A Heavy Lift For The Fitness World As Home Workouts Replace The Gym | New Hampshire Public Radio

A Heavy Lift For The Fitness World As Home Workouts Replace The Gym

Apr 9, 2020
Originally published on April 14, 2020 11:39 am

Some runners are are still jogging outside, while others are posting joke videos about sprinting in place on soapy floors. Weightlifters are filling bags with canned goods and shoulder-pressing milk jugs. But what's a swimmer to do?

"Yeah, it's difficult. They call them dryland exercises," says Lauren Anneberg, a volunteer coach at the Capital YTri triathlon team in Washington, D.C.

Think: pulling on an elastic band to simulate a swim stroke — activating the same muscles as in water, except "you're just standing in your living room with a band in your hand."

Lots of people, workout enthusiasts or not, have been looking for such workarounds as they yearn for physical activity while cooped up at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I've never worked out with my family before," says Umair Haseeb, a teacher in Chicago, who has found himself building a makeshift gym in his parents' basement. Suddenly, for an hour a day, he's doing single-leg squats right next to mom and dad on a treadmill and his little brother lifting weights.

"The fact that we're all in the same room, sharing an experience ... and after that, we cook up a meal and have a post-workout meal as a family, something that we never got to do before," he says. "Those are sort of special moments."

Meanwhile, gym owners and fitness instructors, with their physical spaces shuttered, are doing tricky math: whether to offer their hard-earned skills on the Internet for free.

Trainer Katie Gould (right) leads workout sessions remotely after having to close her studio, KG Strong in Philadelphia.
Courtesy of Katie Gould

"Without your ongoing support as a member, the Y may cease to exist," read a recent email from Angie Reese-Hawkins, president of the YMCA in Washington, where Anneberg's team trains.

Because of the coronavirus shutdowns, gyms and fitness studios are facing the same challenges as many other businesses around the country: forced to lay off employees, pleading for leniency on rent or insurance payments coming due.

"It feels interminable," says Anne Mahlum, CEO of the fitness chain Solidcore, which had to let go of 98% staff and has to negotiate with dozens of landlords.

Many companies like hers are counting on loyal regulars to continue paying for classes, just virtually. But the backdrop to this is a flood of free content: YouTubers, Instagrammers and even pricey fitness apps like Peloton looking to boost their following while also helping people through a difficult time.

Online workouts are of course nothing new. And they're much-appreciated by the self-isolating nation. But the math is complicated for instructors who until very recently relied on paid sessions as their income.

"This is work for me, this is what I studied, this is what I do," says Jaime Andrews, a yoga and fitness instructor just outside Boston, who had to give up on a brand-new studio because of the pandemic. "If so many people do it for free, I just worry that it's going to be hard to bring the value back. ... And the value of [free] is zero."

Some gyms are renting out workout gear as stores have been running out of free weights, yoga mats and other home equipment. And coaches are getting creative to keep their clients on track of their fitness goals.

"You're going to need a broom and a towel," Philadelphia trainer Katie Gould instructed one of her clients on a recent virtual group class.

Right before the pandemic forced Gould to close her training studio KG Strong, she'd spent hundreds of dollars on alcohol, disinfecting wipes and other sanitizing supplies. And now something else weighs on her mind.

"We are an industry of high-fives and hugs and sharing equipment. ... If this is a year of not touching other people, the fitness industry is in trouble," Gould says.

"It sounds kinda silly — but high-fives are a big part of finishing something together as a group. It such a funny thing to think that maybe isn't going to be cool for a while."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The pandemic raises questions about fitness. How do you maintain a routine when gyms are closed and the Pilates class is canceled? And should instructors offer their hard-earned skills online for free? NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: If you're a runner, you might still go jogging outside. If you're a weightlifter, you could try filling bags with all those canned goods you probably bought. But what do you do if you're a swimmer?

LAUREN ANNEBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. It's difficult.

SELYUKH: Lauren Anneberg is a volunteer coach at a Washington, D.C., triathlon club, Capital Y-Tri. To keep training, the team is resorting to a dry simulation of swimming - pulling on stretchy bands looped around door hinges.

ANNEBERG: It exercises the muscles in your back and core and arms in the same way you'd be pulling yourself through the water. But you are not. You're just standing in your living room (laughter) with a band in your hand.

SELYUKH: Lots of people find themselves looking for such workarounds as they hole up at home for the coronavirus pandemic. Gyms are renting out workout gear as stores have been running out of free weights, yoga mats and other home equipment. Fitness companies and out-of-work athletes have flooded the zone with virtual workouts, like these from Peloton and ballerina Patricia Zhou.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: Squeeze. Find that tension. Beautiful.

PATRICIA ZHOU: And up. And down, pointe (ph).

KATIE GOULD: You're going to need a broom and a towel.

SELYUKH: And that's Katie Gould teaching a class through the Zoom app after having to close her training studio KG Strong in Philadelphia.

GOULD: We are an industry of high-fives and hugs and sharing equipment.

SELYUKH: Lots of gyms and fitness studios like hers are facing a similar challenge to many other businesses around the country - laying off staff, hoping to get leniency on rent and insurance. And as Gould points out, if this is a year of not touching other people, it might fundamentally change the heart of this very personal wellness industry.

GOULD: Sounds kind of silly, but high-fives are, like, a big part of finishing something together as a group, you know? It's such a funny thing to think that maybe isn't going to be cool for a while.

SELYUKH: Another calculation many trainers are making is whether to charge for online classes. These, of course, have always been around on YouTube and Instagram, a great way to build a name or boost a following. But the math is different for instructors who have relied on paid sessions as their income.

JAIME ANDREWS: It's great, but the value of it is zero.

SELYUKH: Jaime Andrews is a yoga and fitness instructor outside of Boston. She gave up on a brand-new studio because of the pandemic. She worries about what happens after all this, how much people will still value paid, personalized coaching. Andrews wants to help her community with yoga for kids and a Facebook group for daily workout inspiration.

ANDREWS: I made that donation-based just to kind of bring awareness to the fact that this is work for me. Like, this is what I studied. This is what I do.

SELYUKH: Social media platforms are chock-full of notes of gratitude from loyal customers, reminders about the mental benefits of exercise and some unexpected discoveries.

UMAIR HASEEB: I've never worked out with my family before.

SELYUKH: Umair Haseeb is a teacher in Chicago who found himself building a makeshift gym with his family - suddenly, for an hour every day, doing single-leg squats right next to Mom and Dad on a treadmill and his little brother lifting weights.

HASEEB: There's something really special about that, the fact that we're all in the same room sharing an experience. And after that, we cook up a meal and have a post-workout meal together as a family. Those are sort of special moments.

SELYUKH: Moments that strengthen the hope that everything will work out.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LCD SOUNDSYSTEM SONG, "SOMEONE GREAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.