The coronavirus epidemic hasn’t been healthy for gyms and fitness clubs in Shanghai. Closed until further notice, their workout rooms are empty. Many have been trying to tide themselves over by offering exercise programs online.
The younger generation especially is keen on fitness and worried about becoming couch potatoes in the absence of regular gym workouts.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, Wang Xu, who was born in 1989 and works as an analyst for a market research firm, began a 45-miniute daily dance class on TikTok in early February. The course she is taking has attracted about 1,000 other people and received 3,000 “likes.”
Wang and many others of her generation believe that exercise helps strengthen their immune systems needed to fight virus infection. By exercising at home, they have avoided the risk of contact with other sweaty bodies at the gym.
Wang also shares exercise tips with friends via WeChat, restoring some of the social ambience of a gym.
Many gyms in China are now livestreaming classes. Tera Wellness Club, Will's, Pure Fitness and other popular gyms provide online courses on platforms such as TikTok and Yizhibo. It’s a way for them to hold onto members and even attract new clients.
Most of the courses run for less than an hour, with diversified choices that include dance, yoga, leg and core exercises, and body combat. Some gyms also livestream classes in nutrition and home cooking as added incentive for people to continue a healthy lifestyle.
“Most gyms started online streaming courses since early February,” said Ted Li, owner of a fitness club in Putuo District of Shanghai. “Our members really want to exercise at home after the extended Spring Festival holiday. Gyms have asked their fitness coaches to teach basic courses online to meet the demand."
The prowess of coaches and the content of classes are key to reach a broad audience. Good coaches attract more users. That requires adapting to online instruction techniques.
“As a coach, I need to pay attention to the interaction with the audience, adjust the course in a timely manner, control the time and maintain a stable network,” he said.
There are many restrictions for people exercising at home, he said. For one, many apartments are small and don’t leave much room for workouts. Then, too, the noise of an exercise routine may disturb neighbors.
Handling classes when networks aren’t working at optimum levels is another hurdle.
Gyms release their course schedule in advance on their WeChat official accounts so that people can arrange times and prepare in advance. There are day courses for those staying home and evening courses for those who have gone back to work.
Gyms are providing courses on free livestreaming platforms like Tiktok and Yizhibo for the duration of emergency measures during the viral outbreak. These stopgap measures for gyms and fitness clubs stung by the epidemic have attracted large numbers of followers, though they may not have helped the lost incomes of fitness coaches who are staying at home.
Beyond that, some fitness apps are providing in-home online workout courses for a fee.
Whatever the methodology, the fitness industry is biding its time and waiting to see how fast the epidemic will be controlled.
“A lot of people phone to ask me when the gym will reopen,” Li said. “But very few are willing to come back too quickly.”
His gym has been closed since late January, but he still has to pay the rent. Thankfully for his cash flow, his landlord has reduced the rent by a third.
The Shanghai government is well aware than small businesses like gyms are facing difficulties. It has promulgated 28 measures aimed at helping businesses weather the epidemic.
Among those measures, smaller business renting premises from state-owned enterprises have had their rents waived for February and March.
Also, large commercial buildings, shopping malls and industrial parks have been encouraged to reduce rent for tenants.
Li’s business, located in a commercial building, has benefited from the policy. He said he is currently seeking information about other assistance that may be available to help tide him over.
Once the epidemic has passed, the betting is that gyms will see a flood of customers returning. Staying fit is popular in Shanghai, and the fitness industry still retains its strong business model.
At present, Shanghai gyms are closed until further notice. Most gyms said that cardholders will not be charged during the closure period, which means their fitness memberships will be extended.
Tera Wellness Club said the company is hoping to reopen as soon as possible, depending on government requirements. Pure Fitness said it will notify customers once the closure is lifted.