Gerren Liles returned from a trip to Italy days before the country went into coronavirus lockdown earlier this month. The New York-based Equinox trainer was set to return to work after a 14-day self-quarantine on Monday.
That was the plan, at least.
“That’s the day the gyms were closed,” Liles told Men’s Health. “My expectation was that I was going to go back to work. Now, it’s basically like I’m back on vacation.”
Liles is among the more fortunate trainers, with a substantial 32.8k Instagram follower count and a solid base in the at-home fitness space as a founding trainer at Mirror, a $1,495 interactive home gym system that streams a variety of different workouts to peoples’ homes. But thousands of other trainers have had to pivot from one-on-one client work to video chat services like FaceTime and fitness apps to stay connected with their charges—and to keep some income coming in during this pandemic.
“Our industry is one that is all about social interaction and a lot of trainers depend on their studios and gyms to train people,” Liles said. “A lot of trainers will want to keep their clients in the loop and this could inspire trainers to start their own digital or virtual training business, but the hustle is hard for those doing this for the first time.”
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PLEASE READ It goes without saying that this is a rough time for all of us. The fitness industry is no different. Many of us are dependent on our gyms or studios we teach at, this is a “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” kind of job. On top of that, our job involves being around people. A lot of coaches have started hosting free live workouts on IG as a way to help you keep your workouts going. From all the convos I’ve seen, it’s purely out of love, and to set an example that when there is a will, there is a way. However, the truth is that many coaches aren’t certain where they’ll be financially weeks from now if our gyms and studios remain closed. I’m pleading with you to PLEASE voluntarily contribute or donate something to the trainers hosting these classes, many don’t feel comfortable asking outright for help, but they need it. It doesn’t have to be a lot, anything will help ease the burden as they endeavor to find new ways to serve you. 1. Ask for their Venmo, CashApp or PayPal after their live workouts. 2. Before their classes, notify one or more friends to join you to help build their network. 3. Post a pic, video or story after their workout to help promote them. 4. Be on the lookout for ventures they present to help steady their business and continue to provide services for you. COACHES, COMMENT below if you are hosting workouts, the kinds of workouts you’re doing and how to direct people to it. CLIENTS, comment below with a trainer who people need to look out for!
Gyms Face Closures, So Fitness Pros Face Layoffs
At least 15 states have closed all gyms in response to the coronavirus, according to International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). Some counties and municipalities have also moved to close all fitness facilities. Other states like Virginia and Wisconsin have limited gatherings of 10 or more people, which allows gyms to remain open for personal training only.
“The gym industry is being destroyed by this crisis.”
In some unfortunate cases, those closures have already amounted to more than a temporary pause in service. There have been real ramifications already for gym employees, in the form of layoffs. IHRSA sent a letter to Congress this week requesting that the fitness industry be included in a future stimulus package to support the more than 425,000 people employed by clubs and studios.
“The gym industry is being destroyed by this crisis,” IHRSA spokesperson Meredith Poppler said.
Poppler was unable to provide an accurate number for how many fitness professionals are recently out of work, although gyms have quietly or publicly been laying off trainers and instructors in recent days. Anne M. Mahlum, owner and CEO of D.C.-based Solidcore, announced in an email Thursday that her chain of 72 U.S. studios will lay off 98 percent of employees, which includes 137 full-time employees, 97 part-time employees and 397 coaches. The laid off employees will be paid through the end of March.
“This is a very fluid situation,” added Adam Zeitsiff, president and CEO of Gold’s Gym, in a statement to Men’s Health. “Our team members are very important to us and we are doing our best to manage all aspects of our business so we can ensure our gyms are able to reopen as soon as it is safe for our community. This includes our company-owned gyms as well as our locally-owned franchise locations.”
Trainers Are Adjusting to the Circumstances
Stanley Berry is among the trainers who have gone to Twitter and Instagram to seek to build up a client base that basically disappeared when his Washington, D.C. gym shuttered for at least two weeks. (Berry asked Men’s Health not to identify the gym he’s worked at for the last three years.)
“I know I’m not going to bring as much money because I can’t charge normal rates.”
“A lot of people have been reaching out,” Berry said. “I’m still kind of early, so I’m not getting discouraged yet. I’ve used FaceTime to introduce myself and train some people. There are lots of folks doing it already. I know I’m not going to bring as much money because I can’t charge normal rates.”
Like many trainers who work for major gym chains, Berry is learning his existing client base is a tough sell.
“They’ve already paid for their training at the gym,” Berry said. “They don’t want to have to pay twice.”
Another roadblock: gyms typically have policies that bar trainers from training their existing client base outside their workplace. A spokesperson for Life Time, which is paying its trainers at least through March 29, said that trainers—other than salaried managers—aren’t allowed to lead clients on their own for legal and liability reasons.
How IRL Gyms and Trainers Are Going Online
Displaced trainers and instructors have been quick to explore their virtual options in recent days, as have major gym chains. Planet Fitness, for example, has started to stream workouts to members, while Gold’s Gym has made its GOLD’S AMP app free to anyone through May 31.
“I want people to keep working with their trainers or find another way to support them.”
Trainerize, developer of an iOS and Android app by the same name used by gyms and trainers to set up workouts for clients, is close to agreeing on a deal that would create 1 million accounts for a major chain, the Vancouver-based company’s CEO and co-founder Sharad Mohan told Men’s Health. Mohan declined to specify the chain since the deal was not complete.
“While nobody expected this kind of shutdown, it’s no surprise that gyms are seeking to shift clients to at-home workouts,” Mohan said. “It’s natural that online training is taking off. It’s always been a ‘nice to have’ product for gyms to provide to clients. It’s now become a ‘must have.’”
Trainerize has seen steady growth over the years, but new subscriptions are currently triple the daily levels seen before March 10, according to Mohan.
What Trainers Can Look to Do—and How You Can Help
As bleak as the outlook looks currently, one of the biggest names in the business offered struggling trainers some hope.
“When there is something big like a Katrina or an earthquake, the gym stopped being part of the routine for some die-hard clients,” Beverly Hills-based personal trainer Gunnar Peterson told Men’s Health. “This is a natural time to shift and make changes. If you, as a trainer, stay alert and aware, you will find that some people who weren’t training before will use this shutdown as a way to get their health together.
“I always try to stay positive. That’s just who I am as a human being. If you lose a couple people, don’t panic because you’re going to get some new people. Or maybe those who stayed with you are going to bring new people.”
Peterson, the director of strength and endurance for the Los Angeles Lakers, added that this is the time for trainers to be frugal and to study up.
“Use this time to get better,” Peterson said. “Maybe you can use this time to not only create an online presence that will not just keep your income coming in but surpass what you were already making. It can open doors.”
“Trainers are streaming workouts for free on Instagram and Facebook Live. Send them some money.”
As many trainers take that advice and adjust to this pandemic-forced shift in their careers, Liles said he’s trying to spread the word to get people to support fitness professionals, including by using crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe or via direct payments through Venmo and PayPal to offer financial assistance.
“I don’t want people to take what we do for granted because what we do really benefits peoples’ lives,” Liles added. “I want people to keep working with their trainers or find another way to support them. A lot of trainers are streaming workouts for free on Instagram and Facebook Live. Send them some money.”
Do you want to help? Listen to Liles, and contact your favorite trainer about how you might be able to support them or others in their network who are struggling during this period. Men’s Health will look to highlight as many fitness professionals as possible to support the larger fitness community as we make our way through this crisis together.
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