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Gym Owners Seek Creative Solutions as They Plan Re-Opening

Apr 30, 2020 by

Nobody is 100 percent sure what it will look like when CrossFit affiliates around the world are able to re-open in earnest.

Some CrossFit affiliates in the state of Georgia began the process last week but quickly learned that the landscape could shift quickly as the governor announced a prohibition on group classes. Gyms in other states, such as Oklahoma and Utah, will be allowed to experiment with their new way of conducting business as of May 1.

Meanwhile, other gym owners are expecting to have to wait until at least mid-May and are anticipating having to follow strict restrictions. In Colorado, for example, gyms are allowed to open in May if they function as a personal training studio and limit the number of the people in the gym to just four.

On goes the thinking cap: This has led to some serious brainstorming, as affiliate owners try to figure out exactly how to run their gyms safely, meet government demands and still offer a viable service to their members.

The most common interpretations of what this might entail include:

  • Limiting class sizes depending on government regulation.
  • Allocating designated specific space for each member to satisfy social distancing rules.
  • Restricting class sizes.
  • Offering more personal training, or semi-private training.
  • Scheduling classes to give people a chance to leave the building before others arrive for the next class.
  • Ensuring people with symptoms stay home.
  • Mandatory hand washing upon arrival.
  • Limiting how many times people can come to the gym each week to ensure everyone has a chance to train at the gym.
  • Continuing to run online Zoom classes during the transition phase.
  • Temperature checks upon arrival.
  • Mandating members wear masks.
  • Cleaning the gym multiple times each day.
  • Disinfecting all equipment after each use.

Thinking Outside the Box

While the above seem to be the most popular ideas circling amongst affiliate owners, a handful of others are thinking way beyond just small tweaks to the status quo.

Complete overhaul: Will Hurst, the owner of Spark CrossFit in Phoenix, AZ is rethinking the bedrock of the CrossFit community: the group class model.

Abandoning group classes solves the short-term social distance requirement, and it’s also what might be best for the long-term, as there have always been shortcomings with the group class even before COVID-19, Hurst explained.

  • “Poor space usage, too much variability in equipment usage which limits class sizes, and coaches spending energy managing class flow instead of actually using their skill of coaching, and tons of wasted time in the session,” said Hurst of the common limitations he has come across through the years.
  • “It’s inefficient, and it’s not the best use of the time we have,” he added.

Though getting rid of the group class might seem daunting to many gym owners, Hurst believes now, more than ever, is the time to innovate and experiment.

  • “When times are good, you don’t innovate. You sit there fat and happy and you roll with it. You don’t stir things up. And now here we are in a hard reset and it’s a perfect opportunity to roll out new models.”
  • The pandemic “creates an opportunity for innovation,” he added.

Instead of running group classes, Hurst is moving his gym to a more open-gym style model; however, this doesn’t mean clients will come in and do their own thing. Clients will show up on their own time, check in with a coach, and then move through the training session of the day — a warm-up, a workout and cool down — at their own pace, all the while continuing to receive personalized coaching throughout their session. Hurst explained what this will look like in practice in greater detail in a video he put out via his company BigLittleGyms, a consulting and coaching support provider for gym owners.

Essentially, Hurst argues this new model will not just satisfy social distancing protocols, but it will also optimize space usage, create a better member experience, optimize coach skill usage, raise perceived value, improve usage of time, all the while continuing to provide clients a great training session.

Though he has a plan in place, Hurst added this is not the “be all, end all,” and his model will likely evolve in time. But this willingness to be open-minded to new ideas is the attitude he thinks will help all affiliate owners implement a successful new normal in the near future.

Hit a WOD at 2 a.m.?

Other CrossFit affiliates are embracing the idea of running a 24-hour gym through HybridAF, a company that works with the insurance provider Affiliate Guard to install access systems to provide 24-hour access to members, seven days a week.

Currently, HybridAF works with 126 member gyms in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK and Germany, 105 of which are CrossFit affiliates. They have also picked up six new affiliates in the last few weeks as more and more gyms prepare to reopen their doors.

  • “With the changes in gyms, Hybrid AF 24/7 is really becoming a viable part of gyms as they reopen with smaller class sizes and the need to have a management system that would allow members to access the gym,” said Philip Tabor, the VP of sales at HybridAF.
  • “The benefit is that as phase one plans roll out and gyms are asked to limit class sizes to 10 (people), being open 24/7 allows their members more access in a safe and compliant manner…And members who are concerned about going to a class have the option to go in at an off time (when the facility is quiet),” said Arthur Steed, the president of HybridAF.

Hybrid AF’s management software also allows gyms to control and limit the number of people who can access the facility at any given time, based on their state regulations, Steed added.

Dave Rubin, the owner of CrossFit Durham in NC said the 24/7 option is about to become even more valuable to his members.

  • “It gives us more freedom to provide the safest environment for our members, and work within our city and state’s regulations and restrictions. Our members will appreciate having the option to train in the manner that they personally deem the safest for themselves, as well,” Rubin said.
  • “Being part of the HybridAF network has been the best decision we’ve made in our 12 years as a CrossFit affiliate,” he added.

Proceed with no facility at all?

“Today, the Manitoba government essentially killed the existing fitness industry in this province,” wrote long-time CrossFit 204 gym owner Mike Warkentin on his gym’s blog earlier this week. Warkentin believes the policy announced in Manitoba, Canada will likely kill a lot of gym businesses, as gyms and fitness centers are part of what the government plans to keep closed until “future phases” of re-opening, beyond Phase 2, which will begin June 1 at the earliest.

Reading between the lines, Warkentin’s take is as follows: “So that means, at best, gyms might only be allowed to open in very late June or early July—with restrictions that will make their profitable operation almost impossible. Any small spikes in Covid-19 cases will cause our government to put the brakes on the plan, so I’d be surprised to see gyms open before fall,” he wrote.

Though the new landscape might not include a physical gym, “fitness will live on,” Markentin said. It will continue to live on in the online space.

They key to being successful in this sphere: A good coach and a smart training program, Warkentin argued.

  • “In the early 2000s, CrossFit appeared — a throwback program that eliminated almost all the machines and emphasized compound movements and gymnastics. But more than anything else, it emphasized coaching,” Warkentin said. “We’re making people stronger and healthier every day, and now that the government has finally given us some clarity on the situation, we’re expanding our online programs.”

Warkentin isn’t the only gym owner who sees a potential future in Zoom classes and various at-home programming services beyond May, either as their own service or in conjunction with other in-person services once gyms do re-open.

View this post on Instagram

Head to the link in our bio to read our latest blog: How to get the most out of your online training. Check out an excerpt below. • We’ve been 100 percent online for about two weeks now, and we’ve learned a lot—both as coaches and as people who are now working with an online coach. – We’re striving to improve the online experience every day, and as I type this Crystal has the 5 p.m. class doing burpees on our living-room TV so she can see people better. We’re learning more about programming every day, and we’re getting more creative. With daily interaction, we know exactly what you have at your disposal and how you’re feeling. – If anything, we’re giving you even more attention than we did before, and there’s no way to rest without the coach seeing you on 50-inch TV! – 1. Read the messages from your coaches. – This one is more important than anything. We’ve got three amazing coaches pouring over spreadsheets daily, and they’re working hard to customize the program to your equipment and goals. Be sure to read what the coach says to you. This is personalized stuff, not cut-and-paste generic advice. Your coach is talking to you, so dig into the tips he or she created for you. – 2. Communicate. – Let us know how things are going. If you’re feeling great, let us know. If your goals change as the weather changes, let us know. If something is sore, tell us. The more we know about you, the more we can tailor the group workout to your specific needs. – 3. Interact in the Pirates Only group on Facebook. – There’s so much good stuff happening here. The group is a social hub where people can congratulate and motivate each other, and members are sharing all sorts of good vibes and great ideas. #winnipeg #winnipegbusiness

A post shared by 𝗖𝗿𝗼𝘀𝘀𝗙𝗶𝘁 𝟮𝟬𝟰 (@crossfit204) on

Other gym owners reported they have been focusing on improving their Zoom class production value each week, with the expectation that it might become a more long-term option for their clients. Two other owners we spoke with have started offering online corporate wellness group classes with the intention to continue this online service even when they open their gym. And in Grand Cayman, 75 percent of Carl Brenton’s members at 7 Mile Strength and Fitness expressed in a survey that they “would like to do a combination of in-gym and Zoom” as a long-term plan.

The bottom line: It’s an uncomfortable and scary time for any business owner, but it’s also providing new opportunities for the fitness industry. With a little innovation, open-mindedness and outside of the box thinking, there might even be a chance to improve upon previous practices, Hurst said.

  • “It’s not a good move for anyone right now to be absolute in your thinking, or against anybody else’s thinking” Hurst said.
  • “Your customers are giving you a longer leash than ever to trust that you’re figuring things out….You have to innovate and evolve and people are understanding of that, and your members will be more patient than ever and will give you more support than ever.”


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