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'Maintaining a sense of humanity': Fitness for all in a new world

Emma Middlebrook is a Portland-based personal trainer who has been providing free workouts digitally to help people at every level.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Emma Middlebrook, a Portland-based personal trainer, has always made it her mission to make sure that her fitness space is inclusive and safe to people who may not feel welcome in traditional gym spaces.

She does one-on-one training and hosts a weekly queer workout when her gym is open, but it has been closed for two months.

Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, her message is the same. But the delivery is a little different.

With the help of her partner, Paige Hudson, Emma has been hosting virtual workout classes that cater to all levels and certainly all people.

"Obviously the first couple weeks were a little wonky, we were doing it from our house, the mics were weird and all that," said Paige. "We've gotten things tightened up."

The participation has been consistent. Paige and Emma said they craved the connection, even digitally, as much as the class pupils.

"It's created a whole new sense of community," said Emma. "I've always had one in my fitness world but this is on a different level, almost on a deeper level, it is a lot more of this feeling of making a connection when everyone is at home and we can't do that physically."

The intimidation of a fitness class can be a lot for some people but Emma and Paige make it a point to be sensitive to the needs of everyone. Participation doesn't require turning on the camera. But for some, the participation is part of an invaluable routine as quarantine continues.

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With states opening around the country and Multnomah County on the horizon of entering Phase 1, Emma isn't concerned for her gym and its cleanliness but points out larger gyms may struggle.

"In Portland, there are so many different sized studios," said Emma. "Larger gyms, like the big chain gyms, will have a bigger struggle just because there are so many high-touch surfaces. People are not going to want to wear masks because it's hard enough. I think little gyms will probably thrive."

The workout classes have been free. But beginning in June she will offer classes for $15 with a sensitivity toward people's incomes, or lack thereof, during difficult times. Emma said she will make the videos available for rewatching, in case the timing isn't quite right for some.

She hopes to keep the virtual classes going and says working out virtually will never replace a trainer, but sees it as the future of fitness in a lot of ways.

The classes are open to anyone of any shape, size, fitness level, in any location across the country and beyond.

"If you've ever been intimidated, if you've ever been scared about working out in a group setting, this is the perfect introduction because you don't have to interact with anyone and you get to do it from the comfort of your own home," Emma said. "We have seen so many babies, cat butts, dogs -- you name it. Whatever makes you feel comfortable. You can still have that safety in the room with you."

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