Fitness studios struggle to survive under COVID-19 restrictions
Restaurants, schools, and sports teams are a few of the most-impacted activities from the statewide Safe Start rules that govern the phased opening of counties in Washington. However, the more overlooked industries ravaged by the measures include a variety of fitness studios, which require some amount of physical contact for ideal instruction.
Sammamish is dotted with several facilities, such as martial arts schools and yoga studios, all working to adhere to the current pandemic restrictions while continuing to offer their unique services to the community.
One such facility is True Martial Arts (TMA), a taekwondo school located in Pine Lake Village and owned by Skyler Zoppi and his wife, Angie. They were forced to quickly adapt from traditional indoor training classes to live virtual classes from home when the lockdown first began in King County.
“Back in March, we pivoted from a one-hundred percent in-person taught curriculum to teaching online live classes and offering on-demand classes and video curriculum instruction in a matter of days,” Zoppi said.
TMA has varied it up since then. As of today, they offer a mixture of in-person training, classes on Zoom, one-on-one video conferences, and on-demand video classes for personal review, as well as in-person private lessons.
While TMA continues with the majority of their traditional curriculum, many close-contact self-defense techniques such as mixed martial arts (MMA), sparring and ground fighting have been temporarily suspended.
Because of such changes, students now focus on theory and refining correct technique rather than actually putting the theory and technique into practice, according to Zoppi. These changes do take away from the learning experience, but they are a necessity for continuing the business during COVID-19.
A neighboring karate school in Pine Lake Village, United Studios of Self Defense (USSD), has experienced similar challenges and has applied similar solutions, including the sudden transition to online learning after the lockdown. For Robert Blatt, the Chief Instructor of USSD, the transition has not been easy, especially when teaching five-year-old students through a digital screen. To learn the techniques well requires physical contact.
“Are they getting the training? Yes,” Blatt said. “Is it the best training I could possibly give them? Absolutely not.”
Due to the challenges of remote learning and persistent fear of COVID-19, Blatt lost about half of his student base during the tough, initial months of the pandemic.
However, when Phase 1.5 reopening began in June, Blatt was finally allowed to teach private lessons in the studio. Many of Blatt’s students began to return, with 80% training in-person. The remaining 20% continue to train online.
Despite the return of in-person training, Blatt admits the experience is not the same. State regulations require at least 6 feet of distance between all persons while in the building. This means Blatt cannot properly correct his students’ techniques with his own hands. Small but important details get overlooked. All instruction is verbal for an innately physical discipline.
Perhaps the biggest loss is the fact that none of his students can spar with each other.
“You can know all the punches and kicks in the world, and you can be amazing at them,” Blatt said. “If you’re not used to having punches and kicks thrown at you and you’re not used to throwing punches and kicks back, it means jack diddly.”
The lack of physical contact between partners has even put a halt to testing for the high-ranked students, since Blatt believes they need to be able to demonstrate their sparring skills before earning their next rank. For now, Blatt is teaching the next-level material, but is waiting for restrictions to ease before restarting official tests and promoting higher-ranked students.
“Testing is supposed to be emotional. You’re supposed to feel that sense of pride,” Blatt said. “I’m not gonna cheat someone who’s going for a high rank who’s been working for years, just because they can’t spar.”
For Hot Yoga Experience in the Sammamish Highlands shopping center, the going has been tough. Despite all King County fitness studios working under the same COVID-19 regulations, their limited space does not align with the current regulations. According to state rules, 300 square feet of space needs to be created for each client. That amount of space is simply not available.
“I could fit two people into the room and I wouldn’t even pay for the instructor to be there,” Danielle Miller, the manager of Hot Yoga Experience, said.
As an alternative to in-person classes, Hot Yoga Experience has turned to 100% virtual classes and pre-recorded videos for members to utilize at home. However, there is no equal substitute for in-person training. Miller points out that there are several components of a hot yoga session that cannot be replicated at home, such as group camaraderie and the namesake heat. The most important component missing from virtual classes is the personal “me-time” that a studio session provides.
“When you’re at the yoga studio taking a hot class, you are completely free of distractions for an hour,” Miller said. “Whereas at home, the kids will bother you, your phone will start ringing, the laundry goes off, the dog will come over and lick your face…There’s a lot more distraction at home that would interrupt your practice or your kind of personal time.”
Despite these challenges, Miller encourages everyone to try to find some sort of personal care in any shape or form that they are comfortable with. She points out that not only can we reduce stress through regular exercise, but a healthier and stronger body also has a better chance of outlasting viral illnesses.
“Hopefully everyone can just take time to themselves and to figure out what helps them through this,” Miller said. “Whatever that takes, it’s what we all need.”