People exercising in the D.C. location of 202 Strong Credit: Jonathan Thorpe

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Home Gym is a series by City Paper writers looking at the different ways D.C. is working out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay updated on local cancelations with our updated list, and visit the CDC website for information on how to practice safe habits during this time.

As a long distance runner, I’ve always wondered how my fitness would translate to other workouts. Since 2013, I’ve run a marathon a year. My workout routine consists of long runs on the weekend and shorter runs and track workouts during the week. I occasionally play tennis, but besides that, don’t do much else for exercise.

The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has caused cities to shut down gyms, including in D.C. People are encouraged to practice social distancing, and races, including the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in April, have been canceled. Running outside is still an option, but many official training groups have canceled their programs.

That’s why when I logged onto Instagram on Monday, and saw a few accounts hosting live virtual workouts classes, I became intrigued. One of the accounts by Maddie Watkins featured a modified strength and circuit training class that she teaches at 202 Strong, the fitness gyms she founded and owns with a location in D.C. and Bethesda. (Full disclosure: Watkins and I graduated from the same high school in [redacted year], and I went to a 202 Strong class while rehabbing a sprained ankle last year.)

I decided I would join the virtual Instagram Live class at noon the following day.

***

It’s 11:58 a.m., and I hustle to my living room with two towels in my hand. Since I don’t own a yoga or exercise mat, a 2019 U.S. Open tennis towel will have to suffice. The other, smaller towel is for when I inevitably start sweating.

I click on Watkins’ Instagram just before she begins her session. 

“I don’t know about you, but I’m so excited about noon every single day,” she tells the roughly 50 people participating, “because I get to connect and interact with you guys.”

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Today our session involves a series of push-ups, lunges, wall sits, and crunches for the next half an hour. Our strength movement is push-ups. They sound like rather basic exercises, which builds my confidence. 

For warm-up, I get into a high plank position with my hands and feet on the ground. We start to do “mountain climbers,” walking our knees into our chest, and then speeding up. We’re then told to cross knees to our opposite elbows, running in a forward motion while in the plank position.

My wrists start to hurt. We’ve been moving about 30 seconds. Not a great start.

We transition into the bulk of the strength workout: nine minutes, alternating a minute with push-ups, followed by a minute of “superman holds,” which involve laying on your stomach and lifting your arms, legs, or both. Everything is done in the EMOM format, which stands for “every minute on the minute.” You do as many reps as you can in a minute. We begin with regular push-ups, which will be followed by push-ups with shoulder taps, and finally, clapping push-ups.

“Think about screwing your hands into the floor and setting your shoulder blades down and back,” Watkins tells us.

I get in the plank position to start a push-up, and as I lower my body, it takes extreme effort to get back up. Now I’m really worried. I’m pretty sure I can’t do push-ups anymore.

I power through the sets, taking extended breaks, relieved that no one else can see this pitiful athletic display. (I could not do a single clapping push-up.)

We move into the next set of wall sits, plank jumps, bicycle kicks, plank pull throughs, which involve moving a roll of toilet paper from side to side, and lunges. My self-esteem can’t sink much lower, but at least we’re not doing push-ups anymore. 

“My arms on fire, I don’t know about you,” Watkins says as we finish up our last set of plank pull throughs. I grab my towel, and sit in a chair, defeated.

***

I reach out to Watkins a few minutes after the class. She tells me she plans to host these virtual classes at noon Mondays through Fridays indefinitely. This way she can stay connected to her staff and members. On March 15, Watkins made the difficult decision to temporarily close her gyms.  

The structure of the sessions is similar to her circuit training courses at 202 Strong, minus the equipment. 

Watkins says she’s gained more than 150 new Instagram followers since last Friday. Being isolated in her D.C. apartment, she explains that these workouts have become her favorite part of her day. In a strange way, Watkins feels that she’s been able to connect with people on a deeper level during this time, despite the physical distance. The universe, she says, is telling us to slow down, take a deep breath, and go day by day.

That’s all we can do.