It has never been an easy task to start your own fitness business. And that task has gotten even more confusing and complicated in the current era of the coronavirus pandemic. However, it is still possible for a successful exercise entrepreneur in the face of COVID-19; but, it will take a lot of creativity, innovation, and collaboration.
We spoke to a handful of fitness experts who have made the necessary preparations and adjustments to keep their fitness businesses going during this time of social distancing uncertainty. Below, they discuss the tools and tactics they have used to maintain a thriving fitness practice throughout this pandemic.
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1. How has your business changed day-to-day during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
I’ve been strictly following social distancing guidelines so I’m not meeting with people face to face anymore which is a big part of my approach to wellness. That has been a big change.
For the past 9 years, our Fit Father Project and Fit Mother Project fitness coaching businesses have been entirely online, so our teams were well prepared to support our clients during this Coronavirus Pandemic.
From a management standpoint, we have made changes to the price-points of many of our offerings to make our programs more affordable for families going through financial hardship. This is at the expense of our profit margins but is a simple decision to make. Our primary goals during this time are as follows:
1) Supporting our clients to the greatest extent possible.
2) Keeping ALL of our team members on payroll without any changes to their regular compensation.
Our customer service and community management teams have stepped up their involvement to support our members’ unique challenges (e.g. modifying exercises for the limitations of at-home workouts) by shooting more videos and creating specific articles/tutorials for our members. We are also happy that we have been judicious with our saving habits over the past several years, so our business does have the reserve funds to weather this storm.
Wow, it has changed drastically. We went from taking precautions to completely shutting down. Thankfully, the staff and I were able to move quickly, taking as much as we could to a virtual system. We provide live classes, diet/health coaching online, and currently have a virtual challenge in place. A lot of work and commitment.
The studio has had to close. There's just no way around this.
Before the full lockdown, there was a drop in attendance as many people started working from home, especially those with kids. This meant that we could maintain social distancing on the training floor, Seb was also diligent in cleaning all the kit and providing members the means to clean their kit before and after use.
I really can't fault any member of the team, coach or client, for their conduct.
But the inevitable happened and we had to shut so we made sure everyone is aware that our programs can be delivered online via our training app. And as most of our general fitness work is minimalist, using one or two kettlebells and bodyweight, we allowed members to borrow whatever kit they wanted to be able to train at home.
Those on personalized (premium) training plans or athletic development plans, they had to have their plans rewritten for home training and we keep in regular contact via our app, WhatsApp, Zoom, and email. So far, it's working.
I've been predominantly online for years now, so the big picture of my job has stayed very similar in that I'm speaking to my audience online and work with distance clients to help them achieve their goals. However, goals change when things like this happen. Priorities shift. We still focus on goals, but clients have taken steps sideway or in most cases steps forward and worked on embracing the "now" more.
Well, two weeks in and I was still trying to figure it out. Now, I’ve gone from working 10-12 hours a day working with clients in-person to working about 5-6 hours a day working with clients online or virtually. And then, those extra hours are spent trying to come up with some video content on a daily basis and exploring new ways to keep clients engaged.
Like many brick and mortar businesses, we've pivoted to 100% online. We were fortunate enough to transition smoothly—thanks to our amazingly supportive community.
We're a personal training service, so we're continuing to provide a high level of customization—especially since people need extra support during transitions and otherwise stressful periods
2. What adjustments have you made to connect with clients, co-workers, employees, and your community?
We have started doing more Facebook and YouTube LIVE videos to our communities to connect with our members, answer questions of the public who follows our content, and provide as much free value as we can.
Much of our live video content is centered around the topics of immune-boosting and is not strictly “fitness” content. We know that our community trusts us as their HEALTH advisors, and, as such, we have broadened the topics of our content creation – like the production of our free, open-source COVID-19 research guide.
I've been steady with content over the years but never prolific. Now, I feel a desire and responsibility to post daily to connect with our online community. Just small daily love notes.
Our coaches are the true support system here. They are beautifully focused on making sure that all of our members have whatever they need—within our abilities and scope, of course
The majority of my communications with clients is via email or messenger, or more to the point, text. There is also video for exercise or movements, but that's more formal checking-in, not live. I've tried to make extra room in my schedule for talking more with them via video or on the phone so they have more contact with the outside world. More warmth and human contact are incredibly important right now.
We have gone straight from mainly working in person with occasional email and text check-ins to no in-person communication, constant email, and text check-ins and an occasional Zoom check-in.
We've had the usual stuff for years already, Facebook group, email list, and web portals. These have just become primary contact points rather than secondary ones. There's a lot more traffic in both Messenger and WhatsApp. And we've changed the membership plans so that they now include the option to book a Skype/Zoom call, something that was previously only included in our online plans and premium memberships.
I find myself connecting a lot more than I typically do. I like checking in through digital platforms like Zoom at least once a week with my team, and I’m doing a lot of webinars and virtual workshops for clients and the community.
We moved to an online setting.
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3. What are the five equipment-free exercises we can/should be doing at home?
1. Mobility Series. I'm cheating a little on this because it's more than one. With low-grade activity decreasing mixed with the fact that most people have a kink somewhere, you should start with a mobility series of a few exercises daily. Opening your hips, working on your shoulder ROM, keeping your ankles stable—these things matter.
2. Weighted Step-Ups. You can load up with almost anything, alter stance and position, use the heights of lower steps. It's a completely functional and underused home exercise. Make sure to be safe when steps are involved.
3. Push-Up Variations. It doesn't have to be the classic push-up. It can be done on the wall, elevated on steps, or off a bed for shoulders. Go smart. Less is more with Push-ups. Get better at form and reps first.
4. Squat Variations. More of the same above. You can goblet squat, box squat, no weighted, hands up, ATG, etc. If you tell me you can't squat, I say someone tried to box you into one kind of squat.
5. Carries. It's not free of stuff, but it doesn't have to be formal equipment. You can throw random stuff in bags and hope they are even. Doing carries up and down are functional and free. If what you're using is secure enough, you can do overhead styles. You can play with grips and pinching as well.
Squats, squats, and more squats! Can you tell I love squats? Actually, I have been teaching a body weight class twice a week and there are so many exercises that can be done without weights! Push-Ups, Squats, Planks, Triceps Clips, and Lunges are my favorites right now
I would argue that this your opportunity for variety. If there was ever a time to get weird and experimental with your exercise, it's now.
Personally, I'm using this time to bring up the battery life of my muscles in specific positions. When people ask me about this crisis, years from now, I'll be able to tell them that I navigated a business through it, spent more time with my son, and coaxed more mobility out of my ankles.
Push-Ups, Squats, Push-Ups, Squats, and Skipping.
These are my go-to’s: Planks, Push-Ups, Jumping Jacks, Crunches, and Mountain Climbers.
We believe that people should focus their exercise efforts on the human body’s 5 fundamental movement patterns:
1) Squatting (bodyweight or front-loading with any makeshift)
2) Hip-hinging (either a stiff-legged deadlift or a single leg variety to focus on glute activation)
3) Horizontal pressing (e.g. pushups – all varieties)
4) Vertical pressing (e.g. handstand holds or single/double arm pressing with makeshift weights)
5) Core stability (e.g. RKC planks and side planks)
* Horizontal and vertical pulling motions (e.g. pullups and rows) are essential too but are a bit more challenging without equipment. As such, we believe that a door-hanging pull-up bar or single dumbbell/kettlebell are some of the most useful pieces of at-home equipment for pull-ups and rows.
4. What are five essential pieces of exercise equipment that we can find in our homes or should order on Amazon?
I'd love to say kettlebells, but the prices have gone through the roof as demand as skyrocketed. If you can get one or two, get ‘em! A pull-up bar and/or gym rings or suspension trainer are next. A skipping rope. A sandbag or a plate-loadable dumbbell with plates of course.
I’d go with resistance bands, jump rope, Ab-roller, all-in-one dumbbell set, and ankle weights
Five pieces of equipment that can be purchased for low cost are a higher resistance band such as a 1/2 inch Superband, a band or some type of tubing with handles that can be anchored into a door or around a post, a pair of Val Slides, a Hip Circle or some type of lateral resistance band, and some type of foam roller.
1. Suspension Trainer. You can still buy them online or makeshift extremely cheap ones out of goods that aren't sold out. I choose this because the hardest thing to do at home is a row—pulls. This helps with that and even bands are harder to come by. If you buy one thing, by that.
2. Rice. Loads of it. You can carry it, eat it, put it in buckets, and work on your grips and hand strength. It's amazing and carries multiple uses.
3. Swiss Ball. There are still some around and they can act as a bench and provide variations to other movements.
4. Pedometer. Lack of movement is the worst of this. Make sure your steps are still up some and sedentary behavior isn't climbing. It doesn't have to be fancy.
5. Protein. I'm not usually big on supplements but it's one of the more scare foods where I live right now. Not a bad time to grab a little extra and give yourself a solid shake a day.
If I had an unlimited budget and unlimited space, my home gym would look like a D1 football team shared space with Cirque du Soleil.
If I had an unlimited budget and very limited space, I'd have a range of kettlebells and clubs (wooden and weighted), some parallettes, a rowing machine, or SkiErg—and the closest thing to a power rack and barbell set that I could wedge in there. Potentially a flywheel device like a Kbox.
If I had a very limited budget and very limited space, I'd still want some kettlebells and clubs. I'd also want bands, slide pads, and parallettes. Really, though, external resistance and creativity are your two biggest limiters.
Your couch, a nice mat, a set of light and medium weights, are the most important, But, two additional items that would be nice and are quite versatile would be a medium weight kettle bell and some resistance bands. There are really nice cloth resistance bands out there that can cause quite a workout without chafing!
5. What are some causes near and dear to you and your community that we can be supporting during this time? How can we donate or make a tangible impact?
I think one of the most important things we can all do is support local businesses in our area that are being hit hard during this Covid-19 Pandemic – example: food services like small “mom and pop” restaurants or local personal trainers moving online who vitally depend on our business to survive.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy; they create two-thirds of net new jobs and account for 44 percent of U.S. economic activity. I believe it’s important to exchange our money for the services of the “little guys” so millions of small businesses have a fighting chance to avoid bankruptcy during these tough times.
Right now, anything that will support a local town or community. Supporting local businesses. Whether it’s ordering take-out or purchasing gift cards to be used later on in the future or supporting local food pantries—there is a good percentage of families that have come upon hard times. Support local as much you can.
Some causes that are near and dear to me are the businesses that had to completely close and are unable to give a lot of services online. Obviously, we are one of them, so I see firsthand how difficult this time is waiting and hoping we will get the assistance we need to re-open our doors.
Additionally, I also work at the hospital and see the men and women working insane hours putting themselves at risk to help others. I am thankful for them. Truthfully, any contributions that allow them to have a deserved break after we come out of this quarantine is well-deserving in my book!
The animals and the elderly are the most neglected right now. Foster pets if you can or even go and walk and play with them. You don't have to own an animal to make an impact. And for the elderly, we can't visit with them, but you can make sure local retirement homes have the means to communicate via computers or phones. Reach out, get to know people. Reach out to your local homes and ask if they have a ZOOM Day. Try. If lucky, we will all be in their shoes one day.
I've worked with mental health for several years, so this is where I'd like to see some attention. The mental health services are under pressure right now, as are those that help the elderly. Many of these places are only partly funded by the NHS, the rest is private and reliant on charity donations.
As a person in long-term recovery, supporting people who are struggling with substance-use disorders is a passion of mine. These are especially tough times for people in recovery from alcohol or other drugs because they don’t have access to their support groups and in some cases can’t get access to the medications that they need and the life-saving drug Naloxone.
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