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The Post-Pandemic Future Of The Fitness Industry

Here & Now producer and fitness model Marcelle Hutchins in Boston. (Photo by Adam Glanzman)
Here & Now producer and fitness model Marcelle Hutchins in Boston. (Photo by Adam Glanzman)

Marc Santa Maria remembers clearly when he was told to shut his gym down last year.

It was March 16, 2020, in New York, and he recalls a hopeful ignorance when he got the news.

“Many of us who were in the leadership position said it’s going to be fine, we’re going to figure this out,” Santa Maria says. “We’re New Yorkers, we’re tough.”

Santa Maria, the national director of group fitness for Crunch Fitness, says despite his hopes, it didn’t turn out the way he thought. As COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the country and in New York specifically, Santa Maria found things changing quickly for his gym.

Full-time employees were kept as long as possible. But eventually, many on Santa Maria’s staff had to be furloughed.

Then came the pivot. “I never heard the word pivot so much,” Santa Maria says.

The team moved the gym outdoors to places like parking lots to comply with restrictions and social distancing guidelines.

They also started online classes, with instructors shooting home videos and hosting Zoom classes.

Nearly a year later in 2021, the gym reopened. Santa Maria expected an influx of eager gym-goers brimming with what he called “New York energy.” But that didn’t happen immediately. Only recently, Santa Maria notes, has there been the turnaround he’d been looking for.

“That level of trust has been growing and we started to see some people joining up,” he says.

Still, during the pandemic, many people have been working out without a gym, a habit that could potentially stick around.

While Santa Maria says that online workouts aren’t going anywhere, he says people are still going to want to go to a physical gym, especially with the myriad of class options available.

For Crunch Fitness, the in-person connection is still important.

“We’re banking on the fact that our company in particular really believes in connection and folks wanting to be together,” he says. “And since we’ve opened up, we’ve seen the evidence of that.”

Marcelle Hutchins produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Jeannette Muhammad adapted this interview for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.