Zeena Dotiwalla cleans dumbbells at Yogaspace in Toronto on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Some provinces are starting to reveal plans for a gradual return to normal but gyms and studios remain in a holding pattern. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Fitness centres mull smaller classes, online lessons once studios are able open

Many say attendance will be significantly decreased

While fitness centres weren’t exactly conducive to physical distancing before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as studios begin to draft their reopening plans some say the days of letting the sweat fly in a crammed spin studio or sardining yoga mats in hot rooms are unlikely to return.

Some provinces are starting to reveal plans for a gradual return to normal but gyms and studios remain in a holding pattern. Once they eventually get clearance to reopen, it’s expected that the six-feet-apart rule will be maintained.

Ryann Doucette, the chief executive officer of Modo Yoga, which has 75 locations in Canada and around the world, said in-person attendance will be significantly trimmed from pre-pandemic levels when classes resume.

“I think we’ll be running our classes probably at half capacity with more distancing and then supplementing that with online classes as well,” said Doucette, who is originally from Winnipeg and now lives in Minneapolis. “And I think students are really getting used to exercising online at home via through Zoom or Apple TV or whatever format they’re using.

“It came about because of this but it’s definitely here to stay.”

Jenny Nicol, a Toronto-based yoga and meditation teacher, also doesn’t expect studios to return to normal in-person attendance levels any time soon.

“I don’t foresee that happening this year,” she said.

Nicol has also made the pivot to video, creating a studio in her apartment and setting up class options via Zoom and Instagram on her website.

“I see (online options) being a big part of where we go with our yoga practice, with where we go with our class experience, and our gym experience in general,” she said.

She said her yoga community has been grateful, committed and consistent during the transition.

“I think that mentality like, ‘We’re all in this together’ has really carried through,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘We can’t just retreat’ during COVID-19 isolation, says South Surrey fitness expert

Kim Lavender, the vice-president of group experience at GoodLife Fitness, said the company — with more than 300 locations in Canada — will follow government guidance for reopening and the resumption of group activities.

“It’s something we have invested a lot of time and energy in, trying to make sure that we’re planning accordingly,” she said. “We also understand that the digital offerings that we’re doing now and what’s available to members online is probably not just a pandemic solution, but it’s something that we are going to be able to carry forward as well to enhance that live experience.”

It remains too early to tell how increased digital options and smaller class sizes might affect membership levels and the overall financial picture once gyms and studios reopen.

Sally Willis-Stewart, a senior instructor in the school of health and exercise sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus, envisions more personalization as fitness culture evolves.

“A lot more small group or one-on-one type scenarios,” she said from Coldstream, B.C. “Just because then people can get the help, the service, the expertise that they need. But they don’t have to go to a class where there’s 50 other people in it.”

However, personalized attention can be costly. One option that can be easier on the wallet is outdoor fitness, which may be more attractive now that temperatures are on the rise.

The warmer weather could also help Canadians in a fitness rut as the pandemic’s two-month mark approaches. Getting out for a walk, run or bike ride can be more appealing this time of year.

“It’s easy to get into a negative spiral because there’s been so many losses for people,” said four-time Olympian Silken Laumann. “Fitness, movement, fresh air, are ways of building yourself up and gaining energy.

“And I think that’s kind of what we’re looking for these days.”

For those feeling that motivation is on the wane, Laumann — who’s married to GoodLife CEO David Patchell-Evans — recommends short bursts of frequent activity. She suggests little things like walking more often or mixing in ”old standbys” like pushups, situps and burpees.

Going to the gym is only one way to work out, she added. “There’s a lot of other things we can do to augment that and they’re about our lifestyle. They’re about what we can do, maybe doing 10 minutes of core (work) just before we go to bed.

“And if you’re doing it often enough and frequently enough, it’s going to have an effect on your overall health.”

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press


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