The reopening of gyms in England on April 12 will be a relief to gym owners, staff members and users alike, after lockdown restrictions to curb the novel coronavirus pandemic brought the fitness industry to a standstill.
Susanna Wong, 31, and Ben Upfold, 37, are personal trainers and the owners of CrossFit Ancoats in Manchester, England. The facility opened in March last year, just before the first national lockdown was announced.
The timing of the pandemic, the lockdown and the opening of their new gym was a challenging first test for their business.
"It's been difficult for us to pick up any new business during lockdown because most people have been told gyms are closed and assume that personal trainers are not currently working," Wong said."This, coupled with the winter and poor weather, has meant that even the small percentage of people willing to train outside has been reduced."
With the changing lockdown restriction rules regarding gyms, people have become noncommittal in signing up for gym membership due to the "uncertainty surrounding us being able to operate", Wong said.
"We have had a percentage of clients that supported us throughout the year, but in terms of growth in our business, we haven't generated enough income to cover our overheads, which has had a massive impact on us as business owners," she said.
The first lockdown last year took the personal trainers by surprise, and they had to shut down immediately.
Wong said that by the third lockdown, which began in early January, although they were more prepared for closure and found ways to engage with clients, the co-owners still had massive financial losses.
"The new year is our busiest time of year in terms of growth, with everyone ready to make big changes in their lifestyles. As a result of this third lockdown, we didn't achieve any growth. In fact, we suffered more cancellations," she said. "We lost a lot of members this time round due to people's financial circumstances and the growth in unemployment because of the continued lockdowns."
More than 7,200 gyms, leisure facilities and swimming pools have been forced to close across the UK during the lockdown, according to UKactive, an association representing the fitness and healthy living sector.
For every week of lockdown, the UK sector faces a loss of around £90 million pounds ($124.5 million) in revenue, the association said.
Richard Broom, a self-employed personal trainer from Essex, said he trains a majority of his clients in gyms, and the lockdown has left him with just one client, who is able to train outdoors.
He found it difficult to switch to online training. Although he did hold some video calls, an additional challenge was that some clients did not have equipment at home.
Broom added that it was frustrating to see prices for equipment triple during the lockdown period, making it impossible for his clients to purchase what they need.
"Not knowing how long these lockdowns were going to be was worrying," he said. "Luckily I got government grants. When you're used to working all day and that stops, it's difficult to adapt and find things to do."
Wong and Upfold in Manchester also found it difficult moving their business to online classes and being apart from their gym community.
"We are so used to looking after people face-to-face and making sure people move safely and well. Online classes can often cause difficulty for coaches being able to identify someone's form breaking down and not being able to correct them due to them not being visible on screen," Upfold said.
The gym co-owners said the closure of health facilities has affected the mental and physical well-being of members. The pair has set up a GoFundMe page to raise awareness and money for the mental health charity Mind.
Upfold said that the reopening of gyms when restrictions begin to ease cannot happen soon enough.
"A lot of people were genuinely fed up with being stuck indoors and having to work out in their living rooms. Our gym model is very much community-driven, and all of our members have missed being physically part of that."