Fitness Pros Weighing Risks of Return to In-Person Classes

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

Empty fitness studio
As gyms and fitness centers around the state of Michigan look toward eventually re-opening, safety measures to protect against COVID-19 will radically alter class sizes and the overall experience. “I know people are looking forward to returning to their local gyms, worksite fitness facilities and the social connection that comes with working out in person with a trainer or in a class, but they need to make sure they are safe first,” said Cindy Bjorkquist, director, Health and Well-Being, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “Physical fitness and social connection are both such an important part of overall well-being.” Fitness pros have had to get creative in offering ways for their clients to break a sweat while protecting them from COVID-19. For Bjorkquist, that means the onsite well-being coordinators on her team have been offering group fitness options virtually on the Blue Cross Virtual Well-Being website. There are currently no plans for the well-being coordinators to resume in-person classes anytime soon. We took the pulse of a few different instructors to see how they’re approaching a return to group fitness classes. Some are ready for in-person classes to resume in modified ways. Others say they’re planning to wait and see, citing continued concerns over safety.

Taking it outside

Brian Tass is a personal trainer, group fitness and yoga instructor based in Novi. He’s made it through the shut-down by offering classes through Zoom and building community through a private Facebook group. He knows class sizes will be smaller when gyms open back up, meaning people will likely be turned away. He’s hopeful that taking the right steps to ensure safety now will eventually lead back to the full classes he loves teaching. Tass recently started training groups outside after restrictions on outdoor fitness classes loosened up. “The energy of teaching a group live is the best,” he said. “It’s interactive and I can best serve the students with motivation and corrective coaching.”

No rush to return

Zumba instructor Vonda Shell, who is also a communications planner at Blue Cross, won’t be rushing back to a classroom when gyms do open. Before the pandemic, Shell was teaching Zumba regularly at fitness clubs in metro Detroit. “There are so many unknowns about COVID-19, so I’m reluctant to rush back to in-person classes,” she said. “I’ve seen how the virus affects a person’s physical and mental health, so I don’t want to expose myself or my family. I want to be sure things are safe before going back.”

Integrating exercise into mental health support

At The Well Being in Grand Rapids, exercise combines with counseling under one roof. Teletherapy has enabled clients to continue virtual counseling sessions, but the fitness side of the business had to be reconsidered. “Since they haven’t been able to utilize our or any other fitness center, we’ve had to figure out what works for them at home,” said counselor Brendan Kelly. “We think it’s really important to be as detailed as possible in terms of planning out the what, when and where of what a client believes will work for them regarding exercise.” Kelly said the practice needs to consider safety, while balancing the role that group fitness classes can offer for people struggling with their mental health. “I think the biggest advantage that group fitness classes offer compared to working out solo is the sense of camaraderie and connection that one can experience when working out with other people,” he explained. “This can be particularly important for people who are struggling with social isolation due to concerns with depression or anxiety.”

A new normal?

Bjorkquist said the fitness industry could look different for a long time to come. She said many people feel the safety measures being put in place may not be enough to prevent infection, so they’re adapting. “People are referring to this as digital disruption of the fitness industry,” she said. "People are turning to online videos, online streaming apps and personal training virtually to complete their workouts at home.” You can find more information about Blue Cross Virtual Well-being resources here and we've also put together some at-home workout ideas you can try:
Photo credit: uatp2
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association