Back to the gym

Late last month, the Indian government permitted gyms and yoga centres to open from August 5th, with sufficient social distancing and safety precautions. The Karnataka government immediately notified the order. Perhaps to take time to prepare, and give coaches who had gone out of state to return and complete their home quarantines, my gym began only yesterday.

And I went today.

Initially I was a bit sceptical. Not from the safety perspective – the gym had put in place several safety measures such as limiting the number of members in the gym at the same time. I was sceptical more from the perspective of the safety measures which could have been restrictive.

To cut a long story short, I managed to deadlift while wearing latex gloves. I had been highly sceptical of whether I would be able to do this. Usage of disposable latex gloves in the gym was a regulation that the gym had enforced, and justified saying that the government regulations now mandated it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CECa1i7M3GU/

I had to use an app that the gym asked me to install to book a session. Since I’m not interested in their classes, and don’t want to go there when too many people are around, I booked an “open gym” session for this afternoon.

Before I got there I had to print out a declaration form saying that I don’t have covid (and basically indemnifying the gym if I caught it there). So I went to this shop close to the gym, printed it out and then headed to the gym. I had bought some cloth masks over the weekend since I wanted something “breathable” (I didn’t want to take off the mask at the gym). Compared to my usual wildcraft mask, this seemed so peaceful that it sort of felt “illegal”.

I was welcomed at the gym by Abhijit, the housekeeping guy. He took my printout, asked me to sanitise my hands, took my temperature and oxygen readings, and then sprayed me with some disinfectant. He explained the rules. There were boxes drawn all over the gym. I was supposed to keep all my belongings in one such box. Any equipment I used was to also go into that box – it would later be sanitised.

I warmed up with some dead hangs (and got reminded of that pull up bar that I’ve spectacularly failed to install in my balcony – after two attempts). And some leg raises. And then got down to business.

This is among the longest gaps I’ve taken in terms of lifting weights after I seriously started in 2014. My left shoulder hurt as I gripped the empty bar on my shoulder for my squat. I went through with the motion.

So there is this theory about force behaviour change – when there as a series of London Tube strikes in 2014, people were forced to change the way they travelled – involving alternate routes and connections, and even some alternate modes of transport. What the study found was that once the strike was over, some people stuck to the new alternatives they had found during the strikes. In other words, the forced ┬ábehaviour change led people to discover more optimal ┬ábehaviours.

I think that might have happened to me to some extent. Having been denied the use of the gym for the last five months, I’ve experimented with other exercises I could do from home. Having read Convict Conditioning, I started doing the progressions of pushups, squats, (sleeping) leg raises and bridges.

Prior to this, for the last six years I had stuck to a standard regimen of parallel back squats, shoulder press, bench press and deadlifts (in the last year or so I had added sumo deadlifts and front squats to my repertoire). This had allowed me to significantly improve lower body strength but my upper body strength had stalled.

The bodyweight exercises at home have had some interesting results – I now “naturally” squat deep (calves touching hamstrings), and I did the same today even with loaded squats. And my upper body finally shows signs of improvement, with all those pushups (though inability to install my pullup bar means my upper body might be growing weirdly).

So for the first time ever, with a barbell on my shoulders, I squatted deep. It was comfortable. I progressively increased the weights but didn’t go too heavy (don’t want to start my comeback with an injury). And then it was time for some deadlifts. My earlier fear of whether it could be safely done with latex gloves proved unfounded. However, again I stuck to lower weights (I have this problem with deadlifts that at lower weights my form is sometimes imperfect. The weight doesn’t “Force me to do it correctly” like higher weights do).

I must say I seriously missed this. This evening I felt the hungriest I have ever felt in the last six months. I’m sure to be going back regularly, at least once a week (possibly two). I’m going to continue with my bodyweight exercises, not wanting to give up the “alternate gains” I’ve had over the last six months.

By the time I was done this evening my mask was soaked, as were my clothes. I hope I wake up up tomorrow in a position to move.

The future of work, and cities

Ok this is the sort of speculative predictive post that I don’t usually indulge in. However, I think my blog is at the right level of obscurity that makes it conducive for making speculative predictions. It is not popular enough that enough people will remember this prediction in case this doesn’t come through. And it’s not that obscure as well – in case it does come through, I can claim credit.

So my claim is that companies whose work doesn’t involve physically making stuff haven’t explored the possibilities of remote work enough before the current (covid-19) crisis hit. With the gatherings of large people, especially in air-conditioned spaces being strongly discouraged, companies that hadn’t given remote working enough thought are being forced to consider the opportunity now.

My prediction is that once the crisis over and things go back to “normal”, there will be converts. Organisations and teams and individuals who had never before thought that working from home would have taken enough of a liking to the concept to give it a better try. Companies will become more open to remote working, having seen the benefits (or lack of costs) of it in the period of the crisis. People will commute less. They will travel less (at least for work purposes). This is going to have a major impact on the economy, and on cities.

I’m still not done with cities.

For most of history, there has always been a sort of natural upper limit to urbanisation, in the form of disease. Before germ theory became a thing, and vaccinations and cures came about for a lot of common illnesses, it was routine for epidemics to rage through cities from time to time, thus decimating their population. As a consequence, people didn’t live in cities if they could help it.

Over the last hundred years or so (after the “Spanish” flu of 1918), medicine has made sufficient progress that we haven’t seen such disease or epidemics (maybe until now). And so the network effect of cities has far outweighed the problem of living in close proximity to lots of other people.

Especially in the last 30 years or so, as “knowledge work” has formed a larger part of the economies, a disproportionate part of the economic growth (and population growth) has been in large cities. Across the world – Mumbai, Bangalore, London, the Bay Area – a large part of the growth has come in large urban agglomerations.

One impact of this has been a rapid rise in property prices in such cities – it is in the same period that these cities have become virtually unaffordable for the young to buy houses in. The existing large size and rapid growth contribute to this.

Now that we have a scary epidemic around us, which is likely to spread far more in dense urban agglomerations, I imagine people at the margin to reconsider their decisions to live in large cities. If they can help it, they might try to move to smaller towns or suburbs. And the rise of remote work will aid this – if you hardly go to office and it doesn’t really matter where you live, do you want to live in a crowded city with a high chance of being hit by a stray virus?

This won’t be a drastic movement, but I see a marginal redistribution of population in the next decade away from the largest cities, and in favour of smaller towns and cities.It won’t be large, but significant enough to have an impact on property prices. The bull run we’ve seen in property prices, especially in large and fast-growing cities, is likely to see some corrections. Property holders in smaller cities that aren’t too unpleasant to live in can expect some appreciation.

Oh, and speaking of remote work, I have an article in today’s Times Of India about the joys of working from home. It’s not yet available online, so I’ve attached a clipping.