Seacoast fitness studios work out ways to thrive – News –

Emma Brunet’s yoga studio in downtown Hampton is a little less crowded than she expected it would be before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on its opening earlier this year.

The yoga mats inside the Yoga Parlor at 461 Lafayette Road are spaced six feet apart, making room for five to six students in a room of about 800 square feet. Normally, Brunet could fit up to 14 if not for a 50{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} capacity limit to ensure social distancing, but she said the smaller classes at least make for more intimate classroom connections. She has gotten by with several online streaming classes and outdoor sessions like at Instabar, but she said owning a gym is still a challenge amid COVID-19.

“The craziest part was not realizing when I got my lease in February that I would have to go through all this,” said Brunet, who opened her doors in July.

Local fitness studio owners say the pandemic was an unexpected shakeup for their industry, which relies heavily on in-person teaching. Gyms were closed in New Hampshire from March until June 1 per a governor’s order and reopened at a time of public concern about being indoors.

“Our entire goal with yoga is to sweat and breathe together, so doing that during a pandemic isn’t ideal,” Brunet said.

For those who do not want to be inside, she offers regular online classes, but caps the number of students at 10 per session to make sure she can interact with them properly.

Brunet, a South Hampton native, decided to open the Yoga Parlor in the former location of All She Wears after working for two years at Mission in Portsmouth. She opened her studio a month after the governor allowed gyms to reopen so she could see how the virus played out in fitness studios.

Students must wear masks inside the studio but can take them off once they are on their mats. She uses some items like weights but has them quarantined for 14 days in a closet after every use. She normally would use more props in her yoga classes if it were not for potential spread, and she said the pandemic is tough on studios that rely on a lot of props like pillows and blocks for restorative yoga.

She said she is also understanding of teachers in her studio needing to give classes for other studios, something she said is difficult to discourage during a financial crisis.

“If you need to teach here and there, you have to do it,” Brunet said.

Rianna Cordes said she would be having a tougher time keeping her yoga studio Retreat 339 open at Hampton Beach if she did not own the space and have another job in finance. When the pandemic first caused gyms to close, she said her studio had to refund four students who applied for teacher trainings – a big source of revenue for yoga studios. She said she has been fortunate to have the beach across the street for outdoor yoga while restrictions are in effect, though that will change come winter.

Cordes said the success of a studio during COVID-19 hinges on quality streaming for classes online and gyms investing in quality production to keep students engaged. She said the teacher’s ability to see and communicate with individual students during streaming is important, and teachers need to do more than just go through the motions on a screen.

“What I don’t like is teachers that are doing the class, not teaching the class, and it’s really hard to get a workout done like that,” Cordes said.

She said the industry scrambled at the beginning of the pandemic to figure out the best platforms for streaming, and those like Mind Body have made online classes much smoother.

At the Fitness Cube on Route 1, owner and trainer Carolyn Rose Lake said she had no interest in doing online classes before the pandemic.

“I need you in front of me,” Lake said.

She said having her gym temporarily close in March took an emotional toll. She eventually decided to go on Facebook to stream free live classes just to connect with her students in lockdown. She describes the Fitness Cube as a boutique gym that works with all levels, including many elderly who look to Lake for help keeping strong in their later years.

“They needed to see my face,” she said. “I went on Facebook and I pretended like I could see them, and they loved it.”

Lake said she has not begun to teach paid classes online since reopening, as she said enough students returned to in-person training. Some older students would like to return, she said, but are prevented by their adult children who insist they stay home. She said some like business owners are focused on their own professional lives during the pandemic to bring the Fitness Cube back into their weekly routine.

Lee MacDonald, a karate instructor who lives in Hampton, said he experienced the pandemic’s effect on gyms. He teaches at Manchester Martial Arts and Fitness, while also owning Holden Martial Arts Center in Holden, Massachusetts. He said both schools, which work together, suspected the shutdowns would only last a few weeks for gyms but soon realized it might be months before they reopened.

MacDonald said support from students proved important to both gyms getting through the early part of the pandemic, most keeping their tuitions going through two and a half months of being closed. He said since reopening the Manchester gym, he has gone from half of its student body learning remotely to about 90{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} learning in person. He said several new students recently applied, which makes him optimistic the fear of being inside will not keep students away.

“We’ve seen an influx of adult students we don’t normally see. Normally, September is big for kids,” MacDonald said. “I think they’re looking for things to do.”

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