Charleston's fitness studios and their members have quickly (and graciously) adapted to online offerings 

Workout from Home

click to enlarge Trainer Michelle Fitzgerald teaches a Sweat Therapy class at Longevity Fitness

Ruta Smith

Trainer Michelle Fitzgerald teaches a Sweat Therapy class at Longevity Fitness

A porch. A home office. A playroom. A big walk-in closet might even work.

Underappreciated spaces in your home take on a whole new meaning when paired with a yoga mat, dumbbells, and a towel. You close the door, tune out the distractions, put the phone on Do Not Disturb, and press play — it's time to workout from home.

Almost 90 percent of the U.S. is under stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus pandemic. And if your Instagram feed looks anything like ours right now, it seems like 90 percent of the world is partaking in home workouts.

High-end at-home fitness companies like Peloton have live classes streamed right to the chic display on the company's $2,000 stationary bikes — subscription not included, by the way. A modern extension of energetic, if kitschy, exercise video franchises of past generations, you can now sweat with thousands of your closest friends with a few swipes and taps.

Area fitness studios have also jumped on the trend out of necessity, pivoting quickly to offering online classes without the ability to host in-person workouts. Your favorite yoga studio or CrossFit gym may be closed, but they're almost certainly offering classes online via services like Instagram Live and Zoom.

Workout fiends all over the Charleston area (and beyond) are grateful. And apparently, generous, too.

click to enlarge Locomotion Fitness has loaned out the gym's equipment to its students - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Locomotion Fitness has loaned out the gym's equipment to its students

Trace Bonner, owner of Holy Cow Yoga, says that the studio has had a "wonderful" response to virtual classes, which they stream using Zoom. In this format, teachers and students can interact; instead of simply watching a teacher teach to a camera screen, students can say "hi" to their teacher and fellow Zoomers. People are showing up for their regular class times, recreating the feeling of seeing each other in person at the studio.

A bonus to online classes? Bonner says Holy Cow has reconnected with former students who have moved away.

click to enlarge Sarah Frick, owner of The Works, streams her classes with zoom - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Sarah Frick, owner of The Works, streams her classes with zoom

The Works, owned by Sarah Frick, has adopted Zoom-streamed classes, too. "We've gotten really amazing feedback," says Frick, who recently taught 100 dedicated yogis in her popular Saturday morning class. "People are missing their communities, so it's nice to see these little squares of people that you're used to sweating next to."

Closing gyms and studios comes at a cost, of course. Kelly Jean Moore, owner of Mission Yoga, says that while about 60 percent of her studio's members are on yearly contracts and auto draft plans, the money they make from drop-ins and smaller classes passes "has mostly evaporated." Mission is currently offering free yoga videos on Facebook, and encouraging students to donate what they can using Venmo.

click to enlarge Crystal Wellman, a teacher at mission yoga, teaches a class on Facebook - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Crystal Wellman, a teacher at mission yoga, teaches a class on Facebook

The donations have been generous, says Moore, but that doesn't mean that Mission has plans to get fancy with these virtual classes. "Our focus right now isn't on coming up with some super lucrative new business model. People have enough to worry about," she says. "I just want to be a voice of hope and clarity in this muddy mess."

Like Moore, Transformation Yoga owner Kennae Miller hopes to instill some calm in her students. Transformation is not currently offering regular online classes, but Miller is active on Instagram, offering words of comfort and advice for those struggling during this period of self-isolation.

"It has certainly been a different experience for us, because the communities we serve are revisiting real feelings of fear and trauma," says Miller, whose work often focuses on working with marginalized communities and black and brown people of color. "We're caring for ourselves in the way of not doing everything, but only what is important — if it means not working out or getting off the couch, then so be it."

A big part of any fitness movement is the community. Just as teachers are working quickly and efficiently to better serve their students, students are showing up in big ways to support their beloved studios and gyms.

click to enlarge Ji Hwang films a class at Urban Yoga - COURTESY URBAN YOGA
  • Courtesy Urban Yoga
  • Ji Hwang films a class at Urban Yoga

Meg Gray, owner of Urban Yoga, says that she and Urban's teachers have received "an outpouring of love and support," with members dropping off gift cards and food to teachers' homes, and donating to the studio's GoFundMe page. "It's been quite wonderful to witness the community at Urban and also within the wellness community coming together in support," she says.

Diana Dove, a personal trainer and Pilates instructor at Longevity Fitness, says that she sees clients readily adapting to online classes, grateful that in these new and strange times they can still be held accountable for their wellness goals. "I think it helps to know we're still there, even if at a distance," she says.

At close-knit gyms like Park Circle's Locomotion Fitness, members have created new ways to connect through a Facebook group, Stay Healthy Charleston, that features posts on free workouts, nutrition tips, recipes, and general positive messages. The gym has loaned out their equipment while they are closed for normal business so that members can really make their home workouts feel like gym workouts. They've got stuff for the kids, too, with "PE classes" — digestible 30-minute videos with 20 minutes of movement and 10 minutes of social and emotional learning.

Holy Cow's Bonner says that the studio's teachers are finding out more about their students than ever before, namely, their ability to adapt to change. "The one interesting thing that has happened is the widespread acceptance of live online classes," says Bonner. "Many people hope we will continue the online classes when we get back to 'normal.' We accessed some newfound market that we didn't even know was there."

As accessible as online classes are, there's still something special about going into a studio and learning from a teacher or trainer in-person. At the end of the day, that in-person interaction is where most of the money comes from, too. Gray is grateful for Urban Yoga's generous students, but she is understandably worried about her studio's future. "With exorbitant rent and overhead not disappearing, and the fact that all our teachers are independent contractors who only get paid when they are teaching — to say that is daunting and scary is an understatement," she says.

Frick acknowledges those overhead costs too, pointing out that a Comcast bill doesn't change just because no one's in the studio using the internet. With two Works locations (the second opens in Mt. Pleasant later this year), she says that dealing with two different landlords has been a challenge. Still, she's helping out her instructors, many of whom teach yoga full-time or work in the food and bev industry, as much as she can. That 100-person yoga class a few Saturdays ago was a fundraiser for The Works' instructors. "One of the most beautiful things about Charleston is its ability to support its local community," says Frick.

Some small businesses may not survive this pandemic. Charleston's studios and gyms hope to avoid that fate, but they're working hard to give what they can to students — and take care of themselves, too. Bonner has been using a morning meditation to "ride this wave." Miller is stepping outside and taking deep breaths. Moore is leaning into the yin (passive and reflective) elements of her yoga practice to accept things as they are.

Gray is getting outside and focusing on staying grounded and positive. She's got a mantra, too, one that we could all use during this time. "Inhale, exhale. Embrace community. And lean into the unknown."

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