Fitness instructor Lois Costello teaches her SilverSneekers group fitness class virtually from the front room of her Farmington Hills home via her iPad.

Fitness instructor Lois Costello teaches her SilverSneekers group fitness class virtually from the front room of her Farmington Hills home via her iPad.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Fitness goes hybrid too

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published March 17, 2021

 Fitness instructor Lois Costello connects with clients from her SilverSneekers class virtually, prior to it starting.

Fitness instructor Lois Costello connects with clients from her SilverSneekers class virtually, prior to it starting.

Photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, gyms and fitness studios have had to get creative to sculpt their clients’ work-from-home physiques from a distance.

At the beginning of the health crisis, months-long mandated gym closures forced owners to turn to virtual fitness to keep their businesses afloat.

But as the rate of COVID-19 infections drop and the vaccine begins to roll out, many are moving to a hybrid model that includes both online and in-club training.

“(The pandemic) has really changed our business,” said Lisa MacDonald, who owns Driven by Lisa MacDonald in Franklin. “It has really opened something up for us that I never expected to happen.”

MacDonald said her team of personal trainers had little to no experience training clients virtually before being forced to move all sessions online due to shutdowns.

“I have worked with clients who have traveled out of town, and I have one client in Seattle who I have been doing virtual training sessions with for a couple of years now, but for my three other trainers, it was (new). They had not done anything virtually, but they all adjusted very quickly,” she said.

One benefit of the temporary state-mandated gym closures, MacDonald said, is that it forced exercise enthusiasts of all ages out of their comfort zones.

“It forced them to go virtual, and they realized what a great option it was for them. They could continue working out. They didn’t have to change their schedule,” MacDonald explained. “There’s been some challenges along the way — the last-minute things where people don’t have equipment and you have to think on your feet, but we’ve all had to learn how to adapt.”

Today, MacDonald and her team offer local and out-of-town clients the chance to sculpt their bodies one-on-one with a trainer, both in-person and online.

“I have clients who I see in person, and I also see them virtually, so they aren’t afraid to come in; it’s just that they’ve learned that if they are stuck in a meeting and it would take them forever to get to the studio, they could save time with a virtual workout. It’s changed our business,” she said. “I think that virtual (instruction) will always be a part of our business — for a considerable amount of time — and I don’t see any reason to stop offering it.”

Tony Biela — who owns Anytime Fitness locations in Fraser, St. Clair Shores, Clinton Township, Chesterfield, Rochester and Macomb Township — said COVID-19 delivered a pretty big blow to the fitness industry.

“It’s been a tough road, but we are gradually climbing out of it,” he said. “There’s no way we’re throwing in the towel.”

Six months before the pandemic hit, Anytime Fitness launched a new online app allowing users to log exercise and daily activity, plan workouts, connect with a coach for live and pre-recorded sessions, and build a full-body workout from a library of movements and exercises.

“It was kind of blind luck that it was there for us,” Biela said. “It has actually assisted us big time in getting people to at least stay active during these times — the ones that aren’t comfortable coming to the gym.”

Although gym-goers have begun returning for in-person sweat sessions, Anytime Fitness personal trainers plan to continue training clients virtually through the app — either in real time online or via pre-recorded lessons to be completed at any time.

“Many people are comfortable doing things in their own homes, and they are probably going to be sticking with that. Virtual fitness has become a fad that’s here to stay, I believe, so we’re going to have to change our mindset here in the gyms to appease everybody.”

Fitness instructor Lois Costello, who teaches a variety of group classes at Orchard Fitness in West Bloomfield, said transitioning to teach virtual classes was a bit of a struggle while gyms were closed.

“I was a bit of a late bloomer. The technology was very challenging. It was very frustrating. In fact, I still have days where it is still frustrating,” she said. “But when the technology works, it’s great and it’s a lot of fun.”

Having never used digital tools to deliver instruction before, Costello was forced to jump right in — streaming her Zumba classes live from her basement.

“It took some time, but it’s going strong and it’s been worth it, because I think people like the sense of normalcy and seeing everybody from the safety of their own homes,” she said.

Although some clients have since returned to the gym for in-person classes during the week, some prefer to livestream and participate from home. On Saturdays, Costello continues to teach classes virtually from her home in Farmington Hills, and she has no plans of stopping.

“It’s been a long road, but I think we are definitely at the top of the mountain, starting to head down, which is good. Either way, virtual teaching is not going away anytime soon,” she said.