COVID-19News & Opinion

Fitness Studios in Charlotte Adapt to Phase 2 with No Other Options

Some use loophole to hold indoor classes, others not ready to risk it

With continued extensions to Phase 2 of North Carolina’s reopening plan, gyms and fitness studios in Charlotte have taken different approaches to save their businesses, from moving classes outside in the summer heat to taking advantages of loopholes that allow people to work out inside with permission from their doctor.

Lindsay Bushnell and staff at her Burn Boot Camp locations in SouthPark and Elizabeth pushed members through online workouts for eight weeks. When North Carolina moved into Phase 2 of reopening, they hosted outdoor classes at local churches. But it wasn’t the same. 

A Loophole for Fitness Studios in Charlotte

A few weeks prior to Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement delaying Phase 3 until Sept. 11, Burn Boot Camp found another way to make things work for its members in Charlotte:  the fitness studio holds indoor classes for members who could present a doctor’s note prescribing exercise.

The inside of Burn Boot Camp is set up for strict social distancing. (Photo by Lindsay Bushnell)

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Interim Guidance for Fitness Center and Gym Settings with Limited Operations states that gyms and fitness centers may reopen indoor areas to serve those prescribed or directed to exercise by a doctor or healthcare professional, inspiring some in Charlotte to head to their primary care physician for permission to get a workout in. 

Bushnell said the note can prescribe exercise for physical or mental health, and the staff at her Burn Boot Camp locations check members’ notes upon arrival to confirm their validity. The studio is following all protocols, she emphasized. 

“The safety of our clients and our community is a priority to us because we’re in the business of safety, which is why we’re ensuring we stay strictly inside what is requested by the CDC and the government,” Bushnell said.

Some of the procedures in place include holding classes at a limited capacity, placing boxes at least 8 feet apart, a virtual check-in process, touchless entry and exits, mask requirements for those not working out and hand sanitizer placed around the building. Bushnell said no equipment is used by the same person in one class, and the staff cleans and sanitizes everything between uses.

So far, she said, it is going well. Though classes are capped at 11 to 12 people, Bushnell said more members are signing up for classes and feeling comfortable with the measures that she and her staff have taken.

“People have said they feel safer with all of the policies and procedures that we have in place than they feel just walking into the grocery store, so that makes us feel good because we’re able to give people their physical health and mental health back for 45 minutes,” Bushnell said. “We feel comfortable that they also feel safe being in that environment too.”

Though Burn Boot Camp was not the first and is not the only gym to open up its doors, Bushnell said she expects to see more gyms and fitness studios in Charlotte hold indoor classes requiring doctor’s notes.

Sweat Method Moves Outdoors

Halle Hillman, however, has no plans to hold indoor classes at Sweat Method in South End any time soon. 

Halle and her fiancé and co-owner Justin Gordon hoped to reopen the studio with extreme precautions as soon as Phase 3 took effect. But as that stage kept getting delayed, they had to pivot.

“We had made zero profit for three months and we knew that this couldn’t keep going on,” Hillman said. “We decided from the very beginning that we’re not going to go inside no matter what other people were doing in Charlotte, but we did have to pivot and we were given the opportunity to be outside our studio.”

fitness studios in Charlotte
A yoga class outside of Sweat Method in South End. (Photo courtesy of Halle Hillman)

The two began hosting small classes unaffiliated with Sweat Method. When they became increasingly popular, they decided to implement the Charlotte gym’s 30-minute Fast and Intense Interval Training (FIIT) class — similar to the popular HIIT workouts — outdoors in the studio’s parking lot for up to 25 people, in accordance with North Carolina’s Phase 2 guidelines. Hillman said they are also strictly following social distancing measures to keep participants safe.

The new format made sense for their business, too.

“About half of the people that are coming to these workouts don’t feel comfortable going inside no matter what the circumstances are, and we just want to make sure that we abide by the rules as much as possible,” Hillman said. “We also know that we can only fit 10 to 12 people in a class indoors but we can fit up to 25 outside with the 6-foot rule, it just makes sense for us as a business to do it that way.”

Businesses Keep From Spinning Their Wheels

While groups of 25 people are permitted outdoors, CycleBar Matthews owner Patricia Schermer-Mangum decided to limit the studio’s new outdoor rides to 15 riders and one instructor at a time, with bikes placed 6 feet apart.

Schermer-Mangum has been on both sides of the coin, as she opened her Mount Pleasant location in May in accordance with South Carolina’s reopening guidelines. She has felt the sting of COVID-19, too.

“In Matthews, it’s been a struggle,” Schermer-Mangum said. “It’s honestly been disappointments back to back to back. People should know that boutique fitness is very safe and we take the safety of our staff and riders very seriously.”

While she knows some boutique fitness studios in North Carolina have reopened with doctor’s note requirements, she made the decision to maintain outdoor classes in the interest of her staff and the riders.

“I didn’t want them to feel like I was putting them in harm’s way,” Schermer-Mangum said.

In addition to spacing out the bikes, Schermer-Mangum said CycleBar Matthews implemented strict procedures for riders and staff, including temperature checks before rides, virtual check-ins and requiring riders to bring their own towel and water.

A Tale of Two State Orders

But Schermer-Mangum and Hillman both understand why some Charlotte fitness studios have reopened with indoor classes, and empathize with struggling studio owners.

“We have my studio in Mount Pleasant open and we are doing everything we can to keep our riders and staff safe, and it works very well,” Schermer-Mangum said. “It has been taken from riders and from staff in a very positive way, so the studios that are open, I believe they are being safe and they are taking the precautions necessary. All studio owners want the best for everyone, but we are struggling and we are losing money, and everybody makes different decisions.”

Schermer-Mangum said she hopes to see North Carolina rally around the fitness community and support them, similar to how people supported restaurants at the start of the pandemic.

For the time being, the fitness community is sticking together, whether holding indoor classes like Burn Boot Camp or keeping it outdoors like CycleBar and Sweat Method.

“I have talked to so many gym owners inside of Charlotte and everyone is handling this differently, but we’re all working together to not just save our businesses, but serve our community and our clients and give them the health and fitness, both physically and mentally, that they need in their daily lives to keep them healthy,” Bushnell said. “That is the top priority for every single other gym owner that I’ve spoken to.”

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