Noel Davis opened his Old City fitness studio two months before the pandemic hit. Then she closed the space for more than a year as restrictions set in and few were comfortable with group workouts.

The personal trainer and fitness instructor had to pivot to keep her fledgling business afloat, so she started offering a variety of virtual classes.

When her studio reopened in September, people started coming back, and now she has almost as many clients as she had in the first few months of 2020.

“It’s finally starting to come back,” Davis said. “People really want to train now.”

And they want to do it in gyms and fitness studios.

Across the Philadelphia area, many gym owners say they feel like they’ve weathered the worst of the storm. They report that their memberships have rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels and customers are coming back, often with even greater vigor and motivation.

As COVID-19 cases increase in the region, all restrictions have been lifted and public fatigue around precautions such as masking remains. Like all business owners, those who operate gyms and fitness studios must decide for themselves whether to require masks or proof of vaccinations. Many have chosen not to.

“Some say a lot of members come back and it’s like nothing happened. Some wear masks because that’s what’s comfortable for them,” said Josh Leve, Founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios. Either way, “it’s the desire for social interaction and that camaraderie.”

While approximately a quarter of the country’s gyms and fitness studios did not survive the pandemiche said, those who did are now reaping the rewards of their tenacity and flexibility.

The pandemic was poised to upend the fitness industry from the start. The initial shutdown shut gyms down for months, and when they reopened restrictions were in place and the public often remained wary.

Some have never returned to the gym, having found home workouts more comfortable and convenient or having invested in expensive equipment, such as Peloton bikes.

Others have returned slowly, sometimes opting for outdoor or virtual classes now offered by many institutions.

For many, their motivation has also changed. More people, several gym owners said, are now saying they want to train for their overall mental and physical health, the importance of which has been amplified by COVID-19.

“I rarely hear, ‘I want to look like this,'” Davis said. “More people were in a summer body two years ago.”

At the Revel Ride spinning studio in the southwest of downtown, owner Jamie Promislo said she’s lost members who have their own bikes at home. But over the past month, she said, more and more of those people seem to have developed an urge to return to group classes.

“We’re starting to see more and more people who’ve bought bikes saying, ‘We’re using it as a coat rack. I can’t train at home anymore,” Promislo said.

So far, Revel Ride, which requires proof of vaccination, has about three-quarters of the members it had before COVID, she said, and each week some classes have waiting lists, that Promislo uses as a barometer to know if the studio is doing well.

The energy is also up, she added: “People are enjoying being there even more than they were before COVID.”

Such gratitude is regularly on display at the Maleek Jackson Fitness Boxing Gym at Northern Liberties. The gym is growing, Jackson said.

“People wanted a social, human connection” as society reopened, Jackson said. “People are willing to hit the gym with slight restrictions to vent their frustration.”

Business is also “booming” at The Gym by Brandon RaSean, which transitioned from group boot camp classes to personal training in September 2020.

“It was scary, but what are you going to do?” Rasean said. “Just pivot.”

It took time to win customers, he says. But once people started making New Year’s resolutions in January 2021, members applications poured in, he said, with about a dozen new people signing up per week.

Some of his clients have gained weight during the pandemic, he said, and the age range is now younger. Many wanted more of a personal experience, he said, and felt safer in Spring Garden’s more intimate environment than a big-box gym.

But even Planet Fitness has seen gains. At the end of March, the national channel had more than 16.2 million members, its highest level ever.

Meanwhile, at Bodyrock Bootcamp and Executive Training in Powelton, founder Nate Mcintyre is betting on people who want to continue combining home exercises and gym workouts.

“Imagine you finish a terrible day at work and head to the gym and you’re stuck in traffic 20 minutes from the gym and five minutes from home,” Mcintyre said. In those cases, he said, people can virtually log into classes and use the Crossfit “gym in a bag” that Mcintyre created to give its customers more flexibility.

At Royal Fitness in Barrington, Camden County, the return to the gym is part of a renewed interest in wellness.

“They not only want to be fit, they want to be healthy,” said fitness director Danielle Zacamy. “More and more people are zoned in there after going through a pandemic and maybe losing someone or getting sick themselves and maybe having some residual effects.

“I think it really scared people off,” she added.