assortment of weights and an exercise mat.

plastic cube workout teacher
Dana Dickey

I signed up for the 5 p.m. HIIT class, where four of us each had our own pod. Peet led the class, which had us alternatively doing burpees, sit-ups and those sideways lunges that always make me feel like the most ungainly hippo in a tutu. And truth, I was amazed at how sluggish and out of shape I was—guess that’s the price you pay for staying out of the gym for a few months. There was enough room in my little pod for me to fall sideways a bit in my plank, and to treat myself to a nice stretch or two. Best of all, Peet could correct my form through the wall of the pod, without either of us breathing on each other.

TLDR: I'm so grateful for the Sapsins for putting their pods together, and for their other health precautions including taking students temperatures before they come to class, and deep cleaning the gym between classes. Working out in the bright, airy space—with no face mask!—was the most free I have felt in a long time. The gym isn't local to me, but I'm totally on board with the 50-minute drive to get there so I can have a once a week physical and mental health treat.

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