A few months ago, I had a long talk with a close friend about how I planned to tackle every obstacle at work—except the ones we were facing. We were chatting via video chat, of course, because it was during lockdown. He’s a small business owner like me, and he understood my frustration.
No employer planned for this. My business partners and I have managed to adapt and adapt to stay afloat during the quarantine period, and now we have opened our doors again. With that said, we had to predict the long-term social effects of COVID in places like gyms.
It’s time to adapt
My gym, JDI Barbell, is a training facility that focuses on barbell movements, strength, and conditioning. Even in the competitive market of New York City, we’ve been able to grow our membership mostly by offering great classes and group training.
We were packing up our evening group lessons and the gym would be crowded for those few hours. Most of the gyms similar to ours have followed this type of model.
When we closed our doors in March, we went remote and started offering in-house training programs and Zoom training to our members and those who found us online looking for workouts to stay active inside. We went to work trying to find ways to offer something you couldn’t find for free with a quick internet search. There is no shortage of free home workout routine videos.
Our physical gym stands out because we have real experts providing hands-on training and we have great communities built within group training classes. But with everyone in the house isolated, we had to give something else to customers and members.
Teaching and continually enhancing best practices for movement and weight training along with creating a training framework tailored to each member’s personal needs has been a huge part of our business model. Now with everyone in quarantine, this show has become our hottest show. This is what we multiplied to give value that people can’t find anywhere.
what we learned
My business partners and I have noticed that while our members are in quarantine, many of them have been satisfied with the new life their strength and fitness has taken. A lot of people have realized that they can do this thing called fitness anywhere they want and that it can be whatever they want it to be.
It didn’t have to be a specific number of reps and groups with a certain set of equipment. It didn’t need to be in a box, literally and figuratively.
So I started giving clients ideas on how to organize and incorporate any physical activities they were interested in into a cohesive weekly and even monthly plan. Quarantine seems to have taught some that fitness doesn’t have to be a box to check out but can be done with fun hobbies and with whatever little equipment they have for some resistance-based movements. As gym owners and trainers, we didn’t have to cater to one discipline of strength and fitness, and I think this will continue even now that we open gyms again.
We always offer a wide range of training, coaching, and mentoring programs for all of your weightlifting and strength sports training. I’ve had members want to learn and improve in both powerlifting and Olympic powerlifting, and I’m going to write detailed hybrid training courses for them.
Now it looks like this will be the gist of what gyms like my membership will need to provide to their members. Training and mentoring programs tailored to each person’s wants and needs. We can’t fill out chapters and get members interested in that anymore. The purpose of the coach and fitness professional is to be the resource to help them now that they know they have learned that their fitness can be anything and they can be done anywhere.
Because of this change, I think more gyms like Lee will grow from the social changes due to COVID and the larger traditional gyms will fade away.
Change for all gyms
Big box gyms sold their memberships and earned money from all the different types of equipment and the different classes they offer. During the lockdown, many people have bought any weights and equipment they can work out with from home. Not only did people abandon the mentality that fitness should look a certain way, but they also realized that they didn’t need much. As their exercises became more focused and creative, many people were exercising more intensely without realizing and getting in better shape.
When you don’t have much, you push more with what you have instead of being distracted or overwhelmed with all the options that fifty different types of resistance machines have to offer.
Some will always love to go somewhere to exercise and interact with others, but many, who may still work from home or have busy and erratic work schedules, may actually prefer to be able to do their exercises at home.
Quarantine taught people how to get fit. What they need now is guidance. This is where those in the fitness profession need to focus their energies. The allure of larger gyms with all kinds of facilities is disappearing. Even after easing social distancing guidelines, many people still avoid overly crowded indoor areas. Suddenly joining a gym because they have basketball courts or a swimming pool wouldn’t seem so important.
Gyms large and small alike will need to offer more options for personal guidance as members can attend on their own and follow a plan whether or not they meet with a coach.
They will need to offer in-person, remote or in-person training or develop a program that gives freedom and flexibility to each individual client.
There may still be some group classes but I think most of them should be replaced with semi-private training where members will have their own training plan with the option to come to training hours as the coach walks the floor and helps anyone there.
The bright side
This massive transformation frees the physique from four walls. That change was already taking shape with hurdles races and other similar activities, but quarantine has sped up the movement.
It frees gyms, gym owners, trainers and coaches from being interrupted to provide one kind of service and it also frees them from the walls of the gym. This can give anyone working in the health and fitness field a chance to advance in their career and earn money in a more creative way. It can provide more choices about where to work and an opportunity for more movement in their lives. They will not need to be constrained to live or work in one place.
There is still some serious struggle in the fitness industry to adapt to all this change, but I think this is an opportunity for anyone in the trade to focus on and create new and better fitness categories and better ideas on how to spread the word.
Jesse Irisari, CSCS, strength coach and writer. He has nearly 15 years of professional experience. He started as a college strength and conditioning coach and went on to found JDI Barbell, the leading New York City gym specializing in core strength training, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and combat sports. Jesse competes in strength sports like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, but he also enjoys and practices everything from Muay Thai, to various yoga practices, to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to running and hiking. You can check out more of his writing on his website, JDISt Strength.com.