Local fitness centers reopen cautiously

Local fitness centers reopen cautiously
For Mind the Mat’s outdoor classes, clients are required to wear masks when they arrive but can take the mask off once they are at their mat. (Courtesy Photo)

By Margo Wagner | mwagner@alextimes.com

For many, it might be difficult to imagine going back to in-person exercise classes and sharing a space while working up a sweat. But for others, exercise classes are an important part of daily life.

Mind the Mat hosts outdoor yoga classes in lieu of in-studio classes. (Courtesy Photo)

Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) reopening plan, fitness studios were first allowed to reopen during phase two, which Alexandria entered on June 12, at 30% capacity. Restrictions required 10 feet of distance between each person and for exercise equipment to be disinfected after each use. Additionally, employees were required to screen clients for symptoms before they entered the building and to wear masks while performing non-exercise related duties.

Now that the state is in phase three of reopening, fitness studios are allowed to open at 75% capacity, although there must still be 10 feet of distance between each client, which limits smaller studios.

Many studios in Alexandria, including Sculp’d, Local Motion Project and Row House, opened for in-person indoor classes during phase two.

Both Betsy Weissman, the owner of Sculp’d, and Cynthia Svendsen, the general manager of Row House, said they felt comfortable allowing clients back into their studios because they could ensure that all equipment was properly cleaned. Other changes, such as scheduling classes farther apart and closing off parts of the studio, have made it easier to comply with disinfection requirements.

“Being a small boutique fitness studio helps us feel safer with those restrictions because we can have so much control and can 100% guarantee that everything is getting cleaned,” Svendsen said.

Row House limited its class size from 25 to nine and spaced its rowers 10 feet apart. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

Sculp’d and Row House both use large, expensive equipment in their workouts, and both studios have had difficulty transitioning classes to an online platform. According to Weissman and Svendsen, both studios have been completely booked with a waitlist since they reopened. Sculp’d has lowered its class size from 12 to 10 and is holding around six classes a day, and Row House has lowered its class size from 25 to nine and is holding around four classes a day.

However, some clients have been less willing to return to in-person classes, according to Sara Lavan, executive and co-artistic director of Local Motion Project. Based on client surveys, Lavan knew the demand for in-person classes was low but decided to open for the few clients who wanted to get out of the house and back on the dance floor.

“We just haven’t had the people who want to come, in part, because people are not comfortable for safety reasons, and in part, because people are comfortable taking classes in their home,” Lavan said.

Local Motion Project is now offering its somatic conditioning, modern dance and aerial yoga classes in person, but the majority of its clients are still choosing to take classes online. Local Motion Project was able to transition effectively to virtual classes early in the pandemic, even hosting teacher trainings that reached international audiences.

“We’re figuring out how that hybrid could work for us and even be a benefit in the future,” Lavan said.

For Mind the Mat’s outdoor classes, clients are required to wear masks when they arrive but can take the mask off once they are at their mat. (Courtesy Photo)

For some studios, the decision to reopen was not as immediate. Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga owner Sara VanderGoot and 532 Yoga owner Suzanne Leitner-Wise have been much more cautious.

Leitner-Wise chose to keep 532 Yoga closed to in-person classes until July 6 and is live streaming classes for clients who wish to stay home.

Mind the Mat has yet to host an in-person, indoor class, but the studio is slated to hold a few five-person classes next week. For the past few months, Mind the Mat has been live streaming and hosting outdoor classes for clients who are ready to practice yoga in person, but are not comfortable being in close quarters indoors.

“Our plan is to constantly continue to be flexible until there is, you know, either a vaccine or something very concrete,” VanderGoot said.

VanderGoot is closely monitoring the COVID-19 case numbers in other areas that are reopening and plans to act accordingly. She said she’s more comfortable opening up to 30% capacity and following phase two restrictions.

“Seventy five percent capacity seems a little too aggressive to me,” VanderGoot said.

On the client side, some people like Elizabeth Lucchesi are willing accept some risk if it means they can complete their favorite workouts again. Lucchesi started taking in-person classes at Sculp’d the day it reopened.

“It was kind of a no brainer. I need the opportunities to work on the reformer,” Lucchesi said.

As for the decision to reopen and at what capacity, VanderGoot believes it depends on the comfort of both studio owners and their clients.

“I think it has to do with the owner’s sensibility and what they’re comfortable with for their community,” VanderGoot said.