As more Ontario retail stores reopen, and the province continues Stage One of its framework to get the economy back on track, gyms, and fitness studios are still awaiting their green light.
With most of them closed for over two months now, many have turned online to provide workouts for their loyal clients, along with new ones. But this time has also given many fitness centres a chance to reflect on what reopening will look like among this “new normal” COVID-era.
“The first couple of weeks were tough because I really wanted to ensure my team was okay,” said Christine Londoño, Founder of Toronto spin studio, Spokehaüs. “I spent most of those days educating and helping my team understand and apply for EI/CERB and assuring them that we would reemerge from this.”
Like service-based businesses in the city, Londoño and her team had to work with their landlord and bank over the past weeks, an experience she said was “a lot smoother than I thought it would be.”
“Once all of the admin work was done, I would say my team and I have taken this time to be super creative and uber positive for our partners and community,” she said.
Londoño told Daily Hive that they didn’t want to spread any more stress or fear in the world, so they created a program called “#randomactsofgüdness where we supported local small businesses we love by purchasing our favourite products from them and then gifted them to frontline workers.”
As for their clients, the team at Spokehaüs began hosting daily live ride classes for the community, which were offered for free.
“We have just had to pivot slightly and I have been trying to find the little positive things each day and amplify those,” said Londoño.
And pivoting business models has been a key change for fitness studios, like Sweat and Tonic on Yonge Street.
Having only been open since November 2019, Sharon Xie, Social Media and Marketing Manager at Sweat and Tonic, said they had always wanted to start posting videos online to have workouts accessible for people all over the world.
“We didn’t know the launch would come so soon,” said Xie.
The fitness club launched an online platform called “Sweat on Demand” soon after the industry shutdown caused by COVID-19.
“That was mainly what we were focusing on at the beginning, how to pivot business model,” Xie told Daily Hive, adding that their online classes have been offered for free to all frontline workers.
At Toronto’s Hoame meditation centre, Carolyn Plater said the last two months have been a surreal time.
“We had to make some very quick pivots as a business so that we could continue to bring the much-needed practice of meditation to our community,” she said.
Like other studios around the city, Hoame connected with their clients virtually.
But, most small business fitness studios had one common factor: the physical connection of their communities. The feeling of a group, united in a quest for a healthier mind and body. The feeling of that support and energy from a group class.
A group fitness experience that is now, possibly, forever changed.
Once they are allowed to reopen, Hoame, Sweat and Tonic, and Spokehaüs will all be using a lot more disinfectants, spending more time cleaning between classes. Expect online sign-ups for most classes, distancing measures upon entry to a facility, and fewer participants per class.
And that closeness of group fitness will be divided, at least physically.
“From the in-studio experience perspective, we know that we will need to reopen with social distancing at the forefront which means staggered bikes and 6ft between each rider,” said Londoño about Spokehaüs. “We are mapping out how that will look making sure the vibe and is maintained as much as possible — and we will most likely continue to rent out half of our bikes.”
Another common sight at gyms will soon be plexi glasses between workout stations, such as ones that will be going up at Sweat and Tonic.
“Visually, that will be the biggest change,” Xie said. “It’s the best way to keep people protected as much as we can.”
Fitness classes, like many small businesses, will have to tap into creativity to keep the community momentum going.
“The biggest change in our industry will be the way in which we connect physically,” said Plater. “We will need to continue to innovate and stay creative with the ways in which we conduct group classes and events. I anticipate the growth of technology in our industry and that virtual ways to connect will be here to stay.”
And Londoño agrees.
“Group fitness as we know it will not be the same in the short term,” she said, adding that she fell in love with group fitness due to “that feeling of togetherness, comradery and connection.
“There is something amazing about seeing a large group of people all move in the exact same way at the same time. It was about hugging your favourite instructor or team member, high fives, water bottle cheers – all those things will need to go away, at least for now and I think that will be the biggest challenge for our industry.”
With the change in space will come a change in cost at some studios. Sweat and Tonic is reducing their monthly membership prices, and will continue to offer online and offline class options once they reopen.
Studio owners are also aware that it may take time for fitness enthusiasts to be more comfortable to return to physical classes even after a provincial reopening.
And that is the reality for the industry.
“I know so many leaders in the industry are creative and resilient and we will all find a way to overcome and pivot to maintain the experience we all love so much,” said Londoño. “It may feel a bit more clinical in the interim but I don’t think the sense of community will change.”