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The fitness industry a year after lockdown

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 23, 2021 5:00 am

Last March 15, my phone pinged with a message notification from Zen Hernandez of ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol. She was asking for an update interview regarding the fitness industry on the re-imposition of curfew and closure of Quezon City locations.

I was told to get ready in minutes; I begged for 30. It’s nonsense, really, since the interview was just over Zoom and I didn’t have to worry about navigating in traffic jams or looking for a non-existent parking slot.

“Happy one-year anniversary, although I guess it’s not really happy,” Zen greeted. Oh, yes! She reminded me that it has been one year since the gyms, as well as other businesses, were closed due to the global pandemic. And when we thought we were all moving toward normal, positive cases spiked and many local government units imposed stricter regulations, including temporarily shutting down gyms again.

The anniversary is no reason to rejoice, but if there is anything worth applauding, it is the resiliency of the people. We had to act.

How is the industry faring in a snapshot? Only one-fifth to one-fourth of the normal daily traffic is back in the gym. Gym hours have been shortened. Those with more than one location per city opted to just open one or two per city.

First, there was acceptance of the situation and the seeming lack of control, as well as the awareness of what can be done given much limited resources and following a lot of strict protocols. Second, we had to be creative in order to cope with the challenges of an emerging new normal. Third, we had to live a day at a time in thanksgiving and as a team grateful for the trust of the community and business partners.

What else are we left with but faith, hope and the proper perspective? Wouldn’t it have been easier if we spent one year putting blame on people and circumstances?

The pandemic’s biggest blessing to the local fitness industry is the establishment of the fitness alliance network.

Rey Bolivar, former CEO of Anytime Fitness Asia, gave me a call one year ago to lead the establishment of the alliance. The core group is made up of the six major brands in the local fitness industry (five are supervised by headquarters abroad, mainly the United States). A few months ago, he left our small group and Mark Ellis took leadership. He is the CEO of Evolution Wellness in the Philippines, which owns both Fitness First and Celebrity Fitness.

While there are plans to fortify the group into the further professionalization of the industry, the clear and present task right now is to increase the chances of business survival, as well as job preservation for the many passionate fitness professionals.

 Miss Philippines Earth Eco-Tourism 2019 Karen Piccio continues her regular training with Angelo Mendez, who took this photo while supervising the workout from a safe distance.

The gyms were formerly classified as a Category 4 business, which means per DTI-IATF rules, it can only open during MGCQ (modified general community quarantine), which Metro Manila has yet to experience.

Fortunately, gyms were reclassified in August to Category 3 after several alliance meetings produced joint industry protocols submitted to DTI-IATF. I reminded Zen that shortly after being reclassified, Metro Manila slumped back to MECQ, which further postponed the gym reopenings to September 2020.

How is the industry faring in a snapshot? Only one-fifth to one-fourth of the normal daily traffic is back in the gym (so 20 to 25 people instead of a normal 100, for example). Gym hours have been shortened to balance operating expenses with the shortage of demand. Those with more than one location per city opted to just open one or two per city for the same reasons.

Some operators have reported retrenching one-third of their workforce, while those working do so at a third of their regular hours. Most group classes are taught by instructors who are paid per class. All group classes have been cancelled since one year ago. DTI-IATF does not allow any group instruction, which they define as one instructor teaching two members.

 Fashion model Maria Imari Rodriguez takes a brief respite from her workout set.

A few weeks ago, the alliance met with DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo. Aside from updating her about the situation, we appealed for the resumption of group exercise, which we predict to double our attendance to at least 40 to 50 percent. We submitted the additional protocols for this to happen. The group exercise studio will be divided into squares of two meters per side (total of four square meters) with the bigger gyms agreeing to even increase that to three meters each side.

Incidentally, in our gyms we did not have any incident of virus transmission. I always believe that protection and safety is a joint effort between members and staff. We are bound by the same love for wellness. That said, I believe  that people who go to the gym are more conscious about health, protection, and hygiene.

There are only three things to remember: Protection, proximity, time. Go to the gym in your workout attire with your own water bottle and yoga mat (if needed). Wear your mask and shield and have a personal alcohol dispenser ready at all times. Stay a meter away from anyone who is not from your household. Stay two meters away from your personal trainer or anybody when you are doing a strenuous exercise. Keep your stay at the gym short. Do not linger for more than one hour.

Banner photo by William Choquette from Pexels