Business & Real Estate

Fitness studios, gyms combine creativity with technology to keep students hanging on

 Vera Szepesi
Courtesy of Vera Szepesi
Esprit de Core owner and instructor Vera Szepesi watches her student for form during a Pilates session on Zoom. Szepesi has been offering one-on-one trainings during the lockdown.

Owners of local fitness studios and gyms face a loss of revenue during the pandemic while still expected to pay rent, overhead and maintenance fees.

Vera Szepesi, owner of Esprit de Core Pilates Studio in Los Altos, negotiated with her landlord while her studio is closed to defer April’s rent, but her other operating expenses were simply pushed to May.

“We have applied for (a Small Business Association) loan to help with those costs, but no funds have been distributed yet, so we are really on our own for now,” she said.

But Szepesi’s primary concern remains her clients. In addition to workouts, she and the owners of other fitness studios strive to instill a sense of community during a quarantine expected to last for at least another month.

Szepesi said personalizing fitness means no pre-recorded livestream classes, but she checks in with the 65% of her clients still receiving instruction via text, call or Zoom conference.

“Pilates is a great way for seniors and people recovering from injuries to stay active, and many of our clients are in those categories,” she said. “We believe that keeping classes small and interactive is important, both at the studio and in our virtual classes.”

Jen Donat of Transform Fitness in Mountain View said she tries to keep her clients engaged through impromptu services such as Zoom “Whine Wednesday” happy hours. She hosts games of quarantine bingo that feature fitness challenges to give people a sense of purpose while sheltering in place and encouraging activities like posting “quaran-scene” photos – shots that are real and messy, not posed to look one’s best.
Each Transform Fitness instructor has his or her own method for checking in with clients, such as posing a question of the day.

“I find our instructors and members are all feeling stress in a different way,” Donat said. “We are not in the same boat at all. Our experiences and how we choose to deal with them are all very different and very personal. … Instructors are here to lift us up and remind everyone to be kind to themselves.”

Keeping spirits up

Reena Vokoun, owner of Passion Fit in Los Altos and a Town Crier columnist, offers free Instagram and Facebook live classes for those worried about their finances and need stress-relieving strategies. In an Instagram Live session last week, Vokoun discussed feeling burned out during quarantine and offered tips for how to work through it in one’s personal and professional lives.

“This is a tough time for everyone, but you’re not alone and we’ll all get through it and come out stronger together,” Vokoun told followers on her social media.

F.I.T. owners Thom and Tracey Downing have created an entirely new website – Focused At Home – for customers during the lockdown that includes free online kids PE classes, guided meditations for anxiety, resources with new workouts, activities and ideas for uplifting tasks to do.

“Amidst everything going on, we want to ensure you have what you need to stay healthy and sane,” F.I.T.’s website reads.

The Downings are also holding virtual office hours, including a “hump day happy hour.”

Several other local studios are offering online classes, including Alkalign Studios, Barre3 and Yoga of Los Altos. Alkalign is conducting a four-week parenting program during the outbreak, and Barre3 is offering journal prompts so that students can maintain their mental as well as physical well-being.

Momentum Cycling in Los Altos remains closed.

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