Gyms get creative and go digital

Marcus Wilson, co-owner of True Grit Society Community Gym
Marcus Wilson, co-owner of True Grit Society Community Gym, posted a high- intensity circuit workout using gallons of iced tea for weights. Screenshot

With gyms and workout studios closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, fitness centers in Southwest Minneapolis are trying to reach their members online and find ways to promote exercise when everyone is being asked to stay at home.

“We’re getting creative,” said Anne Mezzenga, part of the ownership of sister gyms CrossFit Linden Hills and AQ Fit Lab.

Both gyms have been posting daily workouts for members and are recording live classes using Zoom. The gyms let members come pick up equipment like kettlebells, medicine balls and mats the week of March 18 so people could continue working out at home.

Many fitness centers in Southwest Minneapolis were beginning to shut down before Gov. Tim Walz issued his executive order closing the spaces on March 17. But the minute people couldn’t hit the gym, the amount of amateur workout videos being posted online exploded.

“Joe Schmo was uploading his nightly workout routine from his living room,” joked Jen Wilson, who runs True Grit Society Community Gym in LynLake with her husband, Marcus. “We definitely noticed right away that we wanted to do something professional.”

True Grit got a message going with their instructors and started filming high-quality workout videos from inside the gym. They’re putting out all sorts of workouts, from primal movements to high-intensity, interval-style yoga. True Grit lent out lots of kettlebells, bands and other equipment to members so people can follow along with daily live workouts, which have been popular.

“We find that the live thing really works,” Jen Wilson said.

While they’ve passed out equipment, they’re still getting creative with their workouts. Marcus Wilson posted a circuit training set using two gallons of Arizona Iced Tea as weights and plans to do a backpack workout soon.

True Grit has frozen its members’ accounts and, while some have offered to pay, the Wilsons aren’t accepting anyone’s money right now.

Modo Yoga
Phil Doucette, co-owner of Modo Yoga, leads an online yoga practice streaming over Instagram live. Screenshot

Ryann Doucette is the co-owner of Moda Yoga and Seed Cafe in Cedar-Isles-Dean and is the CEO of Modo Yoga worldwide. The collective of studios, mostly in Canada, is closed amid the coronavirus outbreak but is still reaching its members online. Teachers from the Minneapolis studio post classes on Instagram Live daily, and up to 500 people have tuned in at a time. The larger Modo Yoga company also posts daily classes for members.

“It’s actually a much bigger community online than would normally be in our studio,” Doucette said.

Doucette said she knows some Minneapolis members can’t afford to pay right now and that the studio has frozen those accounts. About 90% of local members have stayed on, she said, and those who are staying on are getting a $100 credit on their account for each month the outbreak lasts. Right now, they are offering free unlimited online access for people who enter the code “MPLS.” The main thing Modo Yoga can’t reproduce online is the heat of its hot studios.

“This is a time when the world needs more practice and the practice really counts,” Doucette said.

(Seed Cafe is closed during the shutdown. Doucette said they sent staff home with two weeks pay, a bottle of wine and boxes of produce.)

For smaller gyms, hosting virtual training sessions with clients has become the norm.

Morgan Luzier, the owner of Balance Fitness Studio in LynLake, said the fitness community is having to reinvent itself.

She’s now doing private training and small- group classes on Zoom. She demonstrates technique from her studio while watching her clients on a screen and offering feedback. Her clients — who she said tend to be older, with more discretionary income — have stuck with her so far.

“People want to see each other and laugh and ask, ‘How are you doing?’” she said. “The longer we’re contained, the more important virtual meetings and experiences and connec- tions and workouts will become.”

Luzier said she’s focusing on low-intensity workouts that can be done in a small area.

“Exercise should be more nourishing than depleting right now,” she said. “This isn’t the time to do Zone 5 leg-ripping, heart-pounding, lung-searing workouts. It’s a time to move your body mindfully and gently, get your heart rate up a little and do some mobility and some strength.”

She said she’ll look to introduce outdoor workouts when the weather turns.

“It’s a good way to build community and a sense of togetherness in spite of everything,” she said.

Zac Farber contributed reporting to this story.