Gyms ease back into in-person sessions

It’s been a 10-year goal to transition online. It took a pandemic to make it happen. 

COVID-19 “changed everything,” Colleen Preston told Coast Reporter from her gym, Oasis Training, outside Gibsons. As news spread that public health restrictions would ease, her phone lit up with messages from clients asking when she’d start in-person sessions again, even as she developed plans to keep her online presence permanent. “It’s been pretty wild.”

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Gyms on the Sunshine Coast are easing open their doors with enhanced safety protocols as Phase 2 of B.C.’s Restart Plan kicks into effect mid-May, but several owners, such as Preston, plan to continue the online courses as a new way to keep people exercising regularly.

Preston, a former Microsoft employee, offered online fitness and education classes immediately after lockdown measures took effect in March, including offering free classes for seniors.

“We’ve had tons of seniors who couldn’t go to the rec centre who jumped online,” she said.

She has virtually trained people from Langley, Surrey, Courtney, Ottawa and Washington from a studio outfitted with a laptop and 65-inch (165-centimetre) monitor displaying a checkerboard of sweating faces and bodies.

The investment to an online focus was significant, she says, but it increased her membership, so those classes will continue as she and other gym owners prepare to open their doors and get physical again.

At Oasis, groups of up to five people will be trained on a newly-created obstacle course in the backyard of her home-based studio beginning in June, which will keep people at a safe distance. The basement gym will be used for one-on-one training. “Everyone’s six feet apart, we don’t provide towels anymore. All those things have to change now,” Preston said.

Change has also come to The Garage, a Gibsons-based home studio operated by Verna Chan. She’ll be giving up classes at the rec centre where she used to teach in favour of expanding online classes via the video platform Zoom, as well as providing some in-class training at reduced numbers starting June 1. 

Same story with Gillian Morrison of GM fitness, who kept her new business going with online classes. A “soft” reopening for in-person classes at reduced numbers was set to start the week of May 25. Her next online 14-day challenge started that week, too. “I’ve had many requests to keep my online videos going,” she told Coast Reporter.

The appeal of online versus in-person fitness varies. Some need the social fix, Preston said. “Half the people are displaced from the rec centre.” Others are just happy they can stay at home for their 6 a.m. workouts.

But not everyone is staying in the virtual groove.

C3 CrossFit in Gibsons reopened its gym on May 11 and has been consulting with Vancouver Coastal Health on protocols. In-person training has been limited to allow for physical distancing, and sanitization protocols are in place. People are happy to be back, said co-owner Milan Fraszczak, so much so that the gym is no longer providing daily online classes as they had been doing since March.

Instead, they are providing home workouts with online demonstrations “to members who haven’t quite come back yet.”

Meanwhile, other trainers and fitness enthusiasts who rely on the Sunshine Coast’s recreation centres are stuck waiting for those doors to open.

Phil Sera, who runs Serafit in Gibsons and specializes in training seniors with chronic illness, is training a “very small” number of people at home but the bulk of his cardiac rehab teaching occurs at the rec centres. “Until the rec centres [open], I think I’m going to be pretty slow,” he said.

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