Are you ready to work off your COVID 19? Gyms and fitness studios across town are eager to welcome you back. 

If you took advantage of the recent downtime to get in shape, you must be feeling pretty proud of yourself right now. If you didn’t, no worries—Morgantown’s fitness facilities can’t wait to invite you in.

SOAR Fitness Studio in Westover opened on Monday, May 18, the first day the state allowed it. Facebook Live classes had kept the SOAR community active, but owner Jessica Savage McHugh is excited to be back in the studio teaching its signature aerial classes with bungees and hammocks. 

Before she re-opened, McHugh communicated with her five instructors and with her clientele about what they would need to feel safe. And she’s following the guidance from the governor’s office for distancing, cleaning, and other safety measures. Her space allowed her to open a second entrance and create a second area for shoes and jackets. McHugh keeps the doors open during classes for good air circulation, and she’s starting with just one class in the morning and one in the evening so clients don’t overlap and there’s plenty of time for sanitation. 

Masks are an issue during workouts. The consensus at fitness facilities across town is that restricting breathing during a workout is unsafe and that good distancing is better, and those are the practices SOAR is following. 

Being open went as well as expected in the first week, she says. Flexibility with clients’ needs and preferences is key during this transition period. “We do live streaming, and I’ve modified the workouts so they can be done with or without bungee. So someone at home can see the crowd that’s in here, and they can see me and follow along,” McHugh says. “We still have a good amount of people who are leery of returning, so we have a lot of people on our livestreams. I’m also leaving the livestream workouts up for 24 hours, so if somebody registers and can’t get to it at the time, they can still do it.”

Out at Cheat Lake, Cycle Fusion is taking a little more time to open. “We have a lot of people saying, ‘I’m not ready to come in—are you still going to be doing virtual classes when you open?’” says owner Leanne DiAngelo. New for DiAngelo, live virtual yoga classes and workouts via Zoom turned out to be a practice that her clients really took to. The live component mattered. “We could pre-record workouts, but the feedback from our community is that they want that connection—they want to feel as if they’re in a gym setting.”

DiAngelo already had a diverse operation that included a popular summer outdoor boot camp class she’s taught for the past 17 years; the next boot camp starts June 8. So now, while continuing to teach virtual classes and coordinate remote instructors in teaching online, too, she’s boosting supplies of wipes and hand sanitizer and planning a new class schedule. She expects to open cycling first—using just 10 of the studio’s 30 cycles—and to add yoga in early June.

Orangetheory Fitness at Suncrest Towne Centre was open barely two months when the coronavirus hit. Still, it already had an engaged membership. Franchise owner Alissa Higgins kept members active through workouts that were created by the corporate office and led by one of her coaches on Facebook Live each day. 

Higgins plans to re-open on May 30. “We have training for our staff all this week,” she says. “Our coaches and sales associates will learn the different protocols that corporate put in place, and we’ll open Saturday.”

Coaches and staff will wear protective equipment and maintain distancing, Higgins says. “And our capacity is limited for the time being. We’ll clean everything in between every class, so we’re extending our time between classes to have more time to clean.” Based on corporate surveys and her own coaches’ communications with clients, she believes 80 percent or more of the membership will go back into the studio. “Some people have had questions, but we’ve been thorough with sending out all the communications to keep them in the loop with what’s going on. We can’t wait! The coaches can’t wait. Everyone can’t wait to get back.”

Boutique studios that hold scheduled classes are one fitness environment—a large gym that also has on-demand workout equipment like ProPerformance is another. 

During the downtime, ProPerformance made a free bodyweight program available to everyone, members and non-members alike, through its app. “Continuing moving was so important to us as a company, and we know it’s important to everybody, so we offered that free,” says General Manager Robert Dunlevy. More than 200 people took advantage of that, he says.

ProPerformance re-opened its three gyms on Tuesday, May 19. “We had to actually move equipment around to make sure that anybody who came in felt that, if they’re on the equipment, it’s spaced out so they could social distance,” Dunlevy says. “What’s great is, all of our locations are pretty spacious. We put up signage about COVID precautions and we got the touchless thermometers so we can monitor the temperature of employees and everybody who comes in.” ProPerformance had already asked members to wipe equipment down before and after use during the flu season, so they’ve just extended that practice and added frequent staff wipe-downs of other common touch points.

Members are heading back in gradually—the gym floors are occupied, but not too busy, Dunlevy says. One thing surprised him. “We did get a decent amount of new members come in and sign up. They were really anxious to get into the gym,” he says. “The first day, and the days after that. It’s unusual for the summer to get this many new sign-ups, but that’s been fantastic.”

For all of the fitness facilities, digital offerings have turned out to be a good thing and they’re probably here to stay. “When people go on vacation in the summertime, now they can still log on to SOAR Fitness—and there are snow days, too,” McHugh says. There’s also the unknown. Looking ahead, DiAngelo asks, “Are we going to have another shutdown in the fall?” If so, she’ll be ready for it.

posted on May 26, 2020

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Pam Kasey
Written by Pam Kasey
Pam Kasey has traveled, brewed, farmed, counseled, and renovated, but most loves to write. She has degrees in economics from the University of Chicago and in journalism from West Virginia University. She loves celebrating Morgantown and West Virginia as executive editor at New South Media.