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Friends Form a COVID Workout ‘Bubble’ For Physical — And Mental — Health

Friends on the workout bubble pose for a picture in a garage with workout equipment, including barbells and free weights.
From left to right: Sandra, Belinda (Sandra’s twin sister), Emmanuel, Gabriela (front center), Andi, Aubree, Daniel (squatting) and Terry. Unable to exercise in gyms because they didn’t feel safe, the "super friends" created an “exercise bubble.”
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)
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During the pandemic, the fitness sector of the economy has taken a big hit, especially in health-conscious Los Angeles. Lockdown orders imposed difficult restrictions for those looking to stay fit. Unable to go to the gym anymore, you increasingly saw some people who exercised every day gaining weight or visibly losing muscle mass. Working out wasn’t just a major part of their physical health but of their mental health too.

I needed other people’s energy to work off of, and I liked the competitive element of it.

I personally worked out in the gym at Pan Pacific Park, which had a weight machine. There were only a few of us who used it so there was no competition for the weights, and we would push each other. I could never work out by myself. I needed other people’s energy to work off of, and I liked the competitive element of it. I could work out for an hour with one guy, and if he stopped and someone else showed up, I could work out another hour with that person. But all by myself? Forget about it.

With the coffeehouses closed, I hung out in the local parks more. But eventually I was run out of the parks as well, because of all the personal trainers having to train their clients out in the open air. I’d be sitting in the park in some corner or far-off isolated place to read, eat or just relax. Then, all of a sudden, I look up, and there’s a bunch of grunting power lifters going at it, or a group of 9-year-old girls forming a yoga class right in front of me. For the latter, that's when it's really best to get the hell out of dodge.

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Along with toilet paper and sanitizing gel, personal weights have actually been one of the most sought after and scarce items during the pandemic. They seemed impossible to get a hold of. Walking around I would see people setting up gyms in their garages, and I would look hungrily at the weights, my muscles starved for some power-flexing. One such spot was right around the corner from where I slept. I’d walk by after dark and see them working out. Eventually, I got to talking to them. It was a “minion” group, not more than 10 select people working out together to create a quarantine “bubble.” I briefly thought about asking if I could work out with them. But that thought disintegrated quickly when I found out they were CrossFit training. They didn’t just casually work out. They went at it like goddamn Marines. Just watching them put the fear of God in me.

Emmanuel.
Emmanuel.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)

Emmanuel is a health care worker who saw the devastating effects of COVID-19 early on. He began ordering gym equipment for his garage, long before the universal rush on equipment made it worth its weight in gold. Eventually, he invited his closest friends from his gym to join him. They are all regularly tested and keep the number of people in the group to less than 10 for the bubble to stay safe.

Gabriela and Daniel
Gabriela and Daniel.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)

Gabriela and Daniel are married, and work in the vacation travel accommodations industry, which was wiped out by lockdown restrictions. They had to deal emotionally with their business shutting down. But, as fitness enthusiasts, they were also deeply affected by no longer being able to keep up a disciplined workout regimen. When Emmanuel invited them to train in his private bubble, they were able to slowly work themselves out of the physical and psychological malaise they were in. This actually coincided with an increase in their business. I was curious how that was possible. Daniel explained:

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“After several months of lockdown, people started going stir crazy cramped in with their families. They started renting out other houses just to get out of their own houses.”

Interesting.

‘Wonder Power Twins, Activated'

Sandra and Belinda are the fourth set of twins that I have photographed in less than one square mile, and the third set of twin girls I’ve shot within two blocks of each other (the Angel twins and Wright twins are featured in previous work). They are definitely putting something in the water around here.

Note: Each of these women is capable of lifting more weight than this by herself, but I didn’t want to be responsible for them holding that position too long.

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Twin sisters, Sandra and Belinda.
Twin sisters, Sandra and Belinda.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)
Twin sisters, Sandra and Belinda.
Twin sisters, Sandra and Belinda.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)
Belinda.
Belinda.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)

Belinda is Emmanuel's wife and also a frontline health care worker. The stress early on in the pandemic was especially difficult for frontline workers like them. Working out in her garage helped relieve some stress. Eventually, her twin sister and other friends joined in.

Sandra, Belinda’s twin sister, is a physical therapist specializing in sports medicine. She talked about what it’s like dealing with athletes, not just their physical injuries, but also the depression that comes after an injury, because so much of their lives are focused on sports.

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Sandra.
Sandra.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)

Her work stopped completely with the shutdown, as everyone avoided any kind of physical contact. She was not only unable to work for months but couldn’t touch anyone. For someone whose life’s work is dedicated to being a healer, it was mentally debilitating. She said that she dealt with severe depression herself, unable to get out of it, until her sister invited her to workout in her garage. With physical exercise and contact with her family and friends, Sandra was able to lift herself out of her depression. And as time progressed, clients began to return, and she began to slowly rebuild her practice.

Aubree. An actress who is one of the regulars at the Chez Garage Gym.

Aubree, Terry and Andi.
(Left to right) Aubree, Terry and Andi.
(Bumdog Torres
/
For LAist)

Terry. Originally from a small town in Texas, moved to L.A. on a promotion at his nationwide company. Like many people, he not only missed working out but also the socializing that the coronavirus halted. He said that not only does he love to work out, but working out with his friends has basically become his only social interaction. Btw, this would have been a better shot if there had been more red flowers on the bush to match against his hair and beard.

Andi also works in the entertainment business and brings her dog when she works out.

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