When Barry‘s chief instructor Keoni Hudoba hosted his first free “#COREntine” workout on Instagram Live on March 17, he figured that he’d be teaching 100 people, max. At the end of the 20 minute session, more than 800 people had tuned in to watch. The same thing happened during Akin Akman’s first ever free AARMY digital spin class on March 16, which saw 3,000 people from around the world tapping it back, together, on their at-home bikes.
As gyms and boutique fitness studios across the country have shut their doors to keep their members safe from Covid-19, trainers have brought their offerings online—for free—proving that the communities they’ve created transcend the brick and mortars they were created in. “This is our time, as motivators in the health and wellness industry, to band together and keep the positive energy going,” says Hudoba.
After Akman closed his studio on March 14, he sprung into action to come up with a plan to keep his community connected. “What’s been incredible is that way beyond the AARMY community, all over the world there have been people who have found our classes, and it’s been really inspiring to be able to get out there and help people,” he says. “Normally, we can inspire 62 people at a time, but people from everywhere can now come together.”
Considering the vast amount of research linking the positive benefits of physical fitness to mental health—an hour of exercise a week can help stave off depression, and studies suggest that getting your heart rate up can help ease anxiety—it makes sense that people are flocking to digital workouts at a time when they’re feeling isolated and fearful. “This definitely showed me that we, as trainers, are people’s outlets,” says Hudoba, who says he was blown away by the number of DM’s he received after his first digital training session (by the end of our 15 minute phone call, he had another 119 waiting in his inbox.).
Barry’s and AARMY are only two of the many examples of studios that have stepped up to be there for their members in their time of need. Planet Fitness is hosting daily home “work-ins” on Facebook Live, and AKT has brought its offerings online, too. “We’re offering as much free content as we can, because we just want people to feel connected and feel joyous at this time,” says 305 Fitness founder Sadie Kurzban, who’s heading up daily classes via YouTube Live as well as other free, feel-good content like meditation.
As you might imagine, for studios that rely on a paid class model to keep the lights on, there’s a looming question about how all of this free content will affect their businesses during this uncertain time. “Truthfully, we weren’t even thinking about this as a business strategy, we were really just thinking about this as a ‘community first’ move. Our community has always been there for us—we started as a kickstarter—and we wanted to be there for them,” says Kurzban. “Our feeling is that if we put it out there for free, and we’re responsive because we want to be kind, then people will pay it forward.” And she was right: In the last few days, 305 has seen its community buying packs of classes to use in the future, Venmoing instructors who can’t teach due to closed studios, and keeping their memberships active despite studios being closed. Akman notes that he’s seen a similar response from the AARMY community, and has received countless messages from people asking how they can help.
“It’s not easy for us, a startup, to close for an undisclosed amount of time, but we’re choosing to focus on the positive,” says AARMY co-founder Trey Laird (the company plans to launch a more formal, paid digital platform later this year). “This is coming from an authentic place–we’re just trying to do the right thing at the right time and moving from the heart.”
With people being forced into quarantine or choosing to self-isolate, the digital communities that trainers have created are providing a sense of connection and normalcy at a time when we all need it the most. “Even if we’re socially distant, this is keeping people emotionally connected,” says Hudoba. “We’re all in this together. If I can give these free workouts every morning at 9 a.m., and this is a thing that people are excited about, I’m honored to do it.”
In addition to logging on to digital fitness, here are some other ways to maintain connection with others during isolation. Plus, a free at-home core workout you can do on your living room floor.