Private gyms, ‘virtual spotting,’ zoom classes will rise post-COVID-19—but it could be problematic 2
After the lockdown, the demand shifted to home fitness accessories—soft-gym, bodybuilding, cross-training, and family sports equipment—increased. Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Private gyms, ‘virtual spotting,’ zoom classes will rise post-COVID-19—but it could be problematic

With increased demand for home exercise equipment and rental, the popularity of online classes, and concerns on health and safety, how will gyms and studios adjust after the lockdown? BY GELO DIONORA
ANCX | May 13 2020

Just last week, Decathlon Philippines announced on their Instagram account that their e-commerce website was ready to take orders again. The traffic on their page skyrocketed that, a day after the launch, their team had to take a technical time-out. “It was like us playing in a championship game, equipped with arsenals that were not as powerful as we thought!” admits Aya Garcia, communication leader for Decathlon Philippines.

Garcia observes that the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has shifted demand across a variety of sporting equipment. “Before the lockdown, there was a big movement for summer sporting gear already, as people prepared for their beach trips or hikes,” she notes. “However, when the lockdown unfolded, the demand immediately shifted to home fitness accessories—soft-gym, bodybuilding, cross-training, and family sports equipment.”

You may also like:

This rising popularity of home exercise equipment and workouts puts a question mark on the future of fitness classes and studios, most of which have done their own adjustments amid the ECQ—from Zoom and Instagram Live sessions to equipment sale and rentals—to sustain revenues and presence.

Once gyms and studios open, CrossFit Level 1 trainer John Benedict Ty notes that the observation of safety measures like social distancing, regular sanitization of the premises and equipment, and health checks of users and personnel, will have an effect on class sizes and types. “Fitness studios and gyms will have to limit the number of people allowed to workout per class or at any given time,” he shares. Given this physical constraint, Ty thinks these establishments will still continue to offer home-based online workouts for their members.

Private gyms, ‘virtual spotting,’ zoom classes will rise post-COVID-19—but it could be problematic 3
Despite the rise of home workouts, there will still be those who would prefer the complete experience of being in a gym where there is a full lineup of exercise equipment. lPhoto by Foto Garage on Unsplash

Fitness and lifestyle coach Mitch Felipe-Mendoza is optimistic about this mix of online and in-studio classes, even if the latter may have to take a backseat momentarily. “Post-ECQ, while social distancing will be considered and fewer clients will be allowed to join a class, online sessions will still continue to generate revenue,” she notes. “Besides, most of us have now experienced the advantages of working out at home: convenience, no traffic, and no excuses. I even have a handful of clients who have suggested future online sessions with me even while on vacation,” she shares. However, Mendoza still believes that there will still be a lot of clients who would prefer the complete experience of working out in a gym with complete exercise equipment like in their Pilates studio, where utilizes ladder barrels, stability chairs, and redcord suspension equipment.

The limitations imposed by social distancing will push gyms and studios to get creative with their programs and allocation of resources post-ECQ. “Gyms with more spacious venues, trainers, and equipment will have the advantage. On our end, we just have to be smarter with the member arrival to space ratio. This could also improve our member to trainer ratio; hence, our team can assist our clients better,” says Jeoff Solas, business and marketing consultant for Fitness Army, Inc.

Solas shares that their Fit Academy initiative integrates both online and in-studio programs. “We understand that fitness enthusiasts will always find ways to work out regardless of location, but they’ll realize that the access to superior equipment and coaches will remain at the gym,” he notes. “That’s why, we are preparing more activities and programs that are more relevant and inspiring for our members. We have been in lockdown for so long, so it’s important to provide that revitalizing environment for fitness enthusiasts.”

Team KG manager Kerwin Go predicts another possibility: the rise of private gyms post-ECQ. “For weight training, we may see private gyms opening for one on one personal training, or a small facility that can be booked for personal use with or without a trainer,” says the bodybuilder. He stresses that such spaces must also ensure proper ventilation, on top of stricter sanitation procedures, to make them safer for users.


Rise of rentals

Gyms, studios, and instructors will inevitably revise their business models to adjust to the hybrid demand for in-person and online classes after the lockdown. Certain establishments have been renting or selling their equipment to interested clients (a business model that Felipe-Mendoza notes as a good option for commercial gyms to explore), replicating in-studio class experiences at home. These studios have also augmented these efforts with other bodyweight, equipment-free workouts to keep their respective groups fit and intact.

“Our equipment rentals and classes are doing well. We like keeping our community tight to let them know that we aren’t only limited to reaching them via the studio,” says Bernardo R. Siaotong III, RND, CISSN, program lead and master instructor at Saddle Row. “The way we show our care is offering at-home workouts, called Saddle Strong Sessions, with or even without the equipment. This has helped us keep each other accountable both in and out of the studio. Our community has been showing amazing vigor through these tough times and that energy will always keep feeding back and forth,” he adds.

EG Bautista, head of Marketing and Business Development at Ride Revolution, underscores the popularity of these initiatives. “We started with a bike rental program, then extended to a bike purchase program,” he shares. “As we saw the digital platform growing, we wanted to provide the community with something more permanent. The response has been overwhelming - we currently sold out the first batch of bikes.” In line with this, Ride Revolution has also launched paid Zoom classes and a dedicated online platform that users can access to stream indoor cycling, bootcamp, and yoga classes at their convenience.

The lockdown has also pushed businesses to explore ways to work out for a cause. “On April 1st, we launched an initiative called Workout & Help Out, to give back to the community,” shares Kris Sy, co-founder, CEO, and instructor at Electric Studio. “We provide Strength Training, Cardio, HIIT, Pilates, Yoga, and Barre classes for a minimum fee, where a portion of the proceeds are used to provide food to communities in need in Quezon City.” Electric Studio continues to conduct Workout & Help Out sessions alongside daily IG Live workouts and their new Electric Studio Rhythm Boxing classes.


Online problems

However, the abundance of free workouts online has raised questions about studios and individuals offering paid classes. “For some instructors, providing free online workouts in these trying times is a way for them to build their online presence for their future livelihood, which is great,” says fitness professional James Sandoval. “However, there are other people doing it for many different reasons, which ends up diluting the market for practitioners who need to earn a living in our current situation. In my opinion, they just need to be more mindful of the content that they release.”

Private gyms, ‘virtual spotting,’ zoom classes will rise post-COVID-19—but it could be problematic 4
With virtual classes or instruction, personal trainers need to think out of the box and verbally convey how to execute exercises safely without tactile feedback. Photo from Freepik

Isabel Dulay-Naval, studio director of Bliss Yoga, reiterates this point, noting how it may get challenging to charge for classes post-ECQ if the market gets used to complimentary services. “To keep fitness studios afloat, I personally believe that giving classes for free should be limited. The bills don’t stop and to keep the studio, staff and teachers going, revenue is needed,” she emphasizes. “After all, teachers trained and worked hard for their craft, so it is only right they should be compensated properly for it.”

With online classes bound to stay even after ECQ, instructors will have to prepare for the additional work it entails, says fitness professional Carla Piscoso. “There are different kinds of online clients. Others are fine with listening to verbal cues or looking at presentations, while some are more visual and dynamic—they want you to join them as you perform the exercises. This is usually the case with my dance classes,” she notes, drawing from her experiences with individual and group sessions. “Presentations actually require more effort because you have to create the slides, write the captions, take photos or videos to showcase the exercises, and watch your clients to cue them or correct their form.”

Fitness coaches may also have to adjust their virtual routines accordingly to ensure client safety. “Personal trainers need to think out of the box and verbally convey how to execute exercises safely without tactile feedback or ‘spotting,’” says Sandoval. “Weights might need to be reduced. Exercises may have to be adjusted or regressed quickly, depending on the client’s movement, to avoid injuries during an online session.”

Yoga practitioners also echo the same sentiments, as their practice demands proper breathing and form to execute poses well. “When I teach Ashtanga classes online, I skip the shoulder stand and other poses that would be difficult to do without proper supervision,” admits Bubbles Paraiso, managing partner of Beyond Yoga Serendra. “It’s also easier to spot and make corrections when you are in the studio, rather than watching your students through a small screen. Moreover, in-studio classes allow you to feel and share the energy with other people.”

On the flipside, both fitness first-timers and veterans will have to revisit their motivations for working out, whether in-studio, at home, or online. “Now that we are facing this global health crisis, staying fit and healthy is even more essential. You can do this at home by watching what you eat, working out regularly, and keeping your mind and body active,” Ty reiterates. “An optimistic outlook is incredibly important now that we are forced to adapt to survive this crisis. We may not know when the situation will normalize, but it’s important to keep a healthy and positive disposition.”

Whatever workouts people want to pursue now or post-ECQ, Felipe-Mendoza still underscores the importance of seeking professional advice and coaching. “To avoid injuries and to make your program really work, a very good exercise foundation is needed.  A lot of online exercise programs are available now and it can always be confusing, especially for beginners. It is still best to consult a credible and experienced fitness professional who can attend to your needs and can adjust with your current health condition and fitness level.”