In The World of a Personal Trainer During COVID-19

How do you stay relevant, how do you help people with their fitness goals, and how do you stay active?

Just about everybody’s workout plans came to a screeching halt when the City of Pasadena and the LA County forced all gyms to close indefinitely on March 16th, 2020. Not only that, but thousands of employees, ranging from sales to cleaning, personal training to group fitness, got laid off in the blink of an eye. What seemed to happen overnight has now taken months to finally start feeling normal.

Let’s take it back to mid-March. Every morning my alarm rings at 4:00am and I get up way too early to teach a series of semi-private fitness classes before the sun peaks out. Hugs, handshakes, sweaty high fives, and physical spotting all seemed to be normal, day-to-day events as a personal trainer. Then, one particular evening, I get an email stating that the gym is being forced to close down and all memberships will be frozen. Fast forward a couple of days, and the entire city of Los Angeles is placed on mandatory shelter-at-home regulations.

Now how the hell are you supposed to train people if you can’t leave your own house? How am I going to make any money? How do I push people to their limits? Train them to get stronger? How am I supposed to stay relevant?

Very few companies have thrived during this pandemic: Zoom, and every fitness equipment warehouse ever. Everybody else–shut down. So in the blink of an eye, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and toilet paper flew off shelves. It was impossible to get any type of equipment if you didn’t already own it. Having no equipment presents itself as a challenge when you want to work out. You can only fill a backpack with so many water bottles….

So how do you stay relevant as a fitness trainer amidst a pandemic where everyone is supposed to stay at home?

Cue Zoom. Within a week, their stock prices exploded. (Actually, another company called Zoom Technologies’ ($ZOOM) share prices soared too, due to the confusion of the ticker symbol that many people mistook for the Zoom Video Conferencing ($ZM) for). Now you’ve got just about every personal trainer, fitness studio, education platform, or global enterprise signed up for a Zoom account to find a way to continue doing business. Using a server based video conferencing tool to train people is certainly not the most ideal training method out there, but with the given restrictions, it was one of the best options available. Zoom became the go-to method for trainers to keep in contact with their clients. It provided trainers and clients a platform where they could see each other, receive exercise tips and workout plans, and even schedule virtual training sessions.

As a personal trainer, the immediate go-to thought process always revolves around physical fitness. But in fact, there is much more to it than making people do burpees and mountain climbers. You develop connections and relationships with people, you get involved with their work life and family relationships. You become a part of their lives, and as a friend, they want to feel connected to you.  In order to succeed as a personal trainer during a worldwide pandemic, you need to sell the value of regularly scheduled check ins. Remember, any and all of their fitness goals just got shut down immediately. They need someone to help evaluate their situation and come up with an updated game plan. They need a trainer to help them recognize the value of being physically active during a highly stressful event such as COVID-19.

It’s time to redefine fitness goals. Do you remember what the ‘R’ stands for in SMART goals?

They need a goal that is realistic. And for many people, heavy resistance training is out of the picture, and therefore bulking up and building mass might not be the most realistic fitness goal for them. Science shows that muscle fibers need stimulation near 60% of their 1RM in order to continue building muscle fibers and progressing strength. As a trainer, it becomes your job to help them understand what is possible and what needs to be put off for the time being. An adept trainer can come up with exercises that use body weight, such as calisthenic exercises performed under a metabolic demand. Remember, physical fitness isn’t only about body building and lifting heavy weights.

Yoga, pilates, hiking, biking, running, and many more options can still provide people with an adequate opportunity to increase their VO2, utilize muscle fibers, and put the body through a challenge. This does not mean their original goal of increasing strength, or dropping a large amount of body fat is unobtainable. It simply means that their goals need to be revisited and other goals may need to be postponed.

Moderately challenging physical fitness activities should be performed at least 5 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

However, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, it becomes equally important to recognize that setbacks are OK. If you come out of a global pandemic with a bit of weight gained, and some muscle mass lost, it is perfectly OK. It is an extremely stressful event that no body is prepared to handle. It becomes critical to recognize what is realistic and achievable in trying times like these.

For many people, their usual gym routine got completely halted over night. But equally so, many people have began new exercise routines that they wouldn’t normally have done. Have y’all ever heard of mat pilates!? I thought my core was strong–and then I found out the hard way that I’ve been conditioned to work out a certain way. So while one door may have been closed, many others have opened up. This is the best time to give yoga and pilates a try. Or start a couch-to-5k plan. You never know what your body is capable of until you try it out.