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How COVID-19 Has Forced Fitness Changes in a New Year

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Darnell Green, certified personal trainer and owner BeDriven Fit Factory, in Bessemer sanitizes equipment. (Marvin Gentry, For The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Those who have resolved to work out and become more healthier in 2021 will find a new world awaiting them at area gyms and fitness centers. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in-person classrooms, dining, shopping, workplaces, family gatherings, and more have been disrupted—and gyms are no different. The Birmingham Times recently spoke with area trainers about fitness in a COVID-19 world.

TRAIN & BURN FITNESS STUDIO, BIRMINGHAM

Curtis Starks, a certified personal trainer for past 25 years and owner of Train & Burn Fitness Studio in downtown Birmingham, understands the challenges the pandemic has caused, so he has made adjustments for his clients.

“Coming here is cool because it’s spaced out. Everybody has their own little spot, and everybody is well beyond six feet apart. They do their thing, and we start cleaning when they get done, or right before they get done,” said Starks, who opened his gym in 2006.

He did note one major change: “We don’t do the traditional circuit bootcamps, where people are touching stuff directly after each other. [I’m] cleaning a lot, and people are responsible here, … so we’ve been really successful and haven’t had any issues.”

Initially some people were hesitant to come in, Starks said.

“People had questions like, ‘How are we going to be spaced out?’ and ‘How often do you have the place cleaned?’ … I think it was more just everybody easing their feet in the pool before diving in. Once they dove in, it’s been my responsibility to keep them in,” he said. “So far, everything is cool.”

Chelsey Wimbish, 27, has been working out at Train & Burn since July 2020. When she put on weight after being in quarantine because of the pandemic, she looked for a gym.

“We take a lot of precautions when we’re in the gym, [such as] more heavily cleaning between clients,” she said. “I work nights, so I just go to the gym in the mornings when I get off, which is very convenient for me. … With COVID-19, it is different because we have to space out, … but [Starks] has found a way to make it work. I love it.

“During my workout sessions, there are just four of us and we’re well-distanced. I don’t wear a mask, and some people do. The workouts are tailored to where you can wear one and it doesn’t affect your breathing or anything.”

Whenever she’s out of town, Wimbish participates in Starks’s online program, which replicates the in-person sessions. So far, she’s seeing results.

“When I started back working out, it was an easy transition for me because [Starks’s] program is so simple; it’s only like a 30-minute workout,” Wimbush said. “I’ve shed all the pounds I put on during quarantine, and I’m back to my normal weight.”

Starks said the online program has been a success, and he hasn’t missed a beat since the pandemic first hit the U.S. in March.

“About two years ago, I started developing an online platform. When I told people about it, they laughed and said, ‘It’s not going to work,’” he said. “Even before the pandemic, I was training people effectively in Oregon, Texas, and Mississippi using what I use now. When COVID-19 hit in March, I had to shut down my place, but I didn’t shut down the service.”

While Starks didn’t know a pandemic was on the horizon, having already developed an online system and put an app in place, he was still able to train his clients—and even saw an opportunity to provide larger online sessions.

“I didn’t have to cut my rates or my prices, I just made sure I gave quality service. I wanted to make sure my clients got the same level of service they were accustomed to prior to the pandemic,” Starks said. “It didn’t fall off. I worked out every day with them for eight weeks. We even had initiatives that we did [via] Zoom sessions. … It was cool.”

When restrictions were lifted by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in June, Starks reopened the doors of Train & Burn.

“We don’t do classes, we do sessions. That way we [provide] the feel of working one-on-one versus the big, large groups, where you come in and there are a whole lot of people,” he said. “In each session, there are two to four people. … Sometimes during session times there may be one or two other people in the facility, but a session is full at four people. After that, clients can put themselves on a waitlist for the time slots they want.”

As for masks, they are optional, he said.

“Most of the time, clients take off their masks because it’s hard to get enough oxygen when wearing a mask during a high-intensity workout, [for instance],” Starks said. “We do give clients the option to wear masks, and I even have some Train and Burn masks that make it easier to breathe. [Either way], I always assure clients that we’re good in here because we socially distance, sanitize, and purify the air. … We make sure people are safe first. I want them to come in and feel safe.”

Train & Burn Fitness Studio is located at 312 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., Birmingham AL 35203. For more information, contact Curtis Starks at www.trainandburn.com, 205-936-9679, on Instagram at trainandburn, and on Facebook at trainandburnfitnessstudio.

BeDRIVEN FIT FACTORY, BESSEMER

At BeDriven Fit Factory, things look a little different since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“When people come here, we take their temperatures as soon as they walk through the door,” said BeDriven owner Darnell Green, who has been a certified personal trainer since 2015. “We also require people to wear a mask when they work out, [so] we’ve scaled our workouts back a little bit. … It’s different to have people actively do an intense workout with masks versus walking on a treadmill or elliptical machine. We want to make sure everyone is OK, but we require masks when anyone comes in to work out.”

In addition, Green sanitizes the facility after every class; equipment used during workouts is sanitized by each participant in the class. He also makes hand sanitizer and wipes available throughout the gym and reminds clients to wash their hands frequently.

Green, 30, who began training clients in 2013 before becoming certified and developing BeDriven in 2015, offers one-on-one personal- and group-training sessions. He currently has 102 clients—or partners, as he calls them—and is the only trainer at the facility.

Be Driven opened in April 2019, and one year later COVID-19 shut down nearly everything. One thing Green did have in place before the pandemic, however, was online training and a Facebook group for all of his partners.

“We would go on Facebook Live at times for people who would normally go to class, [so] if they missed [a session], they could come back later to watch it and still get their workout in,” he said. “Going forward, we’ll always be able to train people virtually, but we already had that in the works prior to the pandemic.”

When COVID-19 restrictions that had closed gyms, bars, hair salons, and other businesses were lifted in June, Green reopened and made sure to follow guidelines set by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state of Alabama.

“We keep the classes at nine people, so there is a good people-to-trainer ratio and people are not all on top of one another,” said Green, who plans to move into a new facility, also in Bessemer, in the first quarter of 2021. “Before the pandemic, there were more than nine participants per class, but now we cap session sizes in order to socially distance and adhere to the guidelines.”

Marcie Pruitt, 48, has been training at BeDriven since March 2020.

“I would go to other gyms, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Why am I not still seeing what I want to see?’ I would put in the work, but I was leaving the gym and not seeing any results,” she said.

Pruitt was pleased by what she found at BeDriven.

“With a lot of trainers, you can call or text and not get a response. The moment I texted [Green], he immediately got back with me, and I could tell he was interested [in working with me],” Pruitt said. “He took time and told me I could come in and try it out first. He also explained what was offered … and that I could go at my own pace. … After getting into [BeDriven], I’m losing weight and feeling better about myself.”

The pandemic has not caused business to slow down for Green, and he expects to see growth in the new year.

“It’s picked up more in-house because people really appreciate the fact that [BeDriven] is a small gym, so they know who is coming in and they can see me actually cleaning and wiping things down,” said Green.

BeDriven is located at 2550 Five Star Pkwy. Suite 104, Bessemer, AL 35022. For more information, contact Darnell Green at darnell@bedrivenfitness.com on Instagram at bedriven_fit_factory or big.drive_, and on Facebook at Bedriven Fit Factory.

GRINDHOUSE LLC, HOMEWOOD

Like many other training and fitness businesses, the Homewood-based GrindHouse LLC switched to online training when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

“I wouldn’t say we were in a panic mode because we have faith. We had our down moments, but we were just like, ‘How can we survive this, and how long will it last for us to be able to survive it?’ When the city shut down, we switched to virtual training on Zoom,” said Wesley Samuels, 28, who co-owns GrindHouse, with Rakayle “Rock” Brown, 28.

Samuels and Brown, both of whom have been certified personal trainers since 2014 and 2013, respectively, had been training clients at different places—gyms, parks, their homes—before coming up with GrindHouse. They originally got a spot in Hoover before opening the Homewood location in June 2019. Sometime in January 2021, they plan to open a new Homewood facility, where they will offer equipment similar to that available at large fitness chains that clients will be able to use at specified times without a trainer, said Brown.

When the pandemic caused widespread shutdowns, the duo started conducting Zoom classes, primarily to help clients stay fit during quarantine.

“Everyone was at home, but they still wanted to meet their goals,” said Brown. “And we still wanted to help people meet their fitness goals, even though we were at home, too.

“We started to pick up on people who wanted to do in-person training, as well as some who wanted to stick with Zoom, which we still offer just in case there are people who don’t want to be around the groups or around the others in the gym.”

Todd Crenshaw, 47, who has worked out at GrindHouse for a year and a half took advantage of the Zoom classes.

“I did both Zoom and in-person classes,” said Crenshaw. “I still go to the gym to workout, and it’s been great, especially during this time. … Just seeing [the GrindHouse team] and knowing they are in tune with what you’re doing in your personal life provides such a release for that one hour or so. It’s really like being with family; … they pour into you. My son and I have been doing Zoom with [Samuels] at 6 p.m. … When he comes on, he pours into you, which is just what people need during times like these. … It’s just been great.”

Crenshaw was also pleased by the precautions taken at the GrindHouse facility.

“Initially, when the gym opened back up, we were outside,” he said. “[The trainers] did a great job of keeping us safe, as far as keeping us spaced out in the parking lot. … We were always safe. [When we moved inside], several people wore masks or whatever they needed to do to stay safe. [The GrindHouse team] keeps everything sanitized, [using] a fogger machine and always wiping things down. … Between the Zoom classes and limiting the number of people attending each in-person class, they have been very helpful and done a great job making people feel safe.”

Like others in the industry, when Samuels and Brown reopened in June, they changed how they provided services to meet CDC guidelines.

“We started out having two classes a day, and then we switched to four classes. We’re now at five classes, and plan to have six classes again after the start of the new year,” said Samuels. “We started out by having 12 people come in for classes, whereas we used to have 15 or 20 people per class.”

In addition to reducing class sizes, GrindHouse has increased its cleaning efforts.

“We try to clean as much as possible,” said Brown. “We make sure anything that anyone touches—all the equipment, like the bands and cardio equipment, the doorknobs, the bathrooms, everything—is as clean as possible. We also put hand sanitizer at every entrance and bathroom so people can see and use it.”

Samuels’s wife, Bria, who has been a trainer at GrindHouse for about six months, said training during the COVID-19 pandemic has been “smooth sailing” for her.

“I’ve capped myself at a certain number of clients, so I can focus on each person,” she said. “I like to look at training as quality over quantity. My goal isn’t to have the most clients, but instead to have a small group of women I can give my all to and help them make healthy lifestyle changes because that’s what fitness is. … It’s not a quick fix, it’s not about the money, it’s about health—and that takes time for one to adjust to.”

GrindHouse LLC is located at 135 W. Oxmoor Rd. Suite 315, Birmingham, AL. 35209. For more information, visit www.grindhouseal.com, or follow on Instagram at grindhouseal or Facebook at GrindHouse.