Brandon Walters, owner and head trainer at iFitt24 at the Ashton Place shopping center in Charleston, said the writing was on the wall a few days before Gov. Jim Justice closed down area health clubs like his.
Much of the state and the county was grinding to a halt with social distancing directives. On March 17, state government closed restaurants. A day later, the governor ordered all gyms and health clubs to close.
“We shut down finally on March 19,” he said. “Days before that, I told people they needed to get to Target, they needed to get to Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods and get some equipment.”
Some of his clients, Walters said, balked.
Weights aren’t cheap. Barbells and dumbbells are cumbersome and hard to haul in small car — and wasn’t this why they got a gym membership in the first place?
Walters tried to explain it was an investment for an emergency — and a good one, overall, anyway.
“An iron kettlebell will last you a lifetime,” he said. “It will outlast you.”
Eventually, Walters said he loaned out some equipment from the performance studio to help augment workouts his clients were doing in their homes.
Jackson Breeding, a co-owner at CrossFit 304 on Crescent Road in Charleston, said, “The first thing we did was have people come in and grab any equipment they might need — dumbbells, barbells, plates, boxes, whatever.”
CrossFit WV trainer/co-owner Ashleigh Woods said no one could have expected something like coronavirus. Her Brooks Street gym has closed occasionally for a day or two to host special trainings, for maintenance or to slap a coat of paint on the cinderblock walls, but the membership is a little fanatical.
The gym routinely teaches classes on holidays and coaches stagger their vacations, so that there’s always someone around to run a workout of the day.
“Absolutely nothing like this has happened before,” Woods said, still baffled.
CrossFit WV loaned out equipment, too.
All three gyms have sent workouts to their gym members, either by email or message. They’ve recorded videos, posted them online and worked to keep their fitness communities together.
They encourage their members to stay in touch, like posting pictures and videos on the gyms’ Facebook pages or their personal Instagram accounts.
“If we don’t hear from somebody after a few days, we check in with them,” Woods said.
People who take exercise classes do it because it works for them. It’s social. There’s competition and there are instructors to monitor progress, answer questions, correct movements — and provide an extra kick in motivation.
Like other businesses, the local gyms and fitness clubs embraced Zoom meetings, though instead of office workers sitting at laptops discussing business strategies and dividing up tasks, everyone exercises together.
“We try to do those in the afternoons,” Breeding said. “We’ve had pretty good participation.”
It’s not as good as meeting in person, but it’s a way to keep exercising.
Woods said finding things for gym members to do hasn’t been a problem.
“We’ve had times when people couldn’t make it to class,” she said. “They go on vacation. They take a trip. They travel for work. Some of them will be gone for upwards of a month, so we have what we call our ‘hotel workouts,’ if they want to stay active.”
These workouts don’t require much in the way of equipment and some of the early workouts during social distancing relied on those hotel plans — at least until they could get equipment out to the membership.
While social distancing restrictions are only just beginning to fade, it’s not too early to get started trying to get fit and maybe undo some of the damage picked up from a little too much time indoors.
Breeding said beginning a workout program doesn’t require a lot of heavy and expensive equipment. It doesn’t even need to be complicated.
“Just doing pushups and pullups can be great,” he said. “You can do dynamic movements, like the kind you’d see at the track, like running in place with high knees — that will get your heart rate up.”
Walters agreed that simple was a great way to start.
“You can really do a lot with body weight exercises and completing circuits. That can be a fantastic workout,” he said.
And the private clubs aren’t the only avenues for ideas about exercise during social distancing.
The YMCA of Kanawha Valley is offering online fitness videos, which include everything from aerobics and yoga classes to weight-lifting tutorials.
These videos are free to all during the pandemic.
Still, instruction and convenience aren’t necessarily the problem, Woods said.
“Staying motivated is tough,” she said.
That’s the appeal of fitness classes and things like CrossFit.
“If you lack that natural motivation to do what you need to do, we can help keep you accountable,” she said.
Walters said even if people can’t get to the gym or can’t stand another video, they can still just go outside.
“People think that you need to run to get fit,” he said. “Walking is a great exercise. That’s going to be better than downloading some app.”
Walking costs nothing and doesn’t really require much, except for comfortable clothing and a good pair of shoes.
Walters said, “You walk some of these hills around here at a brisk pace and I promise you it will get your heart up. It’s good for your mental health just to get outside, get a little vitamin D — and it’s just so doggone pretty outside right now.”