Bretman Rock sits at an exercise bench in a garage, holding weights in each hand. His chest is exposed, his yellow and black striped lycra shorts are visible.
Workout At Home
Pulling Up At Home with Bretman Rock

Text by Kate Lindsay / Photography by Luke Abby

For 21of21, GOOGLE SHOPPING and PAPER came together to break down some of the most memorable shopping moments of 2021 based on Google's trending search data. Whether or not we worked out before the pandemic, our newly stationary lifestyle meant we were all looking for ways to stay active within our homes, which is why Google search interest for "low impact workout at home" is up 250% this year in the US. Below, YouTube beauty darling and newfound fitness guru Bretman Rock brings the trend to life.

When Hawaii Governor David Ige issued the statewide stay at home order to limit the spread of COVID on March 25, 2020, Bretman Rock was freaking out. Or as Bretman Rock would say, biiiiiitch, he was freaking out. The 23-year-old internet star, best known for his early Vines and YouTube beauty tutorials, suddenly had to rethink his content, and found success in a totally new genre: fitness.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’” Rock remembers over Zoom. “And then I was like, b*tch are you dumb-d-dumb-dumb-dumb-d-dumb-dumb-dumb? You literally have a garage of gym equipment that you don't use.”

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Bretman sits on an exercise bench in a garage, in the background you can see shelves with cans of paint and old trophies. He is wearing a black sleeveless top that exposes his chest, an exercise belt, and yellow and black lycra shorts as he does a bicep curl with his right hand.
Tank: Peter Do, Shorts and belt: Barragan, Sneakers: Axel Arigato

At-home fitness dominated the early COVID pandemic in the spring and summer of 2020. With the public sequestered in their homes, often working out solo, Google search for exercise equipment was up 190%. Amazon sold out of weights. And online fitness creators gained millions of streams as gyms shut down in March.

A year later, despite widespread vaccination allowing for the safe reopening of gyms and other fitness facilities, the success of at-home workout tools suggests that what once was a pandemic necessity may become a lifestyle, with online communities forming around apps, programs and creators like Rock.

“Fitness is not something that I'm new to,” he says. “It's something I've always had to do, not only for my parents, cause they kept signing me up for sports and everything, but also it was for my mental health.”

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Bretman Rock is caught mid-air as he runs on a treadmill stationed on a tranquil beach. He is wearing black baggy running shorts, his hair is blowing in the wind. It is a beautiful, sunny day.
Shorts and sneakers: Nike

“I've always had fitness as my escape from the real world and everything that's going on up here,” he says, pointing to the head underneath his Farrah Fawcett-esque dark hair. “Which is a lot of things.”

He credits former First Lady Michelle Obama, who launched the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award challenge in 2010 as part of her Let’s Move! initiative, for turning his obligation to fitness into a passion.

“I used to dread working out, but when Michelle told me to get moving,” he says. “[I] was doing all her pushup workouts, I did all her ab workouts. So as I've gotten more self-aware of my impact as an influencer, I was like, if Michelle Obama got me moving, I feel like I could get this generation moving, too.”

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At the beach, Bretman wears a white tank top and matching white shorts, while leans his head back as he pours a bottle of water over his face.

Despite this, it wasn’t until March 2021 that Rock uploaded his first fitness video for his 8.85 million YouTube subscribers. It was titled “3 EASY Workouts to look Cute,” and featured his now-viral “ABsolutely not” routine. The set of nine ab exercises, including 20 crunches, 40 mountain climbers and a 60-second plank, became a challenge attempted by other YouTube creators like Studio Jibby, whose video received more than one million views. On TikTok, the #absolutelynotworkout hashtag has received over 673,000 views.

“It was weird because I'm so used to people trying out makeup looks that I showed them, outfits that I showed them, but I think this was the first time I realized that an influencer isn't just somebody that influences one aspect of your life,” he says. “You can call me a beauty guru all you want, but I don't just inspire people when it comes to beauty. I feel like I inspire people when it comes to lifestyle, as well.”

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Bretman hangs from the rim of a basketball hoop, looking directly at the camera. He wears a black leotard over black and yellow lycra shorts, and an exercise belt.

As Rock scrolled through people doing his workout on TikTok, he’d see a typical “gym bro” attempting the challenge in one video and “a whole different person” the next.

“I love that people are making it their own,” he says. “It reminded me that your body shape is not the same as mine. So how you do your sit-ups is not going to look the same way as I do my sit-ups, but that doesn't necessarily mean your sit-ups are wrong. I learned a lot just watching these videos from people.”

He adds, “We don't all have to look the same size; we don't all need to have abs; we don't all need to be skinny, but we all need to sweat.”

Social media was a liferaft for many during the pandemic and allowed for online communities of exercisers to blossom around different types of fitness, transcending both geographical and ability barriers, with limitless resources to meet people where they’re at.

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Bretman jumps rope on a terrace overlooking the beach. He is wearing a blue and white tracksuit.

On TikTok, that could mean something as simple as taking a “silly little walk” around your block, cul de sac or backyard. The colloquial habit sprouted up online during the early months of US quarantine, when stay-at-home orders kept many people within a small radius of their houses, but has continued to this day, with participants citing not just the physical but also the mental health benefits of the practice.

Many in search of a more strenuous burn congregated around Chloe Ting (“That b*tch got me [effed] up,” Rock interjects). Searches for the Australian YouTuber and fitness personality spiked in late April 2020 as her two week ab challenge went viral. To date, Ting’s “Get Abs in 2 WEEKS” video has over 400 million views.

“People are talking about how hard my workout is,” Rock says. “I'm like, have y'all met Miss Chloe?”

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Bretman sits on a workout bench, tying his white and grey sneakers.
Sneakers: Nike

Ting was not the only fitness personality to find success this past year, and Rock says part of this success is not purely due to necessity, but because of how attitudes towards fitness have changed thanks to the pandemic.

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At the beach, Bretman raises his left hand behind his head in a stretch. He is wearing a white tank top and matching white track pants.

“I think we're now at a time where fitness is a blur,” he says. “It's like gender, it's a scale. It's not one image.”

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As the sun set behinds Bretman, he stands in front of the ocean, hands behind his back, looking at the camera, wearing a white tank top and white track pants.

At-home fitness eliminates a lot of the mental barriers that may otherwise have kept people from gyms and group classes. There’s no “pressure of other people's energy around you,” Rock says, nor are you “comparing yourself to the next person on the next machine.”

Or, like he recently tweeted: “I love working out at home because no matter what I’m gonna be the hottest on my gym.”

Rock himself is looking at fitness in a different way after this past year, wanting to branch out into new genres like Brazilian jiu jitsu — and not just because he says Demi Lovato told him to.

“I genuinely feel like I'm a strong person, but I can't defend myself,” he says. And, of course, it’s something he can bring his followers along with for the ride. While he doesn’t want to start shoving fitness content down his subscribers’ throats, he knows the value of being a role model.

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Bretman does a handstand against a white wall, with one knee bent. He is wearing green running shorts with a white trim.

“You just need someone to resonate with,” he says. “And for me it was Sporty Spice and Michelle Obama, which are the two randomest people, but you know, to each their own. Whatever gets you moving.”

He also has some fun fitness-related collaborations come up, which he can’t talk too much about just yet. However, if you haven’t downloaded the Nike Run Club app — which similarly saw four consecutive months of more than 1 million downloads at the start of the pandemic — Rock says now would be a good time.

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Bretman Rock sits at an exercise bench in a garage, holding weights in each hand. His chest is exposed, his yellow and black striped lycra shorts are visible.

“I just feel so unstoppable now,” he says. “The pandemic taught me that nobody listens to your body more than you do. The best trainers are ourselves.”

VP of Production & Casting: Katie Karole, Executive Creative Director: Jordan Bradfield, Digital Director & Casting: Justin Moran, Art Director: Malcolm Mammone, Managing Editor (21of21): Laia Garcia-Furtado, Managing Editor (PAPER): Eliza Weinreb, Producer: Roberto Escamilla-Garduño, Photographer & Video Director: Luke Abby, Video Editor: Astrid DeProssino Lois, DP: Brian Henderson, Color: Ryan McNeal at RKM Color, Sound Design: Melody English, Stylist: Brian Meller, Hair: Irinel de Leon, Makeup: Zaheer Sukhnandan, Nails: Chaun, Set Designer: Eric Vidmar