After Months Away From the Gym, Is the Best Workout No Workout At All?

A FEW MONTHS AGO, I sprawled out on my living-room couch, my laptop burning my thighs, and opened my Zoom app as I had done every morning since last March. But the face, or should I say, the body, looking back at me through the screen was notably different from my usual digital workday encounters. Wearing a dramatically nipped-in evening top, the influencer/model/entrepreneur Olivia Culpo (4.7 million Instagram followers) had signed on from her home in Los Angeles to greet a grid of smiling editors and writers. While nuzzling her caramel toy Goldendoodle, Oliver Sprinkles—her hair in a glossy, distinctly pre-pandemic-quality blowout—Culpo was talking about what everyone wants to talk about at 10 a.m. on a cold Thursday in December, following almost a year of stress-eating in isolation: toned abs. “It’s been really hard during COVID, not being able to go to the gym and trying to be accountable at home,” Culpo lamented as the other well-groomed participants nodded along in agreement.

But the 28-year-old, whose midsection didn’t seem to be struggling with accountability in the same way as, say, mine, had discovered a solution: “After one treatment, I already felt a difference,” Culpo said, endorsing the Emsculpt Neo, a buzzy new cosmetic device that purports to burn fat and tone muscles in four 30-minute treatments. It’s the perfect workout for the COVID era, Manhattan plastic surgeon Jennifer Levine, M.D., offered from an adjacent square, cheerfully describing a new crop of sculpting devices that use radiofrequency to melt fat while electric currents and electromagnetic waves tone muscles for you—no squats or bird-dogs required. Added Levine, “You can get a treatment in a room alone, and wear a mask!” In America, the pursuit to become our so-called best selves never stops, not even during a pandemic.