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Without group classes, Bow Valley gyms and fitness studios will continue to struggle

Many local gym and fitness studio owners are turning their attention to step two after step one didn't do much for them.
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Liz White, owner and coach at Bow Valley Cossfit, shows off the new gym on Hawk Avenue in Banff in 2018. RMO FILE PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – The Alberta government may be easing public health measures next week to allow one-on-one indoor training at gyms and fitness studios, but local business owners say the changes will not benefit them until group classes are allowed again. 

With ongoing health regulations to combat COVID-19, Alberta approved one-on-one indoor training starting Monday (Feb. 8) as part of a phased approach to easing restrictions, but for some small business owners, the reality is that there is very little relief until step two starts – possibly three weeks later.

“Unfortunately, right now, [step one] doesn’t mean anything for us,” said Emily Brooks, co-owner and general manager of yoga studio, WildHeart, in Canmore.

“Our pricing model doesn’t offer one-on-one training. Obviously, we will if some people request it, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t work with our business model.”

Many gym owners said time and effort for one-on-one training isn’t financially profitable; while on the opposite side, a monthly pass or a four-week group class in the Bow Valley are about $60, or upwards of $90 an hour for personal training.

In other words, the general population won't pay for personal training and fitness club owners can't pay rent with it.

Sitting empty is the space inside WildHeart's downtown studio that was altered last year to be more COVID- 19 safe, meaning renovations for better social distancing and a greater emphasis on sanitization and cleaning practices for the smaller group setting.

It's an action many owners took to keep doors open and people safe after the first lockdown.

“Any gym owner I’ve talked to has been on the same page as us, kind of wondering why we weren’t roped in with step one because we’ve proven that we can open safely,” said Brooks.

Last Friday (Jan. 29), Premier Jason Kenney announced province-wide health measures would ease and occur in four steps based on COVID-19 hospitalization benchmarks after step one goals of 600 and declining was reached last week.

For step two, it’s 450 hospitalizations and declining, step three is 300 and declining, and step four is 150 and declining. For the additional steps, the province said there is the potential to ease more restrictions related to indoor and outdoor sporting events and team sports.

“We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there are opportunities where we can safely ease restrictions while also protecting our health-care system," said Kenney in a press release. "This first step is a cautious one, and it will bring relief to many Albertans and Alberta businesses.”

At Bow Valley CrossFit in Banff, owner Liz White said it was a "step in the right direction" and knowing the benchmarks and what they're working toward was positive.

"[Step one] might not have been the news we were looking for … but then just being able to sit and digest it for a while, I'm now actually super excited that we can offer something," White said.

"Our main model is group classes, and if it were long term ... would we be able to keep paying the rent that we are with just personal training? No. But at this stage, if we can open up and start making any money and bringing any revenue in, then it's something."

For Christa Chasse, owner of Excel Fitness in Canmore, she said Alberta’s step one announcement was an unfair compromise.

“It makes no sense to me because … no matter where you go, you have a risk, so why [have extra precautions with] gyms? Why take out kids' activities when you have a risk anywhere you go?” Chasse said.

Brooks, White and Chasse all believe gyms and fitness studios should have approval to welcome more clients.

According to a study from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), data from three countries – U.S., England and Australia – showed COVID-19 transmission at gyms was rare.

“Of the 49.4 million member check-ins documented in the [U.S.] study, health clubs reported 1,155 cases, translating to a 0.0023 per cent infection rate. Once again, none of the cases led to community transmission,” the IHRSA reported.

However, the study reports “superspreader events,” such as one that occurred at a spin studio in Hamilton, Ont. which was linked to 85 people last October, are still a risk.

As a trainer and a caregiver, Debbie Juravleff-Boucher of spin studio Go Figure Fit in Canmore is being extra vigilant in these times.

With smaller fitness studios, she thinks it would be tough to know if someone with COVID-19 was working out inside. Due to this, plus the emergence of the more contagious variants of the virus, she believes fitness studios aren't prepared to open yet.

“Until everyone is completely on board with being able to continue with masks and hand sanitizers and sanitizing their studios to the utmost possible that it can be, I know I’m still OK not being able to reopen unless serious precautions are taken for bringing in so many people into a small space,” said Juravleff-Boucher.

“Even as a trainer, I’m more comfortable having my people in fitness pods around me and my island in the middle and everyone is safe and feels safe.”

On March 1, the province will revisit step one and its hospitalization numbers to announce whether additional measures will be eased. Alberta said that moving between steps will happen at least three weeks apart to assess the impact on cases.

For many gyms and studios in the Bow Valley such as WildHeart, the first can't come soon enough.

“We’re just hoping for the earliest [opening] date possible," said Brooks.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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