Kitchener-Waterloo

Gym closures eating away at physical, mental and business health, fitness interests say

Kerri Hallman, the owner of Fitness 360 in Waterloo, Ont., says she plans to close her gym for good because of continued lockdowns, and she's not the only member of the fitness industry who feels the situation is eating away at mental, physical and business health.

Fitness 360 women's gym owner in Waterloo says she'll likely shut down because of constant lockdowns

Kerri Hallman, owner of Fitness 360 in Waterloo, Ont., plans to shut her gym permanently because pandemic lockdowns leave her unable to operate viably. (Submitted by Kerri Hallman/Creative Schott Photography)

It's been a challenge for gym owners to stay open during the pandemic and as Ontario continues to face uncertainty.

Those reasons are cited by Kerri Hallman for her plans close Fitness 360 For Women in Waterloo.

With her lease set for renewal and the province in the middle of strict lockdown measures, Hallman plans to shut down for good after 15 years in operation. 

"I had to make a decision whether I was going to renew [my lease] or if I was going to not renew it — that was the biggest decision," said Hallman. 

"The other big part about it was that we [are] in the middle of our third lockdown when the renewal time came up. I didn't know how many more lockdowns we were going to go through."

Hallman is not alone in her frustration.

Fitzroy Vanderpool, owner of Whip Boxing Academy, said he and his colleagues find the lockdowns "annoying."

"It's tough when [Premier Doug Ford] gave us the four-week [closure] then he extended it for another two weeks for closure, so that's six weeks," said Vanderpool. "How many [people] have tried Zoom classes and other stuff, but it's difficult and it's tough."

Small businesses suffering

Like other business entrepreneurs, Hallman was upset with the government's decision to close down small businesses, despite their work to comply with COVID-19 protocols and measures. 

She put together her own strategies to ensure her gym was safe for workouts, since she felt there wasn't any clear direction on how gyms should be operating. 

"I've put in place all the protocols that I've read about. There was no direction as in like, 'Here's what you need to do,'" said Hallman. 

"I was literally flying by the seat of my pants going, 'OK, I need a cleaner, [these] are the rules I'm going to put in place and I made up my own [set of rules] based on what I've seen sort of happening with other places."

Hallman said it seemed unfair to see people in big-box stores like Costco wearing masks but not practising physical distancing, while the number of people allowed in her fitness club was restricted by the government despite her cleaning and safety efforts. 

Paula Comfort is a provincial council member on the Fitness Industry Council of Canada and owner of Embody Fitness Club in Toronto.

Paula Comfort, a provincial council member on the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, says the industry is an important contributor to mental health and physical well-being. (Submitted by Paula Comfort )

She said the province's decision to restrict clients from gyms isn't fair and seems arbitrary. 

"One of them is, they'll say, 'You can have 10, 20 or 30 people in your facility,' yet, some facilities are the size of a football field and other facilities are small boutique clubs, and yet the same rules apply to everyone."

Fitness industry pushing to reopen 

The fitness club owners interviewed by CBC K-W said their clients depend on their physical health and well-being to also boost mental health. 

People don't get enough exercise when they're confined at home, said Hallman.

"There are many reasons why people need the gym. Sure, we could run outside, we could walk outside, but it's not the same," said Hallman. 

"As we get older, we need to be lifting heavier weight and doing less cardio … and to be confined in your house, I don't think mentally it's good for anybody to be in your house 24 hours a day, eating, drinking, watching TV."

Over the past year, the council has worked collaboratively with government and health authorities to raise awareness about the gym industry's needs and relevance during these times, but it's been unsuccessful.

The council plans to hold a news conference Wednesday, where it will call on the province to create a safe and effective reopening strategy for the fitness industry.

Most of us in this industry care about humans, their performance and for them to live more life," she said. "All of us are in this for the impact we have on people's health, and when I say health I'm talking fitness health, mental health [and] everything.- Paula Comfort, Ontario council member, Fitness Industry Council of Canada

Comfort sees the industry as a big part of the solution to what's happened over the last year with respect to chronic health care and mental-health crises. 

"Most of us in this industry care about humans, their performance and for them to live more life," she said. "All of us are in this for the impact we have on people's health, and when I say health I'm talking fitness health, mental health [and] everything."

The move to online

Hallman said that while she has plans to close, for now she has no choice but to operate classes online, but is uncertain how successful that move will be in the long run.

Hallman has heard from clients that working out at home isn't as effective as they'd like it to be.

"I know a lot of women I've spoken to have said they're really going to miss it as their time away for them — now they don't get 'me time,'" she said. 

"I hear a lot of people when they're online saying that they're working out and it's great, but 'my kid's right beside me,' so they don't get the full workout because their children are right there and they're needy."

Still, she said, online workouts may help people in the interim.

"I'm an 'in-person' person, I like face-to-face communication, I like seeing my people and being with them. Behind a screen is totally different, but given the time that we're in, we don't really have a choice, so if I can help people move their bodies and feel better while we're in this situation, I feel like it is an opportunity.". 

At Whip Boxing Academy, Vanderpool said his clients aren't participating in the online sessions as much as they did in person prior to the pandemic, and that's also impacting their motivation as a result.

"It's not the same at all because your numbers are down substantially. You may have 30 [to] 40 per cent of your clients attending. They're used to seeing, they're used to being there. They need that motivation, so therefore they don't attend [classes] the same way." 

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