With stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders in effect nationwide, quarantine and social distancing quickly has grown into a crisis that has affected millions of people. Regulations regarding social distancing have all but eradicated some businesses once thought to be highly lucrative before the pandemic spread to the US.

One of the industries that have taken a substantial hit has been fitness- and wellness-related businesses. Fitness professionals from yoga instructors to personal trainers as well as gym owners have had to resort to creative ways of retaining and recruiting their clientele, including embracing a new reality largely based in the digital space.

Though virtual fitness is not a terribly new concept, many fitness professionals have had to adapt their entire business models around the idea of offering virtual training sessions to their clients, utilizing Zoom, Apple Facetime, Google Hangouts and other video conferencing platforms.

Atlanta-based personal trainers like Austin Cheatum of Chief Cheatum Training and Justin Marcus of WebHead Fitness are two such fitness professionals that have revamped their approach to fitness training as a result of COVID-19.

“At first I was taken back but then once I accepted what the situation was, I realized it was actually a plus,” Cheatum said. “To be a trainer you don’t have to train people in person. This is a time of opportunity, not a time to feel sad and down. It’s time to go harder. 

“I’ve actually converted to a complete online training program via the Zoom app,” he continued. “We train seven days a week. It’s similar to in-person but we don’t have the weights. Yet, I’m still on them as if we were at the facility.”

Virtual training is not totally different from in-person training sessions, Cheatum explained.

“They’re still getting the same training and people are still dropping weight, it’s just all switched to an online platform,” Cheatum continued, “some people are losing motivation at this time but people just have to realize this is the time we’re in. It’s easy to turn the other way but you have to keep progressing and moving forward.”

COVID-19 has provided Cheatum with a new perspective on running his in-person training once the pandemic has settled and gyms open back up. 

“In previous in-person training sessions, I had weights involved but now I’m going to do full bodyweight HITT workouts minus the weights,” Cheatum said. “I paid attention and noticed that was one of the things missing that a lot of my clients needed. You should really get a good grasp on training with your own bodyweight before implementing actual weights.”

For Marcus, a professional football player for National Arena League originally from Macon Georgia, he considers it an advantage that the company he and his older brother founded — Webhead Fitness — has offered virtual training as an option for clients since its inception.

Webhead Fitness is an online fitness platform for to match their national network of fitness trainers with potential clients based on each client’s needs. The company has partnered with 17 trainers nationwide, located everywhere from Texas and New York to California and Washington State.

“Clients can find trainers no matter what state they live in,” Marcus said. “We virtually recruit clients to sign up with the company and meet their trainer or get trainers to sign up and bring on their own clientele. We reach out to our trainers and ask what area they are located in and what areas they specialize in, in order to make sure everybody’s needs are met.” 

“We have recently partnered with our first out of the country trainer in France and our first Canadian trainer is soon to follow,” said Marcus. 

“A lot of those clients that wanted to bulk up and build muscle questioned how they would do that without using free weights in the actual gym but we were able to reassure them that their goals could still be achieved with the high intensities of calisthenics,” Marcus said.

With so much free time on everybody’s hands, both trainers said they have taken advantage of online platforms to promote their services and products.

“I post about three times as much as I used to when social distancing wasn’t in effect,” Cheatum said. “You need to be receptive. People are more willing to interact at this time. I would advise personal trainers everywhere to be on as many platforms as possible.”

Without a doubt the well being of his clients is paramount, Cheatum said. A lot more self-discipline and awareness come into play when you’re not meeting with your trainer face-to-face every day, he explained. 

“I’m always on my clients but I reach out to the ones I feel need to be reached out to the most,” Cheatum said. “If they need that extra push, I’m there. I’ll send them their old before and after pictures from a while back so they realize we don’t want to go all the way back there. We want to keep progressing. I’m keeping them woke!”

The name of the game is for his clients to ultimately emerge from the quarantine looking better and more fit than they did before it began, Marcus said. 

“For those clients that don’t have a trainer or want to step into fitness we offer our free Instagram live workouts every Friday called #QuarantineLean; that’s our motto during this crisis,” he said.

Austin Cheatum, owner of Chief Cheatum Fitness, has turned to virtual training to offset losses due to shelter-in-place orders that have affected his business. (Photo: Chief Cheatum Fitness)

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