A few months ago, I had a long conversation with a close pal about how I'd planned every obstacle in the business – except for the obstacle we faced. We talked about video chat of course because it was during the lockdown. He's a small business owner like me and understood my frustration.
business owner is planned for this. My business partners and I have been able to adjust and adapt to stay afloat during the quarantine period and have now reopened our doors. With that, we had to predict the long-term social impact COVID would have on places like gyms.
Time to adapt
My gym, JDI Barbell, is a workout facility that focuses on barbell movements as well as strength and conditioning. Even in the highly competitive New York City market, we were able to increase our membership primarily by offering large classes and group training.
We unpacked our evening group classes and the gym was crowded for those couple of hours. Most of our similar gyms followed this model.
When we closed our doors in March, we went remotely offering home exercise programs and Zoom training to our members and those who found us online to look for workouts to help them stay active inside. We got to work trying to find ways to offer something that a quick internet search couldn't find for free. There is no shortage of free videos for the home workout routine.
Our gym stood out for having real experts giving hands-on coaching and for building great communities within the group training courses. But since everyone was isolated at home, we had to give something else to customers and members.
Teaching and constantly reinforcing the best practices in exercise and strength training, as well as creating a training framework that meets the personal needs of each member, has been an important part of our business model. w that everyone was in quarantine, it became the most important offer we had. So we doubled that to create value that people couldn't find anywhere.
What we learned
My business partners and I found that during the quarantine, many of our members were content with the new life that required their strength and fitness. A lot of people realized that they could do this thing called fitness anywhere they wanted, and that it could be what they wanted.
It didn't have to be a set number of reps and sets with any particular equipment. It didn't have to be in a box, literally and figuratively.
So I started giving clients ideas on how to structure the physical activities they were interested in and combine them into a cohesive weekly and even monthly plan. It seemed like the quarantine taught some that fitness doesn't have to be a check box, but that it can be done with fun hobbies and with the little gear they had for some resistance-based movements. As gym owners and trainers, we didn't have to focus on one strength and fitness specialty, and I think this will continue to be the case when we open gyms again.
More of what is needed
We have always offered a wide range of training programs, coaching and instructions for all barbell training and strength sports. I would have members who wanted to learn and improve in both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, and I would write, write detailed hybrid training cycles for them.
w it seems that this is going to be the core of what gyms like mine need for their members. Training programs and coaching tailored to the wants and needs of each person. We can no longer fill out courses and interest members in them. The purpose of the trainer and fitness professional is to help them after knowing that they have learned that their fitness can be anything and can be done anywhere.
Because of this change, I believe that more gyms like mine will grow and larger, traditional gyms will shut down due to the social changes brought about by COVID.
The change for all gyms
Big box gyms were selling memberships and making money on all of the different types of equipment and different classes they offered. During the lockdown, many people bought all the weights and equipment they could to exercise from home. t only did people drop the notion that fitness had to look a certain way, they also realized that they didn't need much. As their workouts became more focused and creative, many people exercised more intensely without realizing it and got in better shape.
When you don't have a lot, push harder for what you have instead of being distracted or overwhelmed by all of the options that fifty different types of resistance machines offer.
Some will always like to go to a place to exercise and interact with others, but many who may still be working from home or have a busy and irregular schedule may prefer to be able to do their workouts at home.
The quarantine taught people how to maintain their physical fitness. What they need now is leadership. And this is where fitness professionals have to concentrate their energies. The attraction of larger gyms with all kinds of facilities is disappearing. Even after social distancing guidelines wear off, many people will avoid crowded indoor areas. Suddenly going to the gym because they have basketball courts or a swimming pool doesn't seem that important.
Gyms, large and small, need to offer more options for face-to-face counseling, where members can step in on their own and follow a plan, whether or not meeting with a trainer.
You need to offer remote or hybrid remote and personal coaching or program developments that provide freedom and flexibility to each individual customer.
There may still be some group classes, but I think most should be replaced with semi-private coaching where members have their own training plan and the opportunity to come to the coaching lessons where a trainer steps down and everyone helps who is there.
The silver lining
This massive shift frees fitness from four walls. This change was already taking shape with obstacle races and similar activities, but the quarantine accelerated the movement.
It frees gyms, gym owners, coaches and coaches from being limited to one type of service. And it also clears them of the gym walls. This can give anyone who works in the health and fitness field an opportunity to advance their career and make money in more creative ways. It offers more opportunities to work and more mobility in your life. You don't have to be tied to living or working in one place.
There are still some serious difficulties for the fitness industry to adapt to all of these changes, but I think this is an opportunity for anyone in the field to spin around and create new and better physical fitness categories and better ideas to spread .
Jesse Irizarry, CSCS, is a strength trainer and writer. He has almost 15 years of professional experience. He began as a strength and conditioning coach in college and founded JDI Barbell, New York's premier strength and conditioning training company that specializes in principle-based strength training, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and martial arts. Jesse has participated in weight training such as powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, but also enjoys and practices everything from muay thai to various yoga exercises, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, trail runs and hiking. For more information on his letter, please visit his website, JDIStrength.com.