Preparing for the COVID Winter: How Gyms Are Keeping Classes Fresh

November 2, 2020 by
Courtesy of NC Fit
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As COVID regulations continue and the US enters its 8th month of restrictions, gyms are having to become more and more creative with how they keep members engaged and progressing towards their fitness goals.

One big thing: Despite the limitations that gyms face, many have stepped up and found creative solutions to keep their members excited and engaged in their fitness journey.

  • “[It was] less of a hurdle and more of an interesting challenge. Things definitely changed quickly over the course of the last 10 months, but we feel confident that we rose to the challenge to provide amazing workouts,” said NC Fit owner and former CrossFit Games athlete Jason Khalipa.
  • “One of the things that’s the most challenging is not being able to have the same type of physical closeness that we are used to with our members,” Khalipa added.
  • “The biggest hurdle is making sure the programming doesn’t become too repetitive with the limited amount of space and equipment we now have to utilize in our facilities,” said Jon Esposito, director of programming at Invictus Boston.

On the east coast: After a four-month shutdown, Invictus Boston was able to re-open, but under some of the strictest regulations in the country. The programming committee quickly assembled to develop a program that would stay fresh and interesting long term, as they knew these restrictions weren’t going anywhere any time soon. But they also wanted to make sure members were still on track to achieve their goals.

  • They developed a system of coordinating indoor and outdoor classes so that members could work on all aspects of their fitness while staying within the guidelines.
  •  “Our outdoor program is designed to help members build their engines while keeping it fun and fresh by adding in new movements and styles of workouts, while our indoor program has focused on a higher-quality and more focused style of strength training for our members,” said Invictus Boston programmer and coach, Cam Burke.
  • “Our outdoor classes are very popular,” added Esposito.  “We have been encouraging our members to bring whatever equipment they have at home to the classes. The outdoor workouts are designed to allow members to do them with or without equipment.”
  • This past month, we added lightweight resistance bands the coaches bring to the class and incorporate into the workouts. We also utilize any nearby hills, benches, and stairs to make workouts more creative,” Esposito added.

On the west coast: Across the country, programmers and coaches at NC Fit faced similar challenges. Jason Khalipa saw it as a chance to continue to provide his members with a unique experience both indoors and out.

  • “We wanted to make the outdoor experience as close to the indoor experience as possible,” Khalipa said. 
  • “For our gyms in CA, we are blessed with nice weather so that was a plus. But we also invested heavily in high-quality tents, lighting, sound, and equipment,” Khalipa added.
  • Khalipa and his team also invested a large amount of time in making sure their programming was top tier during this time. 
  • “In our main programs, we made some slight adjustments to the programming strategy to ensure that classes run smoothly no matter if we are running classes indoors or outdoors,” Khalipa said.
  • “We also launched a new program called NCGO that our athletes are able to perform anywhere with very little equipment. This program also had about 200+ high quality videos that we produced for our athletes [to follow along with]. So not only were you getting great workouts but also great coaching and great motivation,” Khalipa added.
  • Khalipa also noted, “One of the things that set us apart is how much time and energy we put into our programs. Before they ever reach our athletes all of our workouts are reviewed and tested. It’s a process but it’s worth it!”

How other gyms are adapting:

  • Tempo work is key! Most people don’t have enough heavy equipment to work on gaining strength that way so adding in tempo work we can work on a better lift. This helps fix positional and technique weaknesses but also allows hypertrophy and strength gains.” said Hanna Hawkins of CrossFit Lorton in Lorton, Va.
  • I also encourage unilateral work too to find weaknesses. So dumbbell and kettlebell work is awesome,” Hawkins also added.
  • “In May, we ran a 5 Week “Open-Style” competition where we would announce a workout on Thursday and athletes would have until Monday to submit their scores. Everyone’s workout could be completed with either a dumbbell or kettlebell. We had almost 100 members sign up and participate,” said Mike Corcoran of CrossFit Mill Street.

The impending shutdowns: With the potential of impending shutdowns on the horizon for both coasts, gyms acknowledged that this time around, they are much more prepared.

  • “If regulations call for this [lockdown] (which we hope we don’t go there again), we will produce amazing home workouts. No matter what, we will do whatever it takes to provide fitness for our members. If we are mandated to get after it at home, we will and we will make the most of it,” said Khalipa on NC Fit’s plan.
  • “During the first shutdown, our goal was to keep people moving, engaged and having fun. We also wanted to give members something to break up their day and maintain their fitness with. If it, unfortunately, happens again, we’ll bring the same energy and do our best to keep people fit and happy from our laptops!” Cam Burke said. He also added that they were already prepared to go right back to Zoom based classes

More than just programming: At the end of the day, gyms on both coasts acknowledged that while getting members back on the gym floor and working on their fitness, the return to the gym was about much more than squats and deadlifts.

  • “One of the things that we’ve focused on in addition to safety and cleaning protocols is making sure our members have an amazing experience every class they come to, indoor or outdoor. We are going to coach our athletes up for sure, but we also have a heck of a good time!” said Jason Khalipa.
  • “We want to make this the best hour of their day because we know life isn’t so great right now. If our classes have our members coming and leaving with a smile, we know we have been and will be successful,” added Cam Burke of Invictus Boston.
  • “They enjoy being back in a community fitness setting and really appreciate how much care and effort we have put into making everyone feel safe and comfortable with regards to returning to the gym,” Esposito added on the importance of the member experience.

The big picture: Given the current rising trends in COVID across the United States over the past several months, it seems that gyms, programmers, and coaches will have to continue to think on their feet for the foreseeable future. However, despite all that, one thing remains clear. While keeping programming fresh and athletes on track towards their fitness goals is important, it is equally important to provide members with a time and place to come and forget everything else in their lives. Just like they were before COVID, functional fitness gyms will continue to be more than just a place to squat and get sweaty. They will continue to serve as a respite from the pressure of the outside world and for many, be the best hour of their day.

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