Masks are off at NYC gyms, but pandemic habits are hard to break
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — This is the first week that mask and COVID-19 vaccine requirements at fitness gyms in New York City have been lifted, bringing a sigh of relief to many as the world marks two years since the pandemic started. Despite the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, not everyone is eager to return to the gym.
Capacities at SLT fitness studios remain sluggish in Manhattan, which founder and CEO Amanda Freeman believes is partly due to remote work.
“Our suburbs have recovered much better,” Freeman said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
SLT has 17 studios open across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. They closed nine gyms permanently during the pandemic and pivoted to virtual exercise classes.
“I believe that the future, like most people in the fitness industry believe, is an omnichannel future fitness where you might not get to a studio as many days of the week as you did prior to the pandemic,” said Freeman.
She told WCBS 880 that there are some who only want to workout at home and others who only want to exercise at the gym, but most are enjoying the convenience of a hybrid situation.
“Personally, I don’t love working out at home, but you know that it’s not horrible and sometimes you can’t get to a studio.”
Freeman said they spent the last two years perfecting their at-home and on-demand classes.
“It’s nothing I ever thought I would do, and again, which is why it didn’t exist before the pandemic,” she said. “It was something I felt like we had to do for the future of the business. The rest of our business was contracting so deeply and who knew how it would be post-pandemic.”
She believes there are still opportunities and new categories for SLT to explore in the at-home fitness space. SLT currently offers a monthly subscription to its on-demand exercise videos. They upload new videos every Tuesday morning. Some workouts don’t require equipment and others do, which SLT is now manufacturing and selling.
“Our workout is best described, although I don’t like to say it, but I say it’s either a high-intensity version of Pilates or we say if cardio strength training and Pilates had a baby, it would be SLT.”
SLT is an acronym for strengthen, lengthen, tone.
The biggest hurdle with virtual exercise classes, Freeman said, is replicating the in-person training.
“In a lot of ways it’s form; it’s form correction,” she explained. “How do you bring the detail of the corrections and the detail of the form?”
The fitness studio owner relies on instructors to be charismatic and knowledgeable.
“You need so much to be that, what I call a ‘star-structor,’ and at-home is so much about star-structors, and honestly, SLT has never been about a star-structor business,” said Freeman. “We like hard working, smart, talented instructors. But, the world of fitness has really gone the way of like the cult of personality of fitness. And it had gone that way, then it was a little not that way, and then, when at-home became so big, it was 100 percent that way where one instructor could have 1,000 people doing the same workout.”
See more on the changes in the fitness industry and SLT’s virtual exercise classes on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.