Amy R. Ramos, seen here working out in Italy a few years ago, is our new fitness columnist | Credit: Courtesy

Here’s an embarrassing confession: I suffer from a bad case of quarantine competitiveness.

When acquaintances announced they’d written books during lockdown, I felt inadequate — I could barely keep up with my day job, let alone take up a side project. I also found myself mystified — and frankly a bit ticked off — by people who had time during quarantine to bake bread, master a musical instrument, and allegedly stream all of Netflix.

On the other hand, I am proud to say that I have not spent the past two years in sweatpants, and I managed to avoid putting on “the COVID 15” by ordering takeout sparingly and continuing to exercise. The latter was a challenge, since I was in the gym five days a week before the pandemic, for group fitness offerings from weight training to hip-hop dance to yoga. My home office, which doubled as my work-from-home office, also became my workout studio — complete with weights, foam roller, and even a portable ballet barre — where I streamed both live online classes and on-demand workouts.

But when you’ve been a gym rat for as long as I have, there’s only so much time you can spend exercising in a 10′-by-10′ bedroom, no matter how thoroughly equipped it is. With the Omicron surge receding, the mask mandate lifted, and my frozen gym membership defrosted in February’s heat wave, the Independent’s call for a workout writer beckoned me back to the gym.

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I know there’s a school of thought that gym membership is superfluous in a place like Santa Barbara, with its mild weather and outdoor activities available from ocean waves to mountain peaks. And I have to admit, bench presses and treadmills hold little appeal for me. But I gravitate toward the structure of instructor-led classes, and I enjoy the social aspect of working out with others. Air conditioning is nice too.

Pandemic life showed me how helpful it could be to maintain certain routines, such as cooking dinner with my husband every night, and also how much I longed to try new things.

In this column, I’ll share what it feels like to return to my own longtime gym, and I’ll also report on my experience with other players on the Santa Barbara fitness scene.

Whether you’ve never belonged to a gym or just took a break during COVID, I hope you’ll get inspired to try a new workout or recommit to your exercise routine. For this endeavor, I’ve checked my competitiveness at the door — let’s get fit together.

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