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.
Curtis Starks, a certified personal trainer for the 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.