Back in 1984, Steve Ockerman was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, stationed at Quantico, Va., when he noticed an ad campaign for Soloflex, the resistance-based home exercise machines. The ads featured model Scott Madsen, shirtless and ripped, with a price-conscious tagline that dubbed his torso “The $495 Body” (about $1,229.71 in 2020 dollars). Wowed by the ads, Ockerman ordered a Soloflex and worked out on it “pretty consistently” for a decade, he says, carting it with him to Okinawa, St. Louis, and beyond.

Then he got married.

“My wife didn't really like having it so prominently in our small, small residence,” he says. “So up to the attic it went.”

And there it rested for 26 years, “unused, unloved, almost forgotten,” says Ockerman, now an attorney specializing in family law in Charlotte, N.C., where he generally worked out four or five times a week at the gym of the local tennis club.

Then Covid-19 hit.

On March 26, Mecklenburg County issued a stay-at-home order. Ockerman’s exercise routine was halted. What to do?

“The light went on, and I went, Oh!” he says. Out came the Soloflex, which Ockerman set up in an alcove of his TV room. “And five minutes later, I was working out again.”

Across the country, Americans under lockdown orders are trying to figure out how to stay fit. Lucky ones have home gyms, Peloton bikes, unpopulated forest trails in their back yards, or at least a few dumbbells or a dusty rowing machine easily converted back from doorstops and clothing rack. Others are joining in yoga and Crossfit classes, via Zoom.

Somewhere in between lie people making do with ThighMasters—or NordicTracks, Bowflexes, even Gazelle Gliders—those almost-novelty, infomercial stalwarts of the 1990s–2000s heyday of cable TV salesmanship. Now that we’re all sitting on our butts, those impulse purchases are coming out of storage, both to assuage our guilt and, quite possibly, to tone our glutes.

“We’re in a moment when exercise is considered to be a virtue,” says Natalia Petrzela, an associate professor of history at the New School who is writing a book on American fitness culture. “Everyone feels they should be exercising at some point in their life.”

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