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Shuttered gyms are shifting to virtual training

At Precision Training Concepts in Harrisburg, owners Bryan and Patty Sibbach have found a way to continue serving their clients through virtual training sessions. (PHOTO/SUBMITTED) –

Mark Nutting and Heather Stirner Nutting, owners of Jiva Fitness in Easton, have been offering on-demand fitness classes for a while now. They are pre-recorded programs their clients can watch at home.

That was BC, before COVID.

Now, the Nuttings have taken the next step – live streaming workout instruction with telecommunication software.

“I think it’s going to open up a whole new market, so it becomes more commonplace to have a trainer online,” he said.

The Nuttings aren’t alone. Since COVID-19 forced the shutdown of gyms across the state, some smaller, boutique-style gyms have shifted their focus to virtual classes and training sessions, offering a service to members even though their doors are closed.

At Precision Training Concepts in Harrisburg, owners Bryan and Patty Sibbach were already thinking about virtual training sessions when the pandemic hit. The boutique-style gym, which also has a location in Enola in nearby Cumberland County, has many established relationships with clients and trainers, Patty Sibbach said.

“A lot of good habits have been formed,” she said. “They don’t want to stop and then it came to a screeching halt and these clients don’t know what to do. They really enjoy that entire personal relationship that you develop with our company.”

While the company put its virtual training on hold because the growth of its two locations, Bryan Sibbach said the rollout has begun, noting that some of the gym’s clients live in Hawaii.

“The timing of this couldn’t be any better,” he said. “This is going to allow people to stay in touch with the workouts. We are just happy to continue with their fitness journey.”

The virtual platform represents the company’s third location.

“It’s a real natural pivot for our business,” Sibbach said. “When this all went down, we thought, we don’t have time to wallow. We have got to find solutions for them. This was on the back burner and now we put it on the front burner.”

A new avenue

At Jiva Fitness in Easton, the Nuttings were also offering pre-recorded classes clients can watch at home. However, they are now starting to live-stream. “As members and clients start to realize this is going to go on for a while, then the online business [will] start building business up,” Mark Nutting said.

Nutting was part of a recent national panel discussing the changes gyms were making to protect members and clients against COVID-19. He and the other guests were prepared to talk about things like proper cleaning of areas and not sharing equipment among members, but that quickly changed with the business closures.

“It came as a surprise, particularly as it came as suddenly as it did,” Nutting said. “I think we’ll be able to recover. There will be a lot of studios that will go out of business.”

The Nuttings are using Zoom, the teleconferencing software whose popularity has skyrocketed during the pandemic. The technology allows them to host virtual fitness training and classes.

“What’s interesting is it’s changing all businesses but it’s definitely changing the fitness industry,” he said. “The aspect of going virtual is something that’s been going on prior to the shutdown. …It allows people to train anywhere.”

Virtual programs are going to be a viable piece of Jiva’s business moving forward. The business does a lot of work with clients who just starting out. It also works those going through post-rehab, Nutting said.

The virtual classes are going to have similar interaction to the in-person classes Jiva Fitness offers, he added.

Ryan Macalintal, an exercise physiologist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, demonstrates some exercises using Optimal Fitness equipment with Macy Slonaker, a physical therapist assistant. (PHOTO/SUBMITTED) –

I can see you

Another benefit of live-streaming classes is the ability of instructors to see their students, making it possible to make corrections to a person’s form just as they would in an in-person setting.

Optimal Fitness, a gym on the first floor of Good Shepherd Health and Technology Center in Allentown, is also offering video instruction.

“My colleagues have been trying to keep everyone together,” said Ryan Macalintal, exercise physiologist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network’s Optimal Fitness.The gym is open to employees, patients and the public, but most of its clients are people with disabilities and the elderly.

Macalintal established a blog on Good Shepherd’s web page with videos that show him and a co-worker performing stretches and exercises. However, while he is giving people as much cues as he can, he cannot correct clients’ form. Good Shepherd may start using Zoom in the future.

He regularly calls clients to check on them and often ends up talking with them for longer than usual.

“When I’m calling one person, I get to talk to them and see how they are holding up, Macalintal said. “Most are in good spirits. They are always asking about one another, now they are seeing the severity of it.”

Good for elderly

For many, going to the gym was a part of their lifestyle, a staple of their everyday life. And while some people enjoy going to the gym, these are people who really need it, he added.

“It’s a definite, definite negative that they can’t get into the gym,” Macalintal said. “They all understand it, but they are definitely missing it.”

Virtual training is the future for the industry, and it’s a way of adapting with the times, he said. However, it’s not a full-time substitute. It is better, especially for the elderly and those with disabilities, to be in the gym to use the equipment.

“I’ve gotten to know them on a personal level, it takes a toll on everyone, including myself,” Macalintal said. “I hope everyone stays as active as they can while they are at home and we’ll get through this together.”

Brian Pedersen
Contact the Editorial Department at [email protected]

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