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The way we operate following the industry shutdown will not be ‘business as usual’. We must identify exactly what makes people choose a live fitness experience over a virtual one and do everything we can to deliver it, writes Group Exercise Manager Leisl Klaebe. 


In isolation at home, managing my teams remotely, I do what I can to help keep everyone together, even though we’re physically apart. While negotiating the challenges of our new day-to-day ‘normal’, I am also firmly focused on the days beyond COVID-19 shutdown. Everything will look, and operate, at least a little differently following these troubled days. 


First and foremost, this is about heart. Our return to physical operations must be heartfelt. How we come back into our clubs is key. This pandemic will change the way we work and live. It will change member expectations and needs. The fitness industry that re-emerges needs to anticipate this change and be ready to deliver. 


Group exercise managers, instructors and PTs that conduct group training workouts should be researching what those member expectations will be, with one main question front of mind: what makes members choose a live group experience over a virtual one? 


There are not many people in the fitness industry who are in it just for the money. Most of us are in it for the people. Our ‘why’ is to help people live better lives and feel better about themselves, mentally and physically. Most of us are ‘people people’, and people are our main game – the people we work with and for, and the people we serve. 


Basic tribal behaviour means that we all want, and need, to belong to a group or a tribe of like-minded people. Members are going to need to physically come together in our clubs, our group exercise classes, our personal training sessions and our workouts, more than ever once this is over. 


Our online workouts, streamed live classes and virtual one-on-one training are filling a void right now, but people are missing the full fitness experience they are used to having in our clubs. We must identify exactly what it is they are missing, so that we can deliver it in spades when we re-open. My own research shows that people are missing ‘the people factor’ of connection, community and group energy – as well as the variety of equipment only facilities can offer and coaching that pushes them harder than they are able to do at home. 


There must be heart in how we deliver post COVID-19 fitness: compassion, understanding, gentleness and permission. We need to be genuine, honest, caring and considerate. Connections between staff, members, clients and trainers must be real and meaningful, and we will need to place more consideration on the factors of physical touch, eye contact, humour and being authentically present for those we interact with. 


It is likely that many people, having pent up energy, stress and frustration, will want to come back hard and fast in a bid to return to their previous ‘normality’. But will they be capable of that, both emotionally and physically? The desires of members, clients and fitness professionals may be aligned – to train hard and socialise in order to regain fitness losses and reconnect with their tribe – but coming back to classes or training too intensely, is not ideal for anyone. 


Instructors, coaches and trainers need to look after and pace themselves while also encouraging members, participants and clients to do the same. We need to role model this behaviour by listening to our bodies, setting SMART goals and timelines, and taking one step at a time towards our previous fitness levels. 


Life and work post-COVID -19 is about people taking care of people. Our ‘why’ will not have changed, but how we deliver it already has. 



Leisl Klaebe 

Leisl ithe Group Exercise Manager of three Virgin Active clubs in the Sydney CBD. She manages a timetable of over 400 classes a week and a team of over 70 GEX coaches. With close to 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, Leisl is a well-respected motivational leader and a former recipient of the prestigious Virgin Star Award. She has recently been appointed Global Ambassador for the Women in Fitness Association.


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