Shuttered gyms & dumbbell price gouging: COVID-19 is threatening the Peninsula’s diverse fitness scene

Here’s how you can help (and maybe develop some muscles and skills in the process)

The gym at the YMCA of Silicon Valley location in Mountain View is shut down. In just one example of local creativity to stay useful, the space has been repurposed as a child care center for the children of health care workers. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Up until now, the Peninsula’s fitness scene has offered a diverse ecosystem of gyms, studios and personal trainers who collectively showcase as many ways to exercise as one can imagine — from Olympic weightlifting to dance classes.

But these businesses — especially the small, locally-owned ones, already facing steep rent costs by nature of being located in the Bay Area — are now coming to terms with an uncertain future, threatened by the coronavirus and the tight restrictions that could keep them from opening in person for some time. It’s still not clear when or how these locations will be allowed to reopen, and even once they do, whether they’ll find enough willing customers to make up for months of revenue lost during the shutdown.

Many are adapting rapidly, pivoting to new delivery models, or shifting the uses of their spaces entirely.

For instance, some local YMCA chapters, like the YMCA of Silicon Valley location in Mountain View, across the street from El Camino Hospital, have repurposed their physical locations to become child care centers for children of health care workers.

Kids participate in socially-distanced day camps at the YMCA of Silicon Valley location in Mountain View while their parents work at El Camino Hospital across the street. (Photo by Magali Gauthier.)

Many have switched to offering pre-recorded or live-streamed video classes. Some are free; others require a fee.

Fantasy Dance Studio, based in Mountain View, has switched to offering live-streamed classes via Zoom to its roughly 100 dance students from ages 3 to adult, according to Sarah Monreal, who teaches hip hop, jazz, contemporary dance and ballet there. The studio switched to online classes almost immediately when the shelter-in-place orders took effect and is running classes as close to normal as possible, maintaining the same schedule and expecting students to dress and prepare for each class as they would in-person.

Monreal said they’ve kept about 95% of their students; in part by providing discounts to all students for April and May and offering scholarships to students whose parents have lost their jobs. Looking to the future, they’re devising plans for how to keep students safe when they’re allowed to meet again. For instance, students will likely have to undergo temperature checks.

Another way they’ve kept students busy is by developing challenges for them to participate in, like this Mother’s Day Dance Competition, where mother-daughter teams were invited to submit videos of choreographed routines to Meghan Trainor’s “Mom.”

Switching to Zoom classes enables workouts to still be interactive, but it’s still not the same as having in-person classes, some say.

“There’s nothing that really replaces authentic human connections,” said Erin Paruszewski, owner of Alkalign Studios, located in Menlo Park and Los Altos, who was quick to pivot to online classes. Still, there are a lot of unknowns about how long people will be willing to pay for live-streamed classes when they can’t go in person.

“I think right now people are being supportive and patient,” she said. “We worry about how long that will last.”

The incomes of their clients have been impacted by COVID-19 too, she added.

Josh Courage is one small gym owner who said his timing was good — for getting out of the gym business. Before the pandemic struck, he and his family were planning a cross-country move and he was in the process of selling his Belmont-based gym, where he specializes in Olympic weight lifting training.

When the pandemic hit, he decided to instead shutter the gym completely, and has since taken his training knowledge online, where he offers members five customized workouts per week based on a monthly subscription model. The workouts are provided through an app, and the model has tiers based on how much workout equipment the subscriber has access to at home.

Tier 1 is for people who don’t have any extra gear and limited space; it seems to be working well for his clients living in small New York City apartments right now, he said. Tier 3 is for people who have access to a full suite of gym equipment. Prices range from $35 to $50 per month.

“The future of fitness is at home,” he said in an interview. “People will quickly realize you can get a great workout at our house if you have the space.”

Manufacturers of home workout equipment are backlogged; dumbbells are now the latest hot item undergoing price-gouging, he added.

“It’s interesting to watch how the fitness industry has transitioned into this,” he said. While some gyms have pivoted to online live-streamed classes, he predicted that enthusiasm for those would wane over time.

He also was skeptical that people will rush back to gyms at the rate they would need to for business owners to make up for their losses over the past few months.

If he were still in business, he said, “Yeah, I’d be very scared — and not 100% confident that after all this I’d be able to market aggressively enough to bring in the (money for the) extra rent I’d have to be paying.”

Virtually Fit: Tai Chi, YogaX and….Booty Fusion?

The switch to video and virtual exercise has already yielded many new ideas and tutorials for free home workouts by local gyms and fitness experts. Here are a few examples.

Planet Granite, which has locations in Belmont, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Francisco, is offering daily live classes and recorded YouTube content, as well as challenges to its members. Its YouTube channel, “Train On,” offers many video workouts, including a series on strengthening mobility, as well as yoga and HIIT routines.

YMCA of Silicon Valley continues to offer live and on-demand classes via Zoom and video, including Tai Chi, mindfulness, HIIT and a 15-minute Barre “Booty Fusion” class.

The San Mateo Athletic Club, which is part of the San Mateo County Community College District, is offering free fitness classes taught by instructors, no equipment needed, with the exception of indoor cycling classes, which require a stationary bike or trainer.

The classes offer a range in intensity, and include options like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), dance fitness, meditation, pilates, barre and several types of yoga. You can access the class schedule here.

If you’re looking for a more mindfulness-focused exercise routine, consider a series of videos put out by Stanford’s YogaX program. YogaX is a program tied to the university’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences that focuses on integrating yoga in health and healthcare settings. It includes some recorded videos and live video classes of guided yoga practices designed for health care workers here.

Staying Fit during #StayatHome

But watching free workout videos won’t necessarily keep your favorite fitness options alive as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Here are a few other activities you can do to support local fitness and activity studios while they’re shut down.

1. Complete a fitness challenge. Weight Room Redwood City has posted a Two Week Challenge on its website laying out a 14-day workout regimen, most of which can be done at home without any additional equipment — with the exception of some bleachers. Participants are encouraged to consider donating to support staff.

“Your support and contributions will enable us to meet our goals and continue to improve as a small business during this time of uncertainty,” it says.

2. Learn to dance. Mambonova in Mountain View is offering salsa and bachata classes online, at a cost of $140 for one couple for five weeks.

Arthur Murray Dance Studios, which has locations in Redwood City, Millbrae and San Jose, has ballroom fitness and salsa classes, live online through Zoom. Access the schedule here.

3. Kick, punch and do some handstands. Impact Kickboxing Fitness, based in San Carlos, runs fee-based classes on Zoom, at a rate of $15 per session or $49 per month. The gym offers aerial conditioning, a handstand class and a range of kickboxing classes.

4. Pick up some outdoor skills. Even though camping and backpacking in many areas is off limits for now, there’s no time like the present for picking up some useful outdoor skills.

Stanford’s Adventure Programs has a series of YouTube videos offering tutorials on knots, climbing and even how to adjust a backpack.

And when those run out, there are always REI’s YouTube playlists to offer some vicarious outdoor thrills and skills. For instance, the outdoor gear outfitter has a whole playlist on DIY outdoor projects to prepare for your next trip, like a car-top solar camp shower and a bike rack. Need more outdoor supplies? Curbside pickup at REI could begin as soon as May 18 in San Mateo County.

5. Buy a gift card or merch. Some fitness studios, especially those that offer specialized equipment, aren’t able to operate right now, like Row House which has locations in Belmont and Campbell, and Studio K-FIT, a HIIT studio in North Fair Oaks. They’re asking supporters to consider buying gift cards to use later.

T-shirt fundraising campaign by Shane Way from Movement Climbing + Fitness and TJ Norris, owner of Norris Design Company, and employee of Whetstone Climbing. (Image via el-cap.com/home/support-us/)

Planet Granite has signed onto a broader T-shirt sale fundraiser, the sales of which benefit climbing gym workers affected by closures who have been laid off or are working reduced hours.

Buying gear online or by phone from local retailers is another way to help. At A Runner’s Mind, a running gear retailer with locations in Burlingame and Los Altos, people can undergo a virtual gait analysis for help picking just the right running shoe — a process usually done in person.

Fleet Feet in Menlo Park is also filling orders offering people guidance on running shoes by phone at (650) 325–9432 on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can also pick-up ordered items during that time.

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Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Bay Area reporter covering local government, inequality and the outdoors

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