Shuttered by coronavirus emergency, B.C. fitness businesses go online

The studios and gyms may have been shuttered over coronavirus fears, but fitness businesses in B.C. are still breaking a sweat to keep clients fit online.

When Precision Athletics in Vancouver was closed by provincial order, trainers Teri-Lynn Nelson and David Sims needed a way to make ends meet.

So they're offering online classes like boot camp, CrossFit and personal training streamed on the Zoom app using Nelson's small apartment as a fitness studio.

"We're just trying to do what we do, just in a different way now," Nelson said. "It's been a nice feeling."

Jesse Johnston/CBC

Nelson and Sims charge $10 per live class through their website, Thundernlightning.ca, for people across North America and beyond cooped up at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If you have about the space of a yoga mat that's all you really need," Sims said.

"If you're able to reach your arms overhead, that's definitely all the space you're going to need."

Other fitness businesses are embracing the world of online exercise to keep instructors employed and to help pay the leases still owed on their empty, offline studios.

Jesse Johnston/CBC

Potted plants for weights

The provincial emergency is the second time Tight Club Athletics in Vancouver has been shut down, owner Keighty Gallagher said.

Earlier this year, a flood had her fitness studio closed down for 10 days, she said. 

"This whole closure thing is no big deal. We know how to do this."

Gallagher and her trainers have been offering online classes, charging six dollars per class. The trainers get 75 per cent of the money while the studio keeps the rest.

"We saw hundreds of people tuning in and actually staying for the entire session," Gallagher said. "So we knew that there was something there."

The success of the online classes, Gallagher said, have shown her there's a desire for physical movement and to connect with people through exercise.

Going online hasn't been without hitches: technology can present hiccups and without proper exercise equipment at home, trainers and clients have to to make do.

"I saw [a client] instead of using weights, they used little plant pots," she said.

'I have a business to worry about'

The first three months of 2020 have thrown a few curveballs to Barbie Bent.

First, her wedding in Italy had to be postponed until 2021 when much of that country was quarantined. 

Now, her chain of fitness studios in Vancouver and Victoria, Lagree West, is closed because of the pandemic.

"I could care less about my wedding. I have a business to worry about," Bent said.

A top concern is making sure her trainers have income as the situation drags on. That's why she's setting up online classes through video streaming.

It's been tricky because her studios teach Lagree, a fitness method reminiscent of Pilates with more intensity. It requires specialized workout machines not found in many homes and adapting to that is still a work in progress.

That's not the only hard-to-find equipment, she said.

"A webcam is in the same state as hand sanitizer or toilet paper," she said. "Pretty much sold out everywhere."

Bent said she must make money during this time to pay her studios' leases. She's hoping her landlords will show a little flexibility by offering rent reductions or deferrals. 

"No one wins if all the businesses go under," she said.