‘For the first time in 554 days, someone is being paid to shout at me’

In person gym classes return today for first time since the lockdown in the spring of 2020

A file image of an in-person fitness class which have been allowed resume on Monday  for first time since the first full lockdown in the spring of 2020. Photograph: Getty

A file image of an in-person fitness class which have been allowed resume on Monday for first time since the first full lockdown in the spring of 2020. Photograph: Getty


For the first time in 554 days, someone is being paid to shout at me. Over a soundtrack of dance music claiming - loudly, if entirely wrongly - that this is the “rhythm of the night”, I’m told to straighten my back, focus on my core and hang on for 10 more seconds if I want those abs of steel.

In truth, I know those abs of steel are probably beyond me now but I persevere, happy to be part of another - particularly sweaty - sign that things are going back to the way they once were.

It is 6.15am and 10 people have gathered in the main studio in the One Escape gym in Dublin’s Smithfield for its first full class since the first lockdown way back in the spring of 2020.

Before the class starts, everyone stands around in companionable silence, looking awkwardly at themselves in the wall mirrors and - probably - wondering quietly what the hell they are doing here when they could be warm in bed dreaming of cycling a tandem along the Great Wall of China.

That may just have been my dream.

The instructor sweeps into the studio full of light and smiles that normally have no place at a time like this.

She is practically glowing with good health and good cheer but despite the momentousness of the moment, the first in-person fitness class she has been allowed to give in 18 months, she is business like.

Everyone is here to work and there is no time for emotional reunion speeches.

“Welcome back, I am Sarah. Is anyone injured or pregnant? Remember social distancing and be smart.”

And with that we are away.

Sarah is full of encouragement but carries just the right hint of steel in her voice. She tells everyone to push themselves that little bit harder, to make their muscles burn that little bit more.

The class is TRX - which for anyone who has not done it - sees participants use straps dangling from the ceiling to perform all manner of gravity defying push-ups and chest presses and floaty plank style exercises.

At least that is what it is supposed to happen. When the time comes for the plank, Sarah says we can position our feet in the straps or just do the plank on the floor. She warns us all that it has been a while and unless we know exactly what we are doing we might be as well off to avoid the straps for now.

Wildly over-confident about my own ability, I go for the straps. My legs wobble uncertainly like a new born foal on a bouncy castle as I attempt to position my feet in the stirrupy things (not the official word).

Eventually I fall to the floor with all the elegance of the imaginary bouncy castle foal .

All the way through the class, Sarah sticks with the upbeat encouragement. “Only 10 seconds to go you can do it,” she tells us. “You got out of bed so early you don’t want to waste it by not working as hard as you can. Only four more rounds to go.”

Four? Jesus.

She adds a move to the plank and tells the class to tap alternate shoulders while they hold the position.

“Tap, tap, tap,” she shouts while the soundtrack tells us the singer likes to “move it move it”. Sarah makes the taping on her shoulders go machine gun fast. The class isn’t quite up to her speed.

She goes “Tap. Tap. Tap”. We go: Tap, long pause, heavy breathing. Tap, longer pause, moan. Tap.

Then, suddenly, it is over.

The class looks delighted, if a little shook.

“It’s just absolutely fantastic to be back working with a group working rather than being on your own,” says teacher Colm O’Foghle.

“It’s much easier to get motivated within a class environment than coming in cold on your own and having to motivate yourself.”

He doesn’t mind the early start either. “You kind of do feel a bit righteous when everybody else is getting up and you’re kind of thinking I’ve got this done. I suppose it gets you in the frame of mind to go at work.”

Eileen Kelly is singing from the same hymn sheet and welcomes the return of the classes because they “make it easier to get motivated and to get out of bed in the morning and it is great for the cardio because I think you push yourself much harder in the classes”.

But no one is more delighted to be back than the instructor, Sarah O’Meara.

“Oh my God, I’m so relieved,” she says as she sanitises the straps and the mats after the class.

“My job hasn’t really been my job since the start. Everyone is so excited for the classes to be back.”

She has run zoom classes and - more recently - personal training sessions but is much happier to be where she is now and optimistic we’re back for good now.

She isn’t remotely phased by the early start either.

“That doesn’t bother me at all, other people are here so my job is just to wake them up a little bit.”

“A little bit?” I think as I hobble up the stairs full of endorphins and righteous smugness. It was good to be back, great even.