The Austin Fitness Community and COVID-19

By Emily Effren – May 1, 2020

How local gyms and studios are navigating business during COVID-19.

No one anticipated what the world would become only three months into the new decade.

As COVID-19 has already dramatically changed so many futures around the world, one future many of us are apprehensive about is the status of those in our fitness community. As local gyms and studios have closed their doors for the time being, one of America’s fittest cities is trying to find innovative ways to keep people active, engaged and connected through health and fitness —  while trying to stay safe in the comfort of our own homes.

Shutting their doors on the morning of March 16, Director of Marketing for Trufusion Austin, Francesca Alfarache, says that doing so has left a lot of their hourly team members and full-time instructors out of work for the time being.

“It definitely affects us greatly,” Alfarache says. “It definitely is taking its toll. Our team is really trying to find the best way that we can start gathering funds and raising donations for our team members that are out of work right now, because we want to support them.”

Owner of E + E Fitness, Becky Brown, says this situation has led to gym members asking to cancel or pause their membership.

“We’re literally just, you know, trying to wait this out,” Brown says.

In addition to being worried about the health of the community, Brown says she’s also worried about the mental health of Austinites as well.

“Exercise is my happy place — and it is for a lot of people, and so I worry about the mental health of our community, not just because of the stress of this virus, but also the stress that they have no physical release,” Brown says. “I’m concerned about that, you know, we’re taking away a big outlet for the health of people, not only physically but mentally.”

As of right now, no one knows the future of the coronavirus or the gravity of the  implications that will follow in its wake.

However, this is not the end of the Austin Fit community. Instead of shutting down completely, local gyms and studios like TruFusion and E+E Fitness are simply switching to virtual platforms.

Alfarache says that since they have begun utilizing online platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the positive response has been overwhelming.

“We’ve really seen our community show up and just be united,” Alfarache says.

TruFusion even has started a Facebook group for members to share, comment and connect with one another while stuck at home.

“We have had several people ask us how they can donate to the instructors. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to do that. But everything that we’ve offered content wise right now has been free,” Alfarache says.

Assistant General Manager and Instructor at Wanderlust Yoga, Zoe Welch, says the whole situation is forcing all local studios and gyms to adapt to the quickly changing environment.

“You just have to revamp and rethink what’s possible,” Welch says.

Currently, Welch says the Wanderlust yoga studio has even turned into a production studio with a camera and lighting set up to record videos. 

“Anything is possible. I mean, just the other day I was noticing that some instructors are uploading yoga tutorials to Tik Tok,” Welch says. “It’s a crazy time, but it’s also really exciting to see all of the different ways that people are getting creative to come together and stay connected and stay healthy.”

Creative Director of TruFusion, Kim Stein Lepley, says they have seen their engagement and followers boom since Austinites have been staying home and spending more time online.

“It’s kind of nice to see that we can reach so many new people, as well as our existing members, and just help them kind of try to find an hour or so a day to feel good and to release some stress,” Stein Lepley says.

Brown says at E+E  they have started utilizing the online social conferencing platform, Zoom, which can allow for gyms and studios to make profit while still keeping the Austin community active through virtual classes.

Brown says the way she and her instructors have continued to spread positivity during this time is through continuing to connect with their members online. For example, after E + E Fitness’ live streamed “Peach Camp” class, people were posting photos from the virtual experience.

“People took pictures of our computer screen and they’re sharing it,” Brown says.

At TruFusion Austin, Aflarache says she also thinks the main message of their platforms during this situation is to stay positive and stay active.

“I think, all in all, it’s just —  shake it off. Smile. We’ll get through this together; support each other. Let’s find a little lightness and in the heaviness of the chaos that is right now,” Alfarache says.

Even in the uncomfortable wariness that everyone is forced to endure due to the coronavirus, we encourage the Austin Fit community to keep a positive attitude, love your neighbors and continue to radiate kindness throughout our community.

Stein Lepley says she thinks this experience will cause the fitness community to become more connected than ever, even after this situation is over.

“I think that after all this passes the connection between everyone will be so much stronger,” Stein Lepley says. “And it already feels so much stronger, and that we’ll all just continue to support each other and grow together from here.”



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