When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going! How the local fitness industry stayed in shape during and after the shutdowns
When COVID-19 forced the closure of businesses across the region, including fitness clubs and gyms, the industry quickly pivoted and began offering online classes and outdoor workouts to their members.
For club owners and personal trainers, keeping their members and clients connected and working towards their fitness goals became even more important without the daily face-to-face contact.
One such club is MOVATI Athletic, an Ontario-wide chain with its roots here in Essex County, which recently opened its 17th club at 650 Division Road in Windsor. It also has clubs at 400 Sandwich Street South in Amherstburg and 313 Main Street East in Kingsville.
MOVATI, founded by existing partners Chuck Kelly and Rick Quesnel, started out in Windsor as Total Fitness 23 years ago and has since grown across the province.
“I am excited that we have had the opportunity to be able to come back to Windsor where it all began and show our members what an incredible product we have to offer,” expresses Quesnel, MOVATI’s Vice-President of Construction.
The new Windsor location — which encompasses 70,000 sq. ft. and was built by Fortis Construction Group Inc. at a cost of $20 million — includes all the features available in the company’s Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa clubs such as spa-like amenities, six boutique-style fitness studios featuring a Hot Yoga Studio, an open-air Sky Studio, a Cycle Studio and multi-purpose studios.
There are also two pools, a private women’s only area, the latest in studio fitness programming and state-of-the-art strength and cardio training equipment.
The club, which has about 2,400 members, has a two-storey atrium lobby featuring a modern décor, a café, lounge with a view of the adjacent family pool, and an outdoor patio.
There’s also space on the main floor called MOVATI Fuel for multi-purpose training. And there is a roster of personal trainers on staff.
Mitch Mayville, an area native who moved back here from Ottawa to become the club’s Personal Training Manager, says the club worked one-on-one with members from home until the club opened August 21.
“Making that connection is very important in helping our members reach their fitness goals,” Mayville emphasizes. “The best trainers aren’t always the most energetic ones, it’s the trainers who can connect with their clients who can make a difference.”
Mayville adds trainers can change a person’s lifestyle and those who can get clients into a gym, when they otherwise might not want to be there, are the ones who will be successful. In turn, that success rubs off on their clients.
“We’re constantly trying to find a way to utilize what we offer to meet our client’s needs,” he states.
MOVATI bills itself as more than a gym and believes it can deliver a personalized fitness experience in a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere.
“We have a phenomenally hard-working team that ensures all facets of club operations are addressed on the highest level and they challenge one another on a continual basis to make sure we stay on top of our game,” adds Quesnel.
All of the recently-mandated protocols are in place, including a sign-in desk, cleaning, sanitizing and scrubbing of the club and its equipment after every class, spacing of machines and reduced fitness class sizes so that members can practice physical distancing.
Air filtration systems were upgraded in all of MOVATI’s clubs, cleaning is done between classes and after-hours, using hospital-grade disinfectants, and sanitizing stations are set-up throughout the club for easy access by members.
General Manager Dean Kissner invites the community to stop by the club and experience the MOVATI difference.
While MOVATI may be the newest and largest addition to the fitness club sector locally, there are many other gyms across the region that also offer premier services and personalized programs at affordable prices.
Biz X magazine has put together a small review of a handful of health clubs to help readers make their fitness and wellness selection.
When COVID-19 forced fitness centres to close their doors, Tony Smith, owner of two Garage Gym locations with his wife Danielle, shifted their focus to online in-home instruction to keep their clients active.
“We were closed for six hours then went online and now every class we run is online,” explains Smith. “It’s very useful and convenient for our at-risk clients and also for parents who want to work out during the day, but can no longer bring their children with them.”
The online app, available on the gym’s website, provides a live feed into the gym and is also popular with shift workers who can now work out at home.
“We’re also able to watch our clients working out and we can make suggestions if they are doing any of the exercises incorrectly,” adds Smith.
And the fact that instruction and workouts remained virtually seamless during the first four months of the pandemic, meant that their clients stayed active and continued using their memberships.
With the gym using mostly free weights, Smith says he was able to lend all of his barbells and dumbbells to clients so they could work out at home.
Now that the gym has re-opened, class sizes have been reduced from 20 clients to 15 and the gym shuts down for 30 minutes between sessions for a complete cleaning. Clients are not able to share weights anymore, in order to prevent any incidental contact, and weight stations are further apart than they were before.
“It’s labour intensive, but it’s what we have to do to keep our clients and ourselves as safe as possible,” explains Smith, who has 13 employees including five who work full time.
Personal training sessions are available by appointment.
The gym has two locations, the first at 227 Sandwich Street South in Amherstburg, which opened six years ago, and a second at 17 Chestnut Street in Kingsville, which opened three years ago.
Membership fees range from $155 to $185 monthly, which includes unlimited group classes as well as live online instruction. Working with a personal trainer is extra.
In addition to physical fitness, members at the two True Fitness locations are encouraged to work on their mental health as well, according to owner Luis Mendez.
“This current health situation has thrown so many curveballs at people who are suffering financially, and at parents who have home-schooled their children, while also working from home that it’s not surprising mental health is a big issue right now,” comments Mendez. “But, if you can put all that aside for an hour or so and work on reducing stress, then you can start to worry about how you look naked in front of a mirror.”
In order to keep members and staff safe, Mendez has added a host of new protocols, including more hand sanitizing stations; a check-in table to facilitate contact tracing; key fobs so the gym can only be accessed by members; traffic flow arrows to keep people moving in the right direction; the use of masks where physical distancing is difficult; six feet between workout stations; and regular full-gym sanitizing and cleaning.
The gym, which has 750 members at its two locations, also focuses on personal one-on-one training, by appointment.
The 4897 Tecumseh Road East location opened seven years ago, while the downtown 443 Ouellette Avenue location opened three years ago.
Membership rates are $34 monthly or $29 monthly for seniors for a one-year commitment, which provides 24-7 access to both locations.
Riverside Family Fitness
Owners Joey and Julie Flores of Riverside Family Fitness weren’t able to offer online classes during the COVID-19 shutdown because membership fees are based on facility visits, according to Julie.
“But, as soon as we were given the green light to begin preparations to re-open, we reached out to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and have followed their suggested protocols to the letter,” she explains. “We took every second machine out of service, marked the floor to help people maintain social distancing and we require everyone to wear masks when they are moving around the facility.”
The owners also purchased two cleaning machines — including one hand-held unit — that are used to completely disinfect and sanitize the club and its equipment every two hours.
“As a result of taking the safest approach possible for our members, we have seen a great many return and we have also signed up a large number of new members,” she says. “I think people feel comfortable when they see others wearing a mask and it’s the safest way to make sure the virus isn’t spread among our members.”
For now, the club’s steam room and sauna remain closed, but the pool is open.
The Flores offered free six-month holds on memberships so members wouldn’t lose any time while the club was closed during the pandemic.
Membership fees are $19 on a bi-weekly basis and allow access to all the amenities in the 15,000 sq. ft. club at 6700 Wyandotte Street East, which previously was home to Precision Fitness and many years ago, Vic Tanny’s. The couple have owned the business for almost six years.