Fitness industry professionals are a notoriously optimistic crowd. They exude positivity and are vessels of seemingly endless energy. But today, fitness professionals carry a tinge of anxiety in their voice. Theirs is one of the many industries hit especially hard by COVID-19 closures. Many fitness centers shifted to a virtual presence early on – offering group classes via Zoom or other streaming services, hoping to get back to normal sooner rather than later. Well, now it’s later, and those who have survived thus far have endured the expense of a brief re-opening and a rapid re-shuttering. But fitness professionals here in Benicia haven’t taken all this lying down. They’ve harnessed their optimism, energy, and yes, probably a little of that anxiety, into ingenuity. In order to adapt to this strange new reality, they’ve returned physical activity to its origins: the outdoors.

Benicia Jazzercise has transformed their front patio into an outdoor studio. While, at the time that this article is being written, only a few classes are currently being offered per day, franchise owner Leslie Rowley explains that they will soon be opening a second outdoor space in their back parking lot, allowing her to expand class offerings during usable hours. Benicia Jazzercize has always been concerned with keeping their noise down for residential neighbors, and that concern has deepened with the move to the outdoors. “We want to continue to be a good neighbor,” says Leslie. Therefore, she has reserved late morning and early evening hours for in-person, outdoor classes, and is holding late evening classes only online. Benicia Jazzercize offers cardio and strength-building classes for all ages and movers. They offer a 10:30am class that is specifically geared toward those with mobility challenges and are also a Silver&Fit provider. All classes observe social “dis-dance-ing.”

This shift to outdoor spaces has been easier for some fitness outfits than others. Training Loft 714 doesn’t have usable outdoor space on their property. Luckily, owner Denise Brazeal received permission from the City to hold her classes at Benicia City Park. “They’re nothing like our studio classes,” says Denise, “but those who are coming really love them!” She is averaging 20-25 people per class, all while maintaining more than 6 feet between participants. “Actually, people are usually staying 10 or more feet apart,” says Denise. While all participants must reserve a space in class ahead of time, Denise has welcomed curious onlookers to sign up for a $10 drop-in class. Due to city noise ordinances, Training Loft 714 has had to limit their class offerings to 9am M/W/F and 5pm T/Th. At the time that this article is being written, Denise hopes the city will begin allowing weekend classes as well.

In comparison, Benicia Crossfit’s COVID retrofit came a bit more naturally. The facility already had an outdoor courtyard used for training. “We’re really lucky that we were already in a position to offer a complete workout with equipment when this thing hit,” says owner Craig Moore. Benicia Crossfit already had an online infrastructure which allowed them to continue providing their personal coaching services through the initial closure. Since receiving the “OK” to open outdoor activities, they’ve been able to resume their regular classes, albeit with some restrictions. Their class sizes are currently limited to 6 participants who can register through an app. Temperatures are taken at the entry gate and participants are required to stay within their spray-paint denoted area. 15 minutes are reserved between classes for clean-up and transition. “I would never put my members at risk,” says Craig.

Griffin Fitness, with their focus on personal training and one-on-one sessions, has also been able to resume close to normal operations since moving some of their equipment out to the space behind their building. “We’ve been observing all the proper social distancing guidelines and been very careful about sanitizing equipment,” says owner Lisa McVeigh, “no one is allowed to share equipment.” At the moment, they are operating on a one-on-one training session model only, except for a small bootcamp class on Mondays and Wednesdays. All sessions and classes are by appointment only and, like other fitness centers, they also have an online presence. Lisa notes that they are experiencing a gradual build in membership – possibly due to their new enrollment discount of 10%, ongoing at the time that this article is written.

Benicia Fitness on First Street is one of the few that has been able to maintain anything that resembles an “open gym” format. The facility already had an outdoor patio with equipment, which has turned out to be a saving grace. Owner Joy Rund explains that she has turned the patio into a hybrid space, holding the various classes she offers in the mornings and evenings (spin, Zumba, kickboxing, yoga, and Restorative Yoga), and becoming a haven for weightlifters in the in-between hours. While these in-between hours resemble an open gym, each individual there has gone through an appointment system to reserve the hour that they are allotted, their temperature is taken, and they are required to maintain social distancing guidelines. “They’re required to sanitize their equipment after use and encouraged to also sanitize it before use,” says Joy, “that way they can have peace of mind.” In early August, Joy received permission from the City to hold some of her classes, including the ever-popular Zumba class, at Benicia City Park, enabling her to serve more members at once.

Jasmine Powers, owner of j.POWERStudio, was quick to transform the parking lots of her main studio into an outdoor exercise oasis. “As soon as the second closure notice came through, I went right out to Lowe’s and bought all the Astro Turf they had,” she says. She’s used this Astro Turf to turn her asphalt into a grassy park. She is currently offering all the classes she offered pre-COVID, aside from pole-dancing, and has been able to keep her teaching staff working at pre-COVID capacity – a feat for any business. Participants typically stay roughly 10 feet apart in all classes, which include Barre, Pilates, yoga, chair dancing, spin, and more. Jasmine had considered moving a spin class outdoors before COVID hit, “…but I hadn’t really taken it seriously until the second closure.” The verdict? People seem to love it. “It’s going to be really hard for me to get people back in the studio!”

While this pandemic has brought hard times, these feats of ingenuity and creativity are direct byproducts of those hard times. New opportunities have presented themselves out of necessity. Early on in the closures, for instance, Training Loft 714 gained an online-only clientele which consists of individuals in other cities and even other states. Despite the successes these businesses have seen, they’re not out of the woods yet. Each of these outfits has reported a loss in membership of anywhere from 20% to 50%; and they’re worried about those members they’ve lost. “It’s really important to stay healthy and de-stress right now,” says Craig Moore; and fitness plays a big role in that. For those uncomfortable rejoining group classes, even in an outdoor setting, each of these facilities report plans to continue providing virtual classes and services.