Gyms, Fitness Coaches Get Creative In Time Of COVID Closures

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: People , Sports

Like many fitness coaches in the area, instructors from Chatham Works have taken their classes online so that clients can stay fit from the comfort of home during the COVID-19 closures. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHATHAMWORKS.COM

On Monday morning, Alan Harrison climbed the steps of Orleans Town Hall with a plastic tote of goodies, all for his new online exercise classes. Harrison, the town’s recreation director, is one of many across the region who has plunged into online teaching as a means of keeping people healthy during the COVID closures.

“I normally run these classes live,” said Harrison, who teaches Burdenko fitness and tai chi. “Obviously, everything has been on hold. I talked to the media people from the town and Channel 18 said they could do tapings to be put on the town website and local channel.”

Through his videos, Harrison leads people in seated and standing exercises suitable for nearly any fitness level, and the best part is that Harrison teaches viewers how to work with what they’ve got, even if it isn’t a set of nice dumbbells.

In the April 13 taping, Harrison used a broomstick, jars of peanut butter, and a tub of laundry detergent to demonstrate how to lift and do flexibility exercises at home. Though seemingly rudimentary, the workout was thorough and offered variety enough to keep things interesting and help people stay fit.

Harrison, who is also a part-time athletic director at Cape Cod Tech, said he’s planning to continue with the taped classes through the end of the month, when it’s likely the governor will offer new information regarding school closures. Should schools remain closed, Harrison said plans are in the works in Orleans to add skills clinics and more to the online lineup.

“Showing kids what they can do with a tennis ball and a tennis racket in their back yard,” Harrison said. “Jogging. We’ve run a conditioning program for kids in the past, typically when all school sports are over, teaching them drills to become better, stronger runners. We’re working with staff to develop programs to put online.”

At Chatham Works, while owners Lindsay and Fred Bierwirth are missing their member community, the center’s instructors have also gotten into the online groove.

“We’ve basically transitioned our entire class schedule over to video, except for spinning. We’re running 27 classes a week right now, trying to give people variety,” said Fred. “We’re also recording the classes and sending out links to those so people can do them on their own time as well. There are a lot of bodyweight-oriented exercises, strength, intervals, different forms of resistance that probably aren’t going to be as nice as what we have but will work. There’s yoga, instructional, informational sessions with trainers talking about nutrition and heart-rate training, some of which are publicly available.”

There’s even a kids’ yoga class, and a host of members only content, as well.

“We are going to start putting out more stuff that’s free for the public because that’s something we believe in, and giving people resources to help stay in shape is a plus,” said Fred. “But we encourage members to continue their memberships and help us weather the storm financially.”

The Bierwirths noted that single classes and packs of video classes are on sale via the center’s website (, with the focus on maintaining a strong relationship with existing clients.

“What we’re trying to do is come up with a way to maintain engagement with people,” said Fred. “Helping them stay active and maintain as much of a sense of community as we can.”

When the gym does open back up, something both owners and clientele are excited for, it will be with numerous precautions.

“Maintaining a clean facility has always been a huge priority for us,” Fred said. “People tell us that ours is the cleanest gym they’ve been in.”

To keep it that way, they use an electrostatic sprayer with hospital grade disinfectant, and also have a commercial-grade UVC disinfecting light. But because the virus can spread through the air, they’ll wait for an official all-clear before taking steps to reopen.

Daryl Routhier has been a personal fitness coach for more than two decades, and while he’s not taking any new clients until the pandemic passes, he continues working with longtime clients, with stringent rules.

“I stagger everybody by 15 minutes to a 1/2 hour to disinfect equipment, and I’m super careful about what I clean with,” He said. “Any dumbbells and kettlebells we use are left out so I know exactly what someone touched when they leave.”

Routhier said that the majority of his clients come solo or with their spouses, and most everyone wears gloves, masks, or both. While the majority of his older clients have taken a break from their sessions, he does have some willing to come into the studio, feeling that the risk of coming to exercise is more important than doing nothing.

“The only risky thing that could happen is that if we find out that someone has been exposed, I’ll have to shut down for two weeks,” Routhier said. “All of my clients know each other well so they trust each other. That’s the advantage to having my own studio versus working out of a gym.”

To further minimize the risks, Routhier has kept people off the machines and using more free weights, which are easier to clean, and the change has had a positive impact.

“A lot of people really like the change and I think when this is over, I’m going to incorporate more of that into routines,” Routhier said. “I think, in a way, in the long run, I’m going to benefit from this.”

Like his brother, Norman “Pugga” Routhier has been a personal trainer for decades, and like his brother, has been staggering clients visiting his studio in order to give equipment a bleach cleaning when sessions are through. The studio is also been thoroughly cleaned several times a week, though Pugga is also taking advantage of FaceTime.

“I’ve been mostly using FaceTime or working out outside,” Pugga said. “I’m giving clients the option of going outside, into the gym, or using FaceTime. Mostly, they want to come in, but they’re nervous about the situation. I sort of let them lead it and try to be as safe as possible.”

For Pugga, the closures have been especially challenging since he genuinely looks forward to each session.

“Personally, I’m a people person. I would rather see people in person. I miss that intimacy,” he said. “But the FaceTime thing is not so bad. But I’m not a big tech guy who writes a workout for somebody and sends it to them. Everything I do is individualized. There is no one program I would give everybody.”

Pugga said that right now he’s focusing mostly on improving his client’s quality of life.

“I used to train a lot of bodybuilders and athletes,” he said. “Mostly what I do now is pre-hab and post-rehab exercise for people with joint replacements. It’s quality of life I’m trying to help people with, so they can go boating, golfing, and do what they want to do.”

At the Chatham Health and Swim Club the pool is closed, but online classes are happening, largely courtesy of Jennifra Norton and Rebecca Douville. While Douville has been focusing on a total body toning class, Norton teaches online seated yoga both through the club and via her website (

“I personally think this opportunity to lead classes on this platform is helping to expand the community in ways we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do,” Norton said.

Right now, Norton teaches nine classes a week, but should the closures and quarantining continue she’ll likely expand the number. But going online wasn’t a cakewalk.

“In the beginning it was frankly quite excruciating because I don’t consider myself savvy in the ways of technology,” Norton said. “But Zoom is easy to use. Plus, the more times you do it, before you know it, you’re a pro. Now, people who wouldn’t be able to practice with me, from Mississippi to Amsterdam, are able to. It’s a phenomenal thing.”