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Recreating a Sense of Community at Your Gym

recreating a sense of community

As countries worldwide are easing out of lockdown, fitness businesses are beginning to open back up. For the gyms and studios that have already been given the green light reopen, they’re far from running business as usual. Strict new health and safety guidelines are in place, meaning limited class sizes, social distancing, and extra time for deep-cleaning. Everything about running a fitness business is now very different from how it was before COVID-19. 

When you reopen your fitness business, the atmosphere and experience will be different, for both you as a business owner, and your members. But just like the fitness industry adapted to online workouts, you can adjust to these new circumstances and recreate the same sense of community that has kept your members loyal this long.

In this article, we’ll look at 6 areas to focus your efforts on to help you do this, along with a few examples of fitness brands that are leading the way with how they’re bringing their communities together.

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The Member Experience: More Than a Workout

A lot has changed in recent months, and when your fitness business reopens, this ‘new normal’ will take some getting used to, especially for your members. But adjusting to challenging circumstances is no longer a new experience for anyone. 

COVID-19 swept in suddenly, forcing the world into lockdown. Gym owners were forced to adapt to online workouts to ensure their businesses would survive as people were no longer able to leave their homes. Yet, despite the shock and uncertainty, this new way of life became normal in a matter of weeks. 

And it’s important to remember that boutique gyms and studios have always provided members with more than a workout alone – they offer a unique experience and an equally unique sense of community. While this has been true long before COVID-19, it’s this sense of community that has kept members loyal throughout lockdown. 

By pivoting to online services, studios have been providing their members with structure, fitness, a sense of community, and socializing when they’ve needed it most. Members have been training in a group setting with the same support network of like-minded people and fitness professionals that they always have. Even with the sudden transition to online fitness, everyone in the class is in it together, just as they would be in the studio. 

If you moved your offering and members online during the lockdown, you recreated a sense of community – virtually. When your doors reopen, you’ll need to do this again to deliver an exceptional experience for the ‘new normal,’ You’ll need a different approach because:

  • The sense of community at your physical studio will be different from the one you had before COVID-19. 
  • It will also be different from the one that you’ve created online. 

Things are not the way they used to be – and they won’t be going back that way for some time. And much like the future of fitness, your new sense of community will involve both your physical and online community. 

So how can you adapt to this new normal to recreate a sense of community at your studio?

How to Recreate a Sense of Community at Your Gym 

You’ll need to focus on two main areas to get that sense of community back in full swing at your gym. These are how you encourage members to comminate and reconnect with each other and how your business communicates with them.

Encourage Open Communication

Fitness business owners need a mindset shift to support their communities both at home and in the studio. A considerable part of this comes down to how you get your members connecting with and supporting each other again. 

As you welcome members back into the studio, it’s crucial that you over-communicate with them to keep them accountable and get them engaging with each other again. Capacity and classes may be limited, but they’re back in the game, and they’re in it together.

At the end of an onsite class, do what you usually would – tell everyone they’ve done a great job and that you’re there to answer any questions they have, or even just for a catch-up. For the time being, new safety procedures will likely mean your members need to leave straight after class, but they should know you and your team are only ever a phone call away. For online members, use your various chat groups to keep them engaged and encourage people to communicate with others in the group.

You’ll likely find that you have some members come back to the studio when you reopen, but some will stick to their online workouts. You need to find a way to bring these two groups of people together. Get into the habit of posting in your groups after class and sharing updates from your in-studio and online classes.

Remember that whether at home or the studio – your members are all like-minded people, and they’re invested in your business. They know you, your trainers, your gym culture and each other. It’s time to bring all of this back together for them. 

Run a ‘Welcome Back’ Fitness Challenge 

Fitness challenges are a great way to recreate a sense of community at your studio and motivate members with some healthy competition. 

You can run the same challenge for both your online and onsite members. It can be something simple to warm everyone back up into the community spirit, like a 30-day squat challenge: 30 squats, for 30 days in a row. Finish up your onsite class by asking everyone to complete their squats for the day and share the video with your online community. 

If you’ve run a challenge in the past that members enjoyed, now is the time to bring it back. You can use it as a way to celebrate your reopening, and if it’s something that got them excited before, it’s a great way to get everyone’s spirits up and bring them together again.

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Give Back to Your Local Community 

Bring members together to support a cause or charity in your local community. Make the most out of your social media channels to engage members and get inspiration from them. Ask your community what kind of cause they’d like to support and ways that your studio can provide them with an opportunity to do it. 

Again, this can involve your onsite and online members. Think along the lines of running a themed class where you can live stream the event from your studio and have online members join in too. You could ask for a participation fee that you donate to the cause, or set up a donation page like Just Giving, and encourage members to share the page with their friends and family. 

Bring your members together for a reason outside of working out is a simple way to recreate a sense of community. It’s a reason to have fun and socialize – and it’s for a worthy cause. When everyone’s working toward the same goal, they’re more likely to keep going and encourage each other to do the same. 

Start an Outdoor Bootcamp

As fitness businesses reopen, the ‘new normal’ will mean going to the gym could feel a lot more restricting than it used to. There will be fewer people around, and the building staff will be wearing personal protective equipment like face masks and rubber gloves. No more ‘buddy up’ exercises, no more sweaty high fives at the end.

While it’s true, your members will adjust to this; an outdoor Bootcamp is a great way to help them feel more comfortable when working out and ease them back into a routine together. There’s more space and fewer surfaces and touchpoints when you’re outside, so it can help take the pressure off and make members feel more relaxed. 

Keep Your Brand Voice Positive

While we ease out of lockdown, people are living their lives differently. Before this was the norm, your studio was likely a happy and positive space for your members to be in, and you must emphasize this now. Keep your tone as it always has been in all of your messaging; motivating, upbeat, and positive. 

BASE gyms in Bangkok is an excellent example of delivering this message. In a recent episode of our podcast, we spoke with the owner, Jack Thomas, who is focused on continuing to deliver a message of positivity to the BASE community:

“We really wanted to make sure that BASE was a center of positivity. And that’s been one of our values since day one – we are a center of positivity. It’s important to continue that with something like this happening.”

Things are looking up, but there’s still a lot of negative messaging out there. Like BASE, you should make your studio a voice of positivity in these uncertain times. 

Another great example of a brand doing this well right now is Orangetheory Fitness. The franchise has a dedicated page for all things COVID-19 on its website, including an outline of new health and safety protocols and reopening updates for its independent studios. 

But what stands out with the Orangetheory’s messaging is its positivity. The video below shows how studios will be operating amid Coronavirus, but the tone clearly intends to get members excited. 

The video is both motivational and reassuring to members, and these qualities should be the foundation for messaging for your studio. 

Keep Your Community Updated

It’s important to remember that while positive messaging is vital for your business right now, you still need to be transparent with what’s happening at your studio. Circumstances may quickly change while you’re running a business in a COVID-19 climate, and members will want your studio to keep them in the loop. The positive messaging is all to do with how you convey any updates or any changes.

When COVID-19 first became a serious cause for concern in Thailand, BASE owner Jack Thomas made transparent communication a top priority for his business alongside keeping the tone positive.

“The first thing we had to do was just completely and transparently communicate to all of our customers exactly what was going on.” 

Transparency has also been a key focus for Brittany Welk, owner of Ladystrong Fitness.

“As things were changing, we were updating them via text, and we were updating via email. We have a Facebook group page on Facebook we were updating them on. It was constant communication.”

Regularly sending transparent updates and communication to members will keep them reassured that they are safe when visiting your studio.

In Summary 

Your members had to adjust to living in lockdown and making the most of your studio – virtually. They’ll also adapt to this ‘new normal’ studio experience, one that likely involves a hybrid of working out with you in person and at home. But to recreate a sense of community, you need to focus on bringing the whole community together and getting them excited for the comeback. 

At home or at the studio, you and your members are still in this together.

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