Martial arts studios, gyms struggling during COVID | Connecticut & Region

Since July, Greg Hammons has sacrificed his paycheck so he can keep the Glastonbury gym

Since July, Greg Hammons has sacrificed his paycheck so he can keep the Glastonbury gym he co-owns, Fearless Fitness, open during the pandemic, even as his clientele has substantially dropped.

Hammons has a family of four at home. Therefore, the stress and anxiety often creeps up on him throughout the day.

“I can pay some rent and pay off the stuff I need, to make sure the business runs, but I am barely making it,” he said. “All these things make it harder to survive as a small gym.”

Hammons opened the group training facility in the summer of 2019 and then had to shut it down when COVID-19 erupted in March. In November, Gov. Ned Lamont allowed facilities like his to reopen, but only at 25% capacity. Hammons initially had 60 clients. Now he has about 20, as some are concerned they’ll catch the virus exercising with others.

To make up the loss, Hammons increased the monthly membership by $50 to $175, but that only led to more cancellations, a Catch-22 situation with no favorable remedy.

Hammons is not alone in his struggles as many local gyms and martial arts studios are feeling the same crunch. Local owners, and even some of the larger chains, reported fewer clients and larger financial challenges in trying to keep their businesses open during the pandemic. Further complicating matters are health officials’ concerns that attending gyms could potentially lead to exposure to COVID-19.

Owners say they are adapting, adding online classes and changing business models while living with the uncertainty of the future. All emphasize that they are meticulously sanitizing spaces, and some have installed new airflow systems to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, The Academy of Martial Arts and Personal Development in Manchester averaged 400 people a week at its facility. Now, owner Joel Waldron said he averages 100 a week. At one point he had 70 students enrolled in his after-school program. That number has since dropped to 10.

“I have spent more than one night thinking about what I would do if this place shut down and what can the next steps be to try to keep it open,” he said.

After 25 years in business, the seventh-degree black belt said he’s resorted to a crowd-source fundraising site to help keep the doors open. So far, private donations raised $42,000, about $7000 shy of his goal.

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 causes the most anxiety, but he says he remains calm using lessons learned from four decades of practicing of martial arts.

Other friends in the martial arts industry have closed their doors, Waldron said, adding that he has formulated a new business model by adding personal training to his menu. He also holds online classes but acknowledges they don’t provide the same experience.

“It is very hard to connect with your students emotionally and motivate them online,” he said.

Rebecca Scanlon has been training at the academy for the past four years, and recently decided to switch from in-person to online instruction.

“It is not the same, but still effective,” she said. “I did not want to have any chance of getting, or spreading the virus.”

The pandemic has also caused significant changes for Drew Crost, a personal trainer from Windsor. Formerly he coached classes of 20, six days a week at Club Fitness. Now he’s in a home gym seeing one to two clients at a time.

“It has been a huge challenge,” he said, explaining he has far fewer clients.

Antonio Garcia, general manager of Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness in Glastonbury, said he typically saw 800 to 1,000 people a day at the facility. That number has dwindled to 200. His staff has also been reduced from 12 to three.

Classes have been cut in half and people must call to reserve a spot, Garcia added.

Eric Discko, membership and gym director at Anytime Fitness in Manchester, has also experienced cutbacks with a 30 percent reduction of clients.

Arnie Joseph, 90, a South Windsor resident who has regularly exercised since the 1970s, said that unfortunately, he could no longer go to his local gym because he was concerned about COVID-19. He had quintuple bypass heart surgery in 2019.

“I am locked up for hours and I can’t go outside and do the stuff I did,” he said. “I am sleeping more than I did before and not as energetic.”

Even though he has a treadmill, Joseph said he’s not motivated to use it because he is not around others.

Weighing the health risks of going to the gym does not come with straight answers.

“The data is decidedly mixed in terms of whether gyms are safe or not,” said Dr. Kevin D. Dieckhaus, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

He said there was some data in the spring suggesting gyms as a source of transmission. That was before masks were required in gyms. He cited another recent study that surveyed those who were infected with COVID-19 after visiting gyms and places of worship.

There has also been a study done by a trade group that owns gyms saying exercising in those facilities is safe, but he cautioned that information could be biased.

“If you are at higher risk for developing complications, it may not be the time yet to go to gyms, just like you are not going to church and restaurants,” he said.

Dieckhaus said when a person is breathing heavily through exertion they could express more of the virus into the surrounding air. Wearing a mask during intense exercise should reduce the risk, he added.

Lisa Cuchara, a professor of biomedical sciences at Quinnipiac University, agreed, citing concerns about aerosol transmission from exertion, the ineffectiveness of facemasks after they get wet from sweat, and transmission from contaminated surfaces, as reasons to not go to the gym.

“Sweat is really rich for germs in general,” she said. “The more bacteria, the more breeding ground for organisms to grow.”

When wearing masks people are more prone to touch their face, which could also cause an increased risk of transmission of the virus, especially after touching gym equipment, she added.

Discko said Anytime Fitness with branches in 11 other locations has adapted in many ways, from hosting online classes to enhancing its sanitation practices.

He explained the gym’s strict cleaning practices in this way.

“If you have dust on that surface, you can have COVID-19 on that surface,” he said. “It is time that we have to adapt.”

Garcia agreed, adding that his gym put in a new ventilation system that reduces the presence of COVID-19.

“I think we will be OK,” he said. “It is just a matter of how long we can ride this roller coaster.”

Source Article