Cochrane gym gets creative with outdoor recreation

Motivation to exercise during the pandemic can be tough — especially when many options include at-home exercise done online, over a screen, alone.​​​​​​​

Crossfit classes move outside to help keep members motivated

Carol and Joe Cowie's gym may be closed, but outdoor classes are on at CrossFit Cochrane. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Motivation to exercise during the pandemic can be tough — especially when many options include at-home exercise done online, over a screen, alone.

Kristofor Ellestad's journey at CrossFit Cochrane started a couple of years ago. He says it became his community, and friend circle, along with a healthy habit.

When the gym pivoted to online coaching because of the pandemic, his basement gym was there in a pinch.

Kristofor Ellestad started doing Crossfit a couple of years ago and found a community in Cochrane. (Helen Pike/CBC)

But he says it didn't really compare to the buzz he gets when he's being cheered on by his peers.

"You feel like you're gonna die, but you've got somebody behind you like saying you can do it," Ellestad said. "You're seeing tunnel vision and somebody drags you out of the depths to get that last bit out of you that you couldn't get out yourself."

Carol and Joe Cowie started the gym more than five years ago, growing their business and community. All of that work came to a screeching halt in March. 

Exercise mats are spaced out more than two metres. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"When you're asked to literally close your doors with a few hours' notice after building something up for over five years — it's tough," Joe said. "You just have to continually reinvent and find new ideas that will keep people involved and motivated and keep their spirits high as well."

The gym is still closed and no one is allowed inside. 

But for a week now, with layers of precautionary measures, classes are back.

Outside and in person.

'We can actually do this'

"We've seen with our members and with ourselves, it's hard to self-motivate," Carol said. "Physical, mental health has been — we've been struggling during the pandemic. You know people are feeling isolated, they're missing their classes. So we wanted to serve our community."

In Alberta, boutique fitness facilities aren't allowed to reopen until the third phase of the province's relaunch plan. But in May, the province released guidelines for outdoor recreation. Joe says at first they didn't think much of it until both had an "aha" moment.

"We were like, well hold on!" Joe said. "We read [the guidelines] in detail, we have it pretty much memorized by now. We're like: 'Yeah, we can actually do this and then some.'"

Consulted with officials

Joe says they consulted with all the powers that be, including their landlords and the Town of Cochrane, to make sure they were safe to offer outdoor classes.

Mats are spaced out more than two metres apart, with enough room for instructors to walk down the centre of the group and keep an eye on form — or offer words of encouragement. 

There's a strict sanitizing process with several steps before and after each class. Mats are cleaned, and weights also get wipe downs. Equipment rentals come with the membership, so nothing is shared. There's also access to outhouses for bathroom breaks. 

"Part of crossfit, we do a lot of work outside, as it's functional fitness," Carol said. "We thought why don't we change things up a little bit and move our entire gym outside in accordance with all the guidelines."

Of course, the workouts are weather-dependent.

But so far, Carol says, the sun has been co-operating.