Celebrating Our Spirit: Fitness Centers Emerging from the Pandemic as Community Centers

LIMA — Mobile fitness and nutrition apps. Zoom sessions with personal trainers. When fitness centers were forced to close last spring, frequent gym members turned to home exercise equipment and online workouts to stay in shape.

But even as the pandemic accelerated the virtual fitness movement — forcing physical fitness centers to upgrade their digital offerings for members who weren’t ready to return to the gym — owners say the desire for human connection has already brought back many members, and highlighted the sense of community created by fitness clubs and senior centers in the first place.

“They’re still craving that connection,” said Alexa Miller, franchise owner of the Anytime Fitness club on Elida Road. “They want to be around people, so how do we make it a safe place for them, following all the protocols but still providing those premium services for people.”

The club was already offering members access to digital workouts and nutrition guidance through its mobile app, which gained popularity while the gym was closed during Ohio’s stay-at-home order and quickly became a lifeline for Miller. Now she could point to a service that was still available even though the club was temporarily closed.

Miller has expanded the club’s online services with new Zoom fitness classes and one-on-one personal training sessions. And soon, personal trainers were visiting members’ homes and workplaces for on-site group fitness classes.

As Miller describes it, his team was “working smarter, not harder” to stay connected with members in the new era of social distancing.

A place for the community

The digital services were flexible and convenient, giving members who weren’t comfortable returning to the gym last summer an option to stay in shape from home. And that flexibility gives members who travel or can’t find child care a new option that will likely survive the pandemic.

But for fitness clubs like the Senior Citizens Services Center, which offers Bible studies and card games in addition to its wellness classes, members often expect more than just a workout.

Club members were so upset by Ohio’s stay-at-home order that many called the Ohio Department of Health to request a reopening, senior services director Betsy Winget said. .

“They missed the physical workouts they could get here,” Winget said. “But for our elders – and for everyone of any age – the isolation and change in routine, being more housebound, has affected everyone deeply.”

Now, Lima YMCA CEO Jared Lehman is seeing strong pent-up demand for these social interactions.

“What I’m learning is that we really are a social destination for a lot of people,” Lehman said. “We are a place where they come to feel part of a community; A sense of belonging.”

Lehman encouraged his staff to call Y members last spring, hoping to offer a sense of normalcy through conversation. These calls were a reminder that even though the Y was hosting some of its classes virtually, people were still hungry for connections.

Now Lehman wants to build new programs that focus on connection and community to help people feel less isolated.

fight to survive

When Miller was finally allowed to reopen her Anytime Fitness club last summer, she noticed that many new members were signing up, while old members who visited infrequently were working out more often. All of this led her to believe the pandemic was a wake-up call for people to take more control over their health amid an ongoing public health crisis. And now Miller had proof that his business would survive.

“It made me smile, because as a business owner, the pandemic is a scary time,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. Not sure if they are going to be closed. You don’t know how your members will react, or how the community will react when you reopen.

Lisa Pakkidis takes her temperature at the Lima Family YMCA.

Lisa Pakkidis takes her temperature at the Lima Family YMCA.

Stephanie Salyers cleans equipment at the Lima Family YMCA.

Stephanie Salyers cleans equipment at the Lima Family YMCA.

A StryKo boxing class at Anytime Fitness. Social distancing is the new norm at Anytime Fitness, which continues to see demand for in-person training despite capacity restrictions.

The Anytime Fitness mobile app became a popular feature for members when gyms in Ohio were closed last spring. The convenience offered by Zoom personal trainers and mobile workouts will likely survive the pandemic.

Alexa Miller, franchise owner of the Anytime Fitness club on Elida Road, said January 2021 was one of the club’s busiest months, a sign that many Ohioans are returning to the gym.

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