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Fitness trainers say digital change forced by COVID-19 not harder, 'just different'

Local online classes and instructional videos have been popping up all over social media during the last week as gyms adjust to social distancing

Small business owners in particular are facing some heavy lifting when it comes to the widespread effects of coronavirus.

This stark reality has been in focus for The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which says about a third of small businesses could close within a month under current conditions.

For example, local fitness clubs and gyms thrive on personal interaction with clients and small groups. Gyms are often a place for group gatherings, sweating, heavier breathing and some physical contact — the exact situations we’re being told to avoid these days.

Coronavirus has forced fitness entrepreneurs to rethink how they deliver services and how to keep operations going into the future.

One such business is The Refinery, a women’s gym offering a wide range of programs with private coaching and group training for approximately 200 clients.

Refinery co-owner Holly Infanti says some of her clients are doctors and nurses. They conveyed the seriousness of the coronavirus situation to her when it was starting to unfold.

It was a necessary, but tough day when the doors to the gym were closed and trainers had to be let go, she says.

But shutting the gym doors didn’t mean going into hibernation. The Refinery is offering a virtual gym experience.

“It’s interactive. It’s the closest you can get to being in the gym. You get to chat back and forth," said Infanti.

Using the Zoom platform, clients can get together at anytime from anywhere. The gym is reaching out to males as well.

There’s daily virtual instruction for members.

On the day Infanti talked to SooToday, a lesson was held on accountability and goal setting.

On-line training is not exactly a new idea in the fitness business, but Infanti says it’s important for The Refinery to offer its own brand.

“We focus on relationships,” she said, adding that an option for The Refinery’s on-line offering may be to simply to get together and chat.


Day 6 full body at home workout demonstration!

A post shared by RefinerySSM (@refineryssm) on

Coronavirus may be a tough foe, but it should surprise nobody that Steel City MMA owner Brent Fryia isn’t down for the count.

His business offers training for jiu jitsu, kickboxing, boxing and MMA. The number of clients varies depending on the program, but it averages about 100 members.

Fryia’s coronavirus strategy also focuses on virtual training.

“We know that staying active is important for maintaining a strong immune system and helps with physical and mental health, all things that are important in these strange times,” wrote Fryia to his members.

Steel City is offering a variety of tutorials, workout videos and sample workouts for free on its YouTube,

Facebook and Instagram pages.

There will also be personalized classes with coaches for members only. The workouts are structured based on the equipment that the member has available and their skill and fitness levels. These personalized workouts also include access to coaching.

Live on-line classes with coaches for members will be available.

Regardless of the digital offerings, Fryia said it’s definitely not the same.

Fryia said time will tell if people jump right back into group fitness activity after coronavirus subsides. There may be some nervousness, but Fryia said, “on the flipside, after being cooped up, people will probably be eager to get back out … The social aspect is very big.”

Ryan Mitchell owner and trainer at RAM Fitness and Cycling Studio is also embracing on-line training and the virtual gym experience during this time.

In fact, he rented out his cycles so people can use them at home during virtual training sessions.

Mitchell said his job during this time is not harder “just different.” The key is to communicate with clients. “Help them be accountable and check up every day.”

He sees some changes coming to the way business is done when coronavirus loosens its grip.

His business will be more streamlined and new opportunities may emerge.

“For sure it will expand the digital options,” he said.

While communication is key to business survival, the public also has a role to play when it comes to helping small businesses navigate their way through this ordeal.

Steel City’s Fryia reminded his members, “If you are in a financial position to support local businesses (not just our gym), make sure that you do … The big corporations will survive, but your favourite local shops might not. Support local.”