Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's fitness instructor finds international success from her basement during COVID-19

Gill Whelan had long thought about going virtual with her fitness classes to smash barriers for people who want to work out. The pandemic pushed her to do it.
Gill Whelan was forced to switch things up when COVID-19 sidelined her fitness classes. Turns out, it was the motivation she needed to move online. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Gill Whelan had long thought about crushing the barriers to fitness classes by moving online. It took the COVID-19 pandemic to push her to do it.

Now the St. John's fitness instructor is thriving from the comfort of her own home, with a following of more than 700 clients and no plans to change it up if and when COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

"The pandemic just allowed me the time to create the content and push it out there," Whelan told CBC News.

While gyms are allowed to open as of Thursday when the province moves to Alert Level 2 of the phased economic reopening, Whelan said some people who fear the virus will inevitably not come back at all. 

There are also the regular barriers to joining a gym — scheduling, social anxiety, and cost.

She realized very early in her online venture that people enjoy working out from the comfort of their own home.

"I told myself, if I could get a good group of 20 people to work with me in this fashion, it would be a huge success. But in the first month we had 120 participants."

Of those, 97 per cent returned for the second month. The class size doubled, and then more than 90 per cent of those people chose to return for the third month.

Whelan streams her classes on the video conferencing app Zoom. (Gill Whelan: Fitness and Wellness Coaching/Facebook)

The following quickly grew to 700 people from all across Canada, some in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Whelan live-streams her class on Zoom at 6 a.m. NT, and has about 250 people join her each morning. The classes are then posted on a private Facebook group where the rest of the members can access it throughout the day.

While gyms and fitness studios will have to struggle with challenges like stocking enough disinfectant and ensuring physical distancing, Whelan will continue delivering content from the safety of her basement.

"I do believe the future of group fitness will look differently from this point forward," she said. 

"For many parts of our world, there's going to be a pre-COVID and a post-COVID way we do things. And group fitness is certainly going to feel that. I feel this is the best solution."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton

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