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Can group workouts survive covid-19?

Gyms offering community-led workouts such as CrossFit and Zumba are trying to adapt to social distancing rules

Types of workouts that need to be done in a group have been severely affected by the pandemic. (Photo courtesy
Types of workouts that need to be done in a group have been severely affected by the pandemic. (Photo courtesy

Working out has been difficult for many people during the pandemic, and not just because they have been forced to stay home. Rather, not having someone to push you to perform better, to give you company or, at the very least, to guide you has been daunting. The world over, several fitness regimens depend on a community to make the workouts enjoyable and effective. Be it Zumba, where a roomful of people follow one instructor standing on a dias, or CrossFit, with its famous WODs (partner/team workouts), or even spinning, the indoor cycling class where you follow the group in working up a sweat. Each of these workouts would somehow seem dull if you were to do it all alone.

As the pandemic continues and rules of social distancing remain in place, will these group classes survive?

“We are crystal gazing right now to figure out where this might be leading. But one thing we are clear about is that it has to start from a very safe experience,” says Naresh Krishnaswamy, head, growth and business, Krishnaswamy and his team at, the brand that owns the chain of workout studios, have opened a few of the centres, and are trying out safety norms before beginning operations in the rest.

Each of the cult centres has boxes marked out for individual members; all washrooms and changing rooms have been closed; and each station now has its own set of equipment as well as hand sanitizers. Members have been asked to book classes in advance so that the team can ensure there is no crowding. The team has also scheduled breaks between classes for sanitizing.

Most workout centres, gyms and crossfit boxes are seeing a low turnout. Where there used to be about 15 people in each batch before the pandemic in the Jalandhar-based CrossFit Inquilab, there are just 9-10 now. This despite Inquilab offering a month of free membership to existing members.

“There is certainly a lot of financial stress, because we have rents to pay, and increased costs for sanitization, and fees even if we aren’t investing in new equipment. But in a place like Jalandhar, if we talk of increasing membership fees right now, it would be difficult to make them understand. So our focus right now is to make the members feel comfortable about coming for workouts,” says Vera Puri, crossfit coach at CrossFit Inquilab.

CrossFit Inquilab restarted with an outdoor workout in August. But some of its members are still not comfortable. “This is also a good time for people to try out new workouts—go back to the basics of fitness.They can now choose an activity they enjoy and do it—not necessarily go to a gym. It can be dance, it can be playing badminton or working out with weights,” says Puri.

Workouts at Inquilab and Cult have changed. But according to Krishnaswamy, the energy is the same, primarily because members are just happy to be back. “Things will change as the reset begins to set in. We will see a cross-usage of memberships. Many people, I believe, will continue to hold physical gym memberships but will also have an online subscription. That will give them the flexibility to choose on any particular day.”

Online classes have thrown up their own challenges, believes Sahana Jagannatha, a Bengaluru-based Zumba (ZIN) instructor. Jagannatha, who has turned to online teaching for her students, even for certification courses, admits it’s not the same.

“So many people have told me that they are missing the fun of group classes. Even in studios which have opened, there are probably 15 people (instead of the earlier 30-35). I guess it will take time to get used to this,” says Jagannatha, who believes that with global participation in online classes, the total class strength will remain the same.

Zumba, however, is one activity that requires a lot of space too. Movements and choreography have, therefore, been changed to make sure practitioners need minimal space. The studios have also drawn boxes for each member, so they can move roughly 2ft on each side while dancing. More importantly, dance intensity has been reduced, for Zumba can be quite taxing and makes people take deeper and quicker breaths. “While structural changes might not be required, these are inherent changes in the way workouts are done in itself,” she says.

Be it Zumba or Crossfit, or group workout classes like HIIT, spinning, etc.—these will have to change going forward. “Whether they are impressed by the changes and feel safe, or they decide to not come back to a class because they feel it’s not safe enough will decide the future of group classes for most of us,” explains Krishnaswamy.

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