Balance Gym in Capitol Hill
Balance Gym in Capitol Hill Credit: Kelyn Soong

Wendy, a 38-year-old employee of the Food and Drug Administration, had trouble falling asleep. Normally, the Greenbelt resident has a set workweek routine: go to bed before 10 p.m., wake up early to either run with friends or attend a gym class at work, then settle at her desk for a full day of work.

But on a recent weekday, 18 days into the partial federal government shutdown, Wendy couldn’t fall asleep until two in the morning. She missed her morning run, and she didn’t feel like her usual bubbly self.

“I get really bleak. I’m afraid to spend money. It’s hard to do anything but sleep,” she says. “When I’m not busy and regimented, I don’t do well. … I guess I’m the type of person, if I have to schedule something, I’m better at sticking to it, but when it’s wide open, I’m, ‘Ehh, I’ll do that later.’”

The federal shutdown has forced furloughed workers like Wendy to adjust their workout schedules and relationship with exercise. Gym memberships can be expensive and could be one of the first costs cut when an expected paycheck doesn’t arrive. Runners have adjusted their routes because rescue and emergency services are limited and public restrooms within nationally managed parks are closed. The freedom to workout without the structure of work can either be a blessing or a hindrance for employees accustomed to working out at a specific time.

Some area gyms are offering deals for federal workers as the shutdown stretches into its third week. Balance Gym, which has locations in Glover Park, Foggy Bottom, Capitol Hill, and Thomas Circle, is offering free access from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, to those with a valid federal employee ID.

The Bar Method DC, Bethesda, and North Potomac is offering two weeks of unlimited classes for new and lapsed clients for a discounted price of $39 as long as the shutdown is on, and 202strong, a strength and circuit training gym in D.C. and Maryland, is offering first classes for free and up to five classes for $5 for clients with a government ID.

Furloughed government employees and contractors can also attend two free off-peak classes per week at Elevate Interval Fitness, according to manager Laura Nichols.

Active Life DC, a website that promotes fitness-related events in D.C., keeps a running list of free D.C.-area workouts.

“Obviously we’re in this industry because we believe that fitness helps all things, minds and bodies,” says Naomi Osborne, the regional sales director at Balance. “So it made sense just to open up the doors and let furloughed people come in for a handful of hours to get their minds off it if nothing else.”

The gym launched the deal last Thursday and about a hundred people have taken advantage across the four locations, says Osborne. She adds that several of her federal employee friends have reached out to ask for work at the gym, and that a few members have inquired about freezing their accounts, unsure when the government will reopen.

Osborne and the company’s leaders settled on the afternoon time frame as to not disrupt the normal flow of clientele during the peak hours of early in the morning and late afternoon.

“Our doors are open, we’re not selling you stuff,” she says. “We want you to be in here taking care of yourself and keeping up with your routine. How brutal to be furloughed and not be able to go to the gym? You’d lose your mind.”

Megan Davey, a 36-year-old who works for the Department of Homeland Security, recently received a call from a friend. How’s vacation, she says her friend asked. You must be sleeping in a lot, her friend told her.

For Davey, who lives in Petworth and has a mortgage to pay on her condo, the answer is the opposite. She started teaching more CrossFit classes at Balance to make money.

“I was up at 5 a.m. I taught three classes this morning, so I’m not sleeping in, eating bonbons,” she says with a laugh.

For others, the shutdown means more time to work out.

Kevin Pritchard, 35, lives in Bethesda and works for the National Institute of Standards and Technology within the Department of Commerce. His schedule hasn’t changed much except that he’ll attend yoga classes during the day rather than in the evening. He’ll now go two to three times a week to Down Dog Yoga in Bethesda instead of just once a week.

But if the shutdown continues on for weeks, he says he’ll consider going back down to once a week to save money. He would spend more time working out in his basement. “Just doing pushups, situps, throw on the TV,” he says. Plus, it’s free.

We want to know how the shutdown is affecting you and the people you know, furloughed or not. Call (202) 681-9756 and leave a voicemail and we may feature your message in our podcast.