On a sunny morning in Martinborough, I’m on my deck and being taken through a zoom workout by my personal trainer Mish McCormack.
She’s just wrapped up a group workout with close to 50 gym members, who were able to interact with the trainer and each other during the session over zoom.
Workouts weren’t the only way members stayed connected; there was a Saturday night live cooking class over zoom, and a chance for people to catch up over bubbles or kombucha or a glass of water.
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“We had a social catch up just to check in on people during this time and see how they’re doing, because that is the culture we have tried to create,” says McCormack who, with husband Greig Rightford, is a director of Healthfit Collective gyms in Martinborough and Wellington.
The rise of the gym community is not new but a shift in thinking about gyms as a place of wellness – mental, and physical – rather than just where you go to pound the treadmill, has been accelerated by Covid. Their classes include nutrition, sleep and hydration, and not just workouts, says McCormack.
“Our focus is all about creating a community and focusing on all the lifestyle factors, because the fact is, outside of the gym, that’s where you live 99 percent of your life; if you’re not sleeping well, if you’re not eating well, or hydrated, and dealing with your stresses then going to the gym [can only do so much], says Rightford.
”It’s about exercise as medicine”, adds McCormack.
But while online and on-demand workouts have taken off in the pandemic era, they don’t look set to replace gyms anytime soon. Since Covid, membership has soared by100 per cent at their Martinborough gym, say the couple.
Part of that is due to more people working from home, and also travelling less overseas. But it’s also about that change in priorities when it comes to fitness, says Rightford.
“What’s happened since the pandemic is it’s actually producing a new type of behaviour for people,” says Rightford. “A lot more people see exercise as fundamental to their mental health.”
It’s vindicated their decision to open another gym down the road in Greytown, even though others might have viewed it as a huge gamble at the time. They signed the lease after the first big lockdown in 2020, after gyms had been closed for weeks, and no one knew what the future held.
But they saw the opportunity to open a gym in the heart of a new medical hub in the town as too good to pass up; it fits with their view of fitness and working out being a prescription for wellness, the couple say.
Les Mills head of fitness Ish Cheyne sees the same desire for wellness among their clients.
“Traditionally people joined the gym because they wanted shape change; to be bigger, or smaller, or to tone up – that was the focus.
“There’s a real shift now towards health and wellbeing and mindfulness…which is influencing the way people are choosing to exercise and even how they are exercising.
“Exercise is medicine…is the real shift, as opposed to ‘exercise will make me look better’. That is driving some of the innovation in the fitness industry around the wellness space.”
Workouts on demand are one of the most obvious shifts; at Les Mills there has been a focus on making group fitness classes available online so people can workout where and when they need to.
HealthFit LIVE – Fitness anywhere
Step away from your desk: Personal trainer Mish McCormack runs through a 10-minute home workout for those of us who have been stuck working from home during lockdown.
But the surprise after the first Covid outbreak was the speed with which members flocked back to the gym.
“People came back because as much as you can exercise at home, people want that group interaction, motivation, and connection and community that you just can’t get on your own.”
That desire for connection and community helped drive a change in the way Les Mills responded to this most recent lockdown, with clubs keeping in touch with their members through smaller Facebook groups.
” Its kind of different to what we did in the last lockdown, when we partnered with TVNZ,” says Cheyne.
“This time individual clubs had community Facebook pages for those clubs… so rather than one instructor delivering classes to every club, we’ve gone to local instructors delivering local classes to local members. “That’s created a really strong community…there is a real feel and connection with the instructor, so that is something we would look to continue after this.”