Marcia Mahoney has been a member of the Lansing YMCA for five years and works faithfully at the Westside location three times a week.
So when COVID-19 hit, she had to get creative.
During the height of the pandemic, Mahoney kept up with her fitness routine by cycling outside and using calisthenics equipment at Sharp Park in Waverly. Still, when the YMCA reopened last year, she was glad to be back.
“I just like being around people,” she said. “I train better when I’m with people.”
Gyms have been among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, in part due to members investing in at-home equipment or learning to exercise in isolation — some for good. And while many, like Mahoney, are eagerly returning to gyms, many places are still not seeing the membership numbers they had before March 2020.
Sweat with support
For some who returned to gyms in person, the decision was based on atmosphere and camaraderie as much as equipment.
“If they were able to purchase specific equipment and explore other options, I think there’s a segment of people who have made that transition,” said Casey Thompson, president and CEO of Metropolitan’s YMCA. Lansing. “But some people tried to train at home. They bought the treadmill. They bought the Peloton bike, but what they really missed was that camaraderie and that community.”
The Firefly Hot Yoga Barre studio in downtown Lansing has noticed similar trends.
“We’re starting to see a lot more people coming out, and new people who haven’t even tried yoga,” owner Abbey Weston said. “I think there’s a lot of people out there who really have mental health issues, and it’s nice to have the support of a community…just to be able to share a space with a stranger, or a stranger who becomes my friend and support system.”
For some members, the virtual options are not the same
The YMCA didn’t offer any virtual programs before the pandemic, but instructors quickly created an online video library to help members take home fitness classes.
This library still exists, but fewer people use it now. The YMCA also does not add new content.
“What we found talking to members was that some of them used it, but they were willing to come back and actually be in the class with the instructors they liked,” said Thompson. “For a lot of our people, it wasn’t about fitness. It was about being engaged, being with their friends and the Y being part of their family.
Firefly has also jumped into virtual classes, and while that worked for a while, Weston said offering something in person was important to his community. Thus, for two summers, the studio has found a way to offer outdoor classes.
“It was a really good option for people who were still hesitant to come back to the studio even after we opened,” she said. “But people were so grateful to be in class…it’s the energy exchange, you just can’t do that at home.”
New Perspectives on Health and Wellness
Right now, people coming to the gym have a wide range of goals, Thompson said. There are those who have maintained their fitness routine for the past two years and are ready to pick up where they left off, and others who have not been physically active and need to rebuild. their stamina.
There is also a large group of people who are discovering a fitness routine.
“They have new thinking about health and wellness after having to live through a pandemic,” she said. “So they come for the first time to try to get information and see what kind of offer the YMCA has.”
After two years of inactivity, Maddi Meredith and Antione Hall joined the YMCA together.
“We were really sitting around the house playing video games, watching movies,” Hall said. “We just want to be active, because it’s been a while.”
Meredith said joining the gym isn’t just about developing a fitness routine, it’s about finding new ways to spend time together.
“We wanted to have a purpose together,” Meredith said.
Rush hours and off hours
Although many people are eager to get back to the gym, peak times have changed in recent years. Things are gradually returning to more traditional hours — before and after work — but Thompson noticed a difference in the distribution of foot traffic at the YMCA.
“We have a bit of a rush in the morning, but not as early as before,” Thompson said.
The first demographic to return to regular hours were seniors, Thompson said.
“Some of them faced social isolation,” she said. “They’re housebound…so our senior classes are going extremely well.”
Basketball has also drawn many middle and high school students to the YMCA.
“There’s really been a lack of access to courts to be able to play basketball in the community,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of teenagers who like to come in and specifically shoot hoops.”
Still, it has been a trickle rather than a rush.
“Month after month we get a little more traffic in the building,” Thompson said.
Firefly is only doing about 50% of its business before the pandemic, in part because of how people’s schedules have changed.
“Before, we had people downtown, and they could just walk for lunch, or they would already go to work, so they would do their morning workout and then go to work,” Weston said. “While half of our base is kind of gone.”
A long journey home
Firefly’s downtown location puts the studio in a tough spot, Weston said. Some of his former customers do not return to the city center because they find it too complicated, especially to park.
“It would be one thing if we had access to free parking, but we don’t…people don’t go [pay for parking] when they have no reason to be downtown,” she said. “If we could do something to alleviate the parking fiasco…maybe we could get more people to come over there.”
She hopes that as everyone — including downtown residents — finds a new normal, people will come back to the studio on a regular basis.
“Downtown is going to be different in the next two years,” she said. “And the trend is up.”
Staffing is one of the biggest challenges facing the YMCA. Although there is a demand for more family swimming hours and extra lessons, there are not the staff to make them work.
“As soon as we can increase staff, that means we can have more amenities in the facility, more program offerings,” Thompson said. “Although this is taking much longer than expected, we are committed to making it a priority for us.”
Thompson expects it to take three to five years for the YMCA to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic.
“Month to month we’re seeing more usage, more sales, more people coming in, but I really believe it’s going to be a three to five year recovery plan for the YMCA, not just for collect membership units. where we were, but to get back to where we were in terms of revenue and fully expand.”
Contact reporter Elena Durnbaugh at (517) 231-9501 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.