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How Can Gyms Survive Through a Pandemic?
by Bridget Weston
December 19, 2022
man and woman on exercise balls in gym wearing masks

One of the areas most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic is the fitness industry, which is projected to lose around 10 percent of its revenue this year, according to IBISWorld.

While in a handful of states, gyms are still closed, most of the nation has allowed fitness centers to open as long as they observe health precautions and limit their indoor capacity, as reported by AARP—which means there is hope for surviving this challenging time.

While the safety precautions have forced the fitness industry to shift, in no way has it become obsolete, gyms included. Here’s what you need to know about required safety measures, profitable strategies, and the trend of online classes in order to safely and effectively serve your clients in the midst of Covid-19. This pandemic is a hurdle—but you can clear it.

What Precautions Should You Take When Reopening Your Gym?

Evidence shows the virus cannot be passed on through sweat, according to Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. However, that doesn’t mean germs aren’t on the surface of treadmills, weights, medicine balls, yoga mats, and other shared equipment.

To minimize the health risk for your clients, enforce these critical hygiene protocols:

  • Require all staff and gym members to wear face masks while inside the facility.
  • Position the machines and equipment six feet apart to allow for social distancing.
  • Limit the number of clients permitted inside at one time in accordance with your state or local mandates.
  • Provide hand sanitizer for both staff and gym members as they enter the facility.
  • Offer health screens for employees before the start of their shifts and ask those with symptoms to stay home.
  • Ensure the facility is well-ventilated so airborne contaminants are filtered out.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces, machines, high-touch areas, and fitness rooms with EPA-approved cleaning solutions at least once daily, based on CDC guidelines.
  • Mandate that all gym members sanitize the machines and equipment after use.  

How Can You Continue to Be Profitable?

If your business is located in a state that has not allowed gyms to reopen yet, or the current health risks cause you to feel unsafe about operating indoors, there are other ways to still continue your services and generate revenue.

Here are four simple and budget-friendly options to consider as a gym owner who isn’t ready—or able—to reopen your space:

Get Outside

Offer exercise classes outside with enough space to practice social distancing. If it’s not feasible to host classes at a brick-and-mortar location, but your members still want the motivation and accountability of an in-person format, then transition your classes outside.

In states where the closure of fitness studios is still in place, many group workout instructors have partnered with other business owners to make outdoor exercise accessible. For example, Michigan based Zumba teacher Lauren Owen has joined forces with local protein shake vendor Shores Nutrition to offer classes in the latter establishment’s parking lot. Each business receives a share of the profit, and the fee includes a protein shake for all attendees too.

Transition to Virtual Classes

Transition your exercise classes to a virtual medium for your clients to access. Even if you can host classes outside, as winter creeps in, you may need to shift to something more weather appropriate. That’s where virtual classes come in.

From small boutique gyms to national workout chains, a large portion of the fitness industry has moved online in these past few months. Brands such as Orangetheory, Peloton, Daily Burn, Crunch Fitness, and CorePower Yoga pre-record and live stream classes on their websites or offer on-demand exercise content through mobile apps too.

Even if your business lacks the name recognition of these mainstream companies, you can still monetize your own workout classes and resources online using platforms such as Zoom or social media networks such as Instagram and Facebook Live.

Focus on 1-on-1 Clients

If you can’t yet have multiple people in the gym at one time, consider how you can shift your business model to focus more on 1-on-1 clients. Use this time to transition as many members as you can to personal training sessions. While it takes more time to make the same amount of money with 1-on-1 sessions as you do from memberships, it’s also a great way to use the space you have in a safe way, while still bringing in new clients and engaging current clients.

Create Online Programs

In addition to virtual classes, 1-on-1s and outdoor sessions, consider creating digital programs that can be available to both members and non-members. Before starting, poll your members about what they struggle most with while staying fit during the pandemic—the most common challenge will be the perfect program topic to start with.

Luckily, you likely already know all the information you need to share, so the next step is to create the program and sell it to your audience and members. Learn how to launch your program with this guide from the Online Trainers Federation.

What Do You Need to Know About Moving Online?

While there are other virtual modes you can use, his tutorial will focus on hosting an online exercise class specifically on Zoom since it is both accessible and well-known. If you’re new to this platform, here’s a breakdown from Zoom on how to create and distribute your fitness content in real-time to members’ desktop or mobile devices—plus how to record snippets for your website and social media: 

  • Invest in the right tech equipment such as a USB camera, Bluetooth speaker, and wireless headset with microphone and earbuds.
  • Designate a room to host your class with the space to move around, natural light and clear acoustics, and the workout gear you need.
  • Position the camera, so that you are framed at a visible and central angle no matter what exercises you will perform at a given time.
  • Create a music playlist on Spotify with beats that match the overall tempo of your class, then share the tunes with each participant’s device by clicking “Share Screen + Advanced + Music or Computer Sounds Only.”
  • Check your internet connection, video streaming, and audio levels 10 minutes before the class starts to deal with any technical issues.    
  • Ensure that all participants register ahead of time which makes it easier to monitor attendance, verify who paid and solicit feedback.
  • Make the class secure and distraction-free and be respectful of each attendee by keeping the Zoom link private, muting participants as they join, disabling screen-share, asking everyone to turn on their video, and enabling the Zoom security icon, which locks entries into the class once it has started. 
  • Record the class either on your own device or to the cloud, so you can upload video clips of the workout session to your website and social media channels for those who missed the live stream or want to refer back.  

Your Gym Can Survive a Pandemic

Yes, this is a hectic and challenging time for gym owners. Does it mean that you can’t thrive, make progress, and bring in new clients? Definitely not. Use these tips to shift your business model and show clients you’re there for them. This is a chance to reach new audiences and expand your services, which can make the experience exciting.

About the author
Bridget Weston
Bridget Weston
Bridget Weston is the CEO of the SCORE Association, where she provides executive leadership and works directly and collaboratively with the Board of Directors to establish the vision and direction of SCORE.
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