Habitual patterns of daily living for billions of humans have now been disrupted in an unprecedented manner by the spread of Covid-19 and the global reaction to it. As members of the fitness industry, as facility owners and personal trainers our community has been significantly impacted. Indeed, it has been estimated that around 90% of gyms around the globe have temporarily had to close their doors as governments introduce measures to slow the spread of the virus.
Protecting those most at risk
Why have businesses been shut down over a virus that for a majority is likely to be experienced as no worse than a flu and for the luckiest among us perhaps even symptomless? It is largely about protecting the lives of those in our communities most at risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19 infection and protecting the health services from being overrun with these cases all at once.
As most of you will know by now those at greatest risk of from Covid-19 include older adults, the immunocompromised, those with chronic lung disease, asthma sufferers, those with serious heart conditions, the severely obese, as well as individuals with liver disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes.
HIT Facilities and Covid-19
Out of all the fitness environments (except the great outdoors) HIT gyms and studios were probably as low risk for transmission as an exercise facility can be: usually one-on-one personal trainer to client only or at most very small group training, typically well ventilated and equipment sanitized between appointments.
However, there is still the risk that a client who unknowingly has Covid-19 could pass the virus on to a trainer over the course of a 30-minute session. Then, in a worst case scenario, the trainer at a later time could pass the virus on to a client who falls into a high-risk category. Nobody would want that and even the most thorough sanitizing of the facility and equipment between clients, could not entirely mitigate the risk.
For many facility owners reading, the choice of whether to remain open at this time has been taken out of your hands as government-ordered shutdowns have been made law. The brick-and-mortar business that your livelihood has been built upon has been taken from your hands for a currently unknown period.
You may now have a shop that you are paying rent on, equipment that you are leasing, staff salaries, rates and other ongoing miscellaneous costs… with no current significant stream of business income. This is an exceptionally challenging position to suddenly find ourselves in.
First Steps You Must Take to Ease the Burden / Minimize the leak
- Find out what, if any, governmental financial support is available to your business
- Research tax relief available to you. This is a good initial resource.
- Negotiate a rent holiday or at very least a rent reduction with your landlord
- Do the same with any companies you are leasing equipment from
- Staff considerations (see below)
Good landlords will be reasonable at this time as they have an interest in your business surviving the current crisis. Think of it this way, the more brick-and-mortar businesses that fail during the pandemic, the more commercial space that will be empty when this has passed, effectively driving down rents. Not only is it possible you may be able to get a rent holiday or reduction, you may also be able to renegotiate your longer term rent downward too. You are not in a weak position, both you and your landlord have motivations to achieve a workable solution.
The same applies with any companies from whom you are leasing equipment, they are not going to gain from you going out of business and will also be keen to help you through this challenging period.
Do you need to furlough staff? Nobody wants to be fired or put out of work in these uncertain times and if you can avoid it, it would be preferable to avoid letting go of valuable members of your team who you have been nurturing. Check if your local government will pay a percentage to salary to members of staff you need to furlough, as is the case in the UK.
Some support available to you may come in the form of low interest loans, consider though can you get through this without taking on any debt at all. Focus on minimizing your costs as a priority to keeping afloat before you consider taking on any form of loan, especially one that bears interest.
Get Online Now
Keep your social media channels active and through them, your clients engaged. Fitness and wellbeing content are as important now as ever, perhaps more so. Make sure that you get free content out there through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc, and have your staff involved in helping out with this. Your clients will enjoy seeing familiar faces and that your team is together through the crisis. Do what you can to put positive messages and stories out there. You likely have more time now than you have ever had previously to focus on your online channels, keep your brand visible and valuable.
At the very least, film a practical, free to access full-body, bodyweight routine and upload it to YouTube and share through your social media channels. This is free content to say thank you to your clients, to show them you are still thinking of them and you are giving them a useful resource for their fitness and strength whilst your facility is closed. Encourage your clients to film themselves performing the workout, perhaps send out a branded t-shirt or water bottle to the best uploads.
As well as plumbing the financial leaks you need to find a way to generate income that doesn’t rely on your facility being open to the public. Luckily, we are in an industry where there is an immediate alternative- provision of a digital offering. Unless you have had your head under a rock for the last 5 years, you will have noticed two key trends in the fitness industry that of “boutique gyms” and the growth of virtual training. Virtual training is here to stay, the current pandemic is only serving to accelerate its growth and advancement.
You have a list of past and present clients: the first thing to do is check in on them, by email and/or phone, a personal contact right now just to check in and see how they are doing and how is their family doing, will be hugely appreciated. Take the opportunity to find out how the pandemic has impacted their lifestyle and if they are doing anything to keep their fitness goals and wellbeing on track. Let them know that you are there for them in any way you can be and that you can now offer virtual training too.
Remember that clients who have been engaged in their training process with you will have a need for an exercise outlet right now, this is not the time to desert them. If they are motivated, they will find a way to keep exercising, and better you than Peloton, Mirror or a random YouTube dude or gal. You have the expertise, the programming skills, you know the client, their mindset, psychology, what they like about and get out of exercising with you. Now is the time to get virtual with as many of those clients as possible.
Not all your IRL clients will want to transition to online training but a significant percentage of them can be encouraged to do so. Perhaps give a taster session, once they have experienced the quality you can offer through an online medium they may well be hooked and feel all the better for it. Give them a fantastic experience of online training one that they will ideally want to share with their friends: have them raving about how good a workout that they could get with you online, whilst they are stuck at home.
You and your staff need to take the opportunity to get expert at delivering online training now. Even if the lockdown is lifted in a couple of weeks you will have the beginnings of a resource for the future: a parallel business that can act as a secondary stream of income.
For those concerned about your online offering devaluing your core brick-and-mortar business, consider this wisdom from John Porcari, a Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, when asked if online virtual training will replace going to the gym in a Guardian interview: “I think the face to face interaction and camaraderie of working out in gyms is more powerful than working out at home.”
Plusses to Virtual Workouts
Low initial overheads
All you need is a decent smartphone camera, a tripod, good internet speeds and Skype, Zoom, Facetime or Google Hangouts to get started. Remember you don’t need your own proprietary app, professional lighting and a Canon EOS 5D to get the ball rolling!
Convenience and flexibility factors for the client
This is a huge advantage for clients: they don’t have to travel anywhere, they can choose a time that works for them and they get you beamed into their living room, office or garden. Especially useful when clients are locked down.
Social contact and accountability
Your virtual appointments will provide a valuable opportunity for social interaction in a time where we are being deprived of it. It is a novel environment for the two of you to meet in trying times and this value cannot be underestimated. Nor can the value of accountability you will be providing for keeping the client’s fitness on track. They can still feel part of your community too.
Back to basics
This is an excellent opportunity for your clients’ to get their minds and nervous systems in tune with their muscle contractions and joint actions. Stripping away equipment and weight stacks can be made into an opportunity for you to get the client to go inside and focus their attention internally. As a trainer you can treat this as an unexpected opportunity to master programming bodyweight exercises and make clients accountable for getting the most out of it.
You are already the strength training professional that they know and trust- now you are giving them the opportunity to see that you can provide this expertise through another medium. That you are still able to provide them with a unique, highly tailored and premium experience.
The opportunity to pick up new online only clients who may never have walked through your door- many new or would-be exercisers are intimidated to enter a gym in the first place, online can be easier for some initially.
- No sophisticated equipment to rely on
- Misses the element of in real life person-to-person contact.
Equipment or lack of it!
Your client doesn’t need to have fancy exercise equipment at their home, or for that matter any equipment at all. All of these options are suitable for easy online/at-home programming depending on what the individual client has available to them.
- Chin / Dip apparatus
- Home gym
Back to basics
There is now an immediate need for no-equipment and low-equipment workouts that can stimulate results, keep the positive routine of exercise flowing and boost mental wellbeing in people’s lives.
As examples of what can be done here is a video of a workout that I did on vacation with no formal exercise equipment.
And here is a selection of resistance band exercises that are actually worth doing.
For those who want to delve deeper, HITuni has a course entirely devoted to training at home and has full options for bodyweight, free weights and even for those who are lucky enough to have exercise machines at home.
If you are a HITuni certified trainer, take this opportunity to revisit the exercise demonstrations module in your course to remind yourself of the plethora of bodyweight, static and free weight exercises that you can use with clients.
As I alluded to earlier in the post, it is important with online training that you don’t just have the client go through exercises unthinkingly. Get their internal focus working- how does the muscle feel as it contracts and lengthens, what joint actions are occurring? Aim to make the quality of the movements they go through as high or even higher than they do in their gym-based workouts. Use your clear language to reinforce what they need to be focused on: the sensation of retracting their scapulae, of the stretch of the hips during the descent in squats and so on.
The importance of looking after your health, exercise, nutrition during stressful times
Remind yourself and your clients of the value of exercise for both physical and mental health. As the World Health Organisation recommends: eat well, sleep well and partake in physical activity. Doing so will help to boost immune function, balance stress levels, boost mood and enhance metabolic health. Engaging in an appropriate amount of exercise and physical activity may even help to reduce the likelihood of contracting viral and bacterial infections in the first place.
In addition to virtual training with you, encourage all your clients where possible to get out in nature, especially if it is sunny, then not only will they get the stress relieving benefits of being in nature, but also some immune enhancing Vitamin D.
What else can you do now?
Here are some other thoughts as to some positive actions you can take right now whilst you have the time:
- Work on your business plan and prepare for the future
- Service equipment
- Make improvements to the facility/redecorate
- Train/retrain yourself and your staff and focus on education
When you reopen
After the pandemic is over, people are probably going to be far more confident in coming to exercise at a private HIT facility where the hygiene levels are excellent, and they are not sweating it out in a humid room full of 20 other people. Make sure that when you open back up you have hygiene protocols in place and posters up explaining what you do to keep the gym sanitized. Aim to reassure your clients and encourage them to wash their hands before and after workouts.
As for cleaning procedures, following the UK government’s advice or similar will assure your clients that you are doing all you can to protect them in your environment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a great challenge to facility owners and personal trainers. In taking stock it is important to acknowledge that all of us want lifestyles to return to how they were just a few weeks back. We also need to accept we are living through a global crisis that is having a devastating impact on those whose health is most severely impacted by the virus and families who are losing their loved ones. The pandemic is also having a hugely negative impact on the economy and many businesses, clearly including the fitness industry. Despite the challenges we are being presented with, we need to remain as positive as we can and continue to focus on our clients and our businesses. In tough times resilience and strength are rewarded, and current circumstances can be perceived as an opportunity for your business to grow stronger and prepare for future growth. One of the key opportunities being presented is to immediately focus on rapidly developing and delivering a virtual offering for your clients that will serve their needs and requirements in unusual times.
Remember, this event will ultimately pass, and clients will want to return to your facility. In the meantime, it is important that you show them you care even when they are not physically in front of you by providing them with positive messages, motivation, tools and opportunities to keep their exercise habit alive.