Another pandemic shutdown for fitness studios and gyms: how do we help?

In my province of Ontario, like many places, we’re experiencing a spike of Covid cases, resulting in a movement back to modified “stage 2” rules about public spaces, including a 28 day closure of gyms and indoor fitness studios (along with indoor dining, theatres and bars).

This prompted a certain amount of understandable angst from gym owners, who despaired at the short notice (it was effective the next day), and who’ve been working extremely hard and creatively over the summer to try to generate revenue and create safe community experiences. There was a petition circulating for a while, asking the government to exempt gyms on the grounds that they are contributing to the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the province.

I’m not going to debate that point here, except to note that at the exact same moment the province temporarily closed gyms, a spinning studio in Hamilton which had followed all of the protocols was found to be the source of a superspreader event, sparking a Covid19 outbreak that has affected 61 people so far.

Outdoor spinning at Torq Ride

There’s a lot more to be explored about harm reduction and balancing risks/benefits, but that’s for another post. I think this comment from one of the people I talked to captures a really balanced point of view: “I’m not happy about the shutdown, but honestly I think we are all better when we stick to our areas of expertise. If those with the greatest professional insight and authority are saying we need to close our businesses, then we defer to the experts. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the politicians for siding with the informed opinions of those that understand what is truly in our collective best interest.

At the bottom line, most people I know were not working out indoors anyway. Some have shifted into more global virtual options, like Zwift or Yoga with Adriene. Others have continued to support independent fitness in new ways, like Alex’ completely virtual “superhero” classes that Kim, Susan, Tracy and I do, the virtual version of classes offered by local studios, outdoor workouts or yoga in parks or, my favourite, Torq Ride‘s spinning in the alley.

After the shutdown was announced, I noticed some really creative, quick pivots to fully virtual or outside among the different independent studios I’m connected with, and they all had some variation of the theme that Chi Junky posed on IG — now, it’s life or death: “Support small biz today, so we can be here for you tomorrow.

Why do the local small businesses matter? Well, that’s another post too, but I’ll just say that every fitness leap forward I’ve ever made, I’ve made because of a hands on coach who saw what I could do and encouraged me to reach further. Ashtanga yoga, pilates, headstands, handstands, wall walks, deadlifting 200lbs, running marathons, training to ride in the mountains of Bhutan, settling my agitated body — every one of these moments was because someone personally showed me how to do it, in my personal body, and helped me arrange my own body to safely, confidently go further.

Local studios are the places where we light candles when things go wrong in our communities, gather food for foodbanks, provide access to fitness classes to people without resources, and do the hard work of creating inclusive, anti-racist, queer positive spaces. They’re the places we go to lie down in yin, by candlelight, when the winter gets to be too dark and we want to be in silent community. Local studios make us who we are.

I started compiling a list of ways to help, surveyed some of the members of my 220 workouts in 2020 group, and asked the owner of Torq for some additional thoughts. Here’s the consensus.

Nicole working out with her small group in the park
  1. Buy class packs or pay your monthly fee, if you can. I’m still paying my monthly fee for the small gym across the street, even though I haven’t stepped foot inside since March — since I value the convenience and their support of the community over time. I’ve also purchased class packs for yoga and spinning classes I may or may not be able to use. For me, it’s paying it forward and acknowledging the incredible community support they’ve created over the years.
  2. Do virtual classes or outside workouts with your local studios. Spend your money on local spinning classes instead of peloton, go spin in the alley with Torq, do Chi Junky’s 28 day virtual challenge, go work out in the park with Nicole and the coaches from Move. Or your local equivalent. It’s community supportive, AND it preserves the focused attention that we value so much with local studios. And in keeping with this…
  3. “Think twice about free offers.” That’s great advice from my spin studio. Julie notes that when big brands like peleton offer a free month of virtual or what have you, it crushes smaller brands and eliminates healthy competition. As she says “Free might sound good but it also might mean that your favourite local places might not be here when this is all over.”
  4. Buy swag. I still have to go pick up Kim’s “Zen AF” masks and my “yoga beasts of the east” tshirt from Chi Junky. And I have a Torq hoodie on order. Shop local and wear your swag proudly on the endless zoom calls.

5. Boost their online presence with a review. As Julie notes, google reviews raise the chances that people will find your site when they search for local fitness. And people trust what real people have to say about their experiences. A short statement is even better than a 5 star rating. Google your favourite studio and just click on “google reviews,” leave a review. Say nice things. They’ll see it and appreciate you.

6. Just say nice things, generally. Send them a note. I’m blown away by how quickly my local studios pivoted last week and immediately started offering virtual and outdoor options, despite any frustration they might have felt. Tell them how much you appreciate them.

7. Ask your favourite local studio to run a private session. You can do this alone, or with a partner or group you’re bubbled with. Torq has been offering privates, and it’s a great way to do something a little different with your bubble people. You get all the goodness of personal attention, and your studio gets a good chunk of money for a one hour session. Win win.

8. Look at your benefits plan, if you have one, to see if there’s some cash you can spend. Does your benefits plan include un-used fitness spending? Spend it now at your local gym and have them pause the access.

9. Be part of the online community. Participate in your studio’s social media — support them, cheer them on, appreciate them and share pics of you doing their things. You are the community.

I’ll leave you with a few words from the Chi Junky social media:

With so many options in the online world — and truth be told lots of good free options — know that the small studios that make our neighbourhoods, that have spent years building very special communities and spaces to support your well being, will NOT survive the next 28 days without you supporting the virtual classes. When it comes to making a choice of the classes to take, I ask you to think about what and who you choose to support right now and think about the people who own the businesses. Think about their values and the communities they support. Of all the choices out there remember the people behind the studios.

What are you doing to support your small studios?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, runs, yogas and spins in Toronto. Thank to Julie from Torq Ride for so many great thoughts for this post.

5 thoughts on “Another pandemic shutdown for fitness studios and gyms: how do we help?

  1. Interesting. And some great suggestions. I’ve never really been connected with small boutique/independent fitness studios. So supporting them isn’t an issue. For me, because of kids and geography, I’ve always been a Y member or the university gym. One exception is CrossFit London. My biggest fitness gains have come in teams/community groups like Masters rowing in London, the AikiBudo Centre, my soccer teams, the Vikings cycling club, Women on Wheels etc. I like your suggestions and the generous spirit they come from but in my case they don’t really apply.

  2. These are some great suggestions and thanks for thinking of us small business owners.

    I’m not sure that the province has made a distinction of training 1:1, small group or small bubbles being hosted in a space safely. If there was a clear delineation between big and small gyms/studios, I could still be working with clients in person in my small fitness studio & I think larger gyms would facilitate space for 1:1 training as well.

    I work in a fully accessible studio & am very concerned for the adaptive clients’ mental and physical health without access to our services. Training at home isn’t an option.

  3. This raises some great points that I think could be cross-applied to the entertainment industry (actors, dancers etc). In my local area, a lot of fitness teachers turned to the outdoors, but living in Northern Ireland, the winter is now closing in on us, and the rain, and I don’t know how much longer instructors can keep coaxing clients to go out. I have taken quite a few online fitness classes this year.

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