When the COVID-19 pandemic hit over two years ago, gym owners wondered what the future would look like.

Get Fit NH owner Meagan Baron was in a particularly difficult position as she realized early on in the pandemic that her business, in its current state, would struggle to rebound.

Baron, owner of the Concord club for six years, could not safely reopen his group training. His space was only 400 square feet, which didn’t make him big enough to adequately distance his limbs.

She decided to take a huge leap forward, despite only offering online and recorded courses at the time and saw her membership drop to 226 from 277 before the pandemic. She moved into a 10,000 square foot space equipped with huge garage doors at both ends for good air circulation.

“The move was definitely a blessing in disguise,” Baron explained. “It’s been one of those rare silver linings (during the pandemic). I look at space now and wonder how I was able to operate before.

In just 1.5 years in the new location, Get Fit NH’s membership has steadily increased and is now over 300.

With the extra space, Baron is now able to offer its growing membership services like physiotherapy and a dietician.

Its growth coincides with a national trend that has seen gym visits increase over the past 12 months. Hampton-based national chain Planet Fitness was at 97% of pre-pandemic membership levels, with more than 15.5 million members nationwide, according to a November CNBC interview with CEO Chris Rondeau. At many other gyms – like Get Fit NH – membership has surpassed pre-pandemic days.

“(Three hundred members) was my goal when I got into this business,” Baron said. “I’ve just been cleaning this up for the last three months. And I still see steady growth.

People are tired of online workout options so they choose to search gym communities and open new memberships. All of this has led to an increase in gym memberships nationwide, according to an analysis of data from Placer Lab, a software company that uses foot traffic to decipher trends. The report revealed that in the fourth quarter of 2021, there was a 2.5% increase in membership compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, just before the start of the pandemic.

The new larger space at Get Fit NH has allowed members like Kate Fox to come back and be part of the gym community again.

As the world began to change in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, Fox’s life also took a turn when she was tasked with the enormous task of caring for her elderly mother while continuing to work. full time. More than ever, she needed Get Fit NH, of which she has been a member for 11 years.

“I missed the togetherness. I missed the exercise,” said Fox, 62, who now lives in northern Vermont but still visits Concord and Get Fit NH a few days a week.

Baron thinks more and more people are coming back to the gym for more than physical training. She noted that the pandemic has taken a mental toll on many – the mental release from a workout or camaraderie is as important as a toned or muscular body.

“People come here for their emotional and mental health as much as their physical health,” she said. “There’s more emphasis on that in gyms, more than ever. I’ve said throughout our shutdown: people need people.

The same desire has new members reaching out.

“I think the pressure for people to start something stemmed more from mental and emotional stress than from their physical health,” Baron said. “It’s a very rewarding feeling (as a gym owner) for sure.”

The River Valley Club in Lebanon has not reached its pre-pandemic numbers. The club currently has just over 1,700 members, up from 3,000 at the end of January 2020. Still, owner Elizabeth Asch believes her business is moving in the right direction thanks to changes at the club since March 2020.

The club has built an outdoor area for training and lessons, now offers free memberships to people aged 90 and over and, like most clubs, has been adamant about cleanliness.

“We turned over every stone to think about what we can do. It was really about staying in business,” Asch said. “People wanted to train. I wanted to show the community that we are committed to growing even in difficult times, in order to meet their needs.

This was evident during the club’s four-month closure at the start of the pandemic when employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center – which is across the street from the River Valley Club – received free membership including online and live classes . A few hundred members joined in the first two days, and many continued their membership after the four months.

Asch has also started collaborating with other club owners – unheard of before the pandemic – to share ideas and initiatives to help everyone thrive.

“I think we’re better than ever,” Asch said, “because we’re listening more and because we’re more involved in the community.”

Jamie and Kristen Brause opened their unique New London fitness studio, Hungry Hearts Gym + Kitchen, at just the right time.

The couple moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts to give the community a place where they can work out and learn the importance of healthy eating with on-site nutrition, cooking classes and on-the-go meals. .

The idea met with enormous success. Hungry Hearts eclipsed 100 members in the first three months after opening in August 2021, coinciding with the national trend of increased gym visits. The gymnasium currently has 130 members.

“Our membership has grown steadily since day one and it hasn’t been any different in recent months,” said Kristen Brause, who is responsible for the nutrition side of the business. “We continue to see more and more walk-ins, scheduled consultations and new members. There hasn’t been a week in the last two months that we haven’t welcomed several new members.

Brause agrees with trends and surveys that people just want to get back to the gym, caring less about masks and COVID policies. Thanks to vaccines and the clubs’ focus on cleanliness, members can focus on their health.

“I think part of the continued increase is because the first questions people ask are no longer ‘What are your policies on masks and vaccines?’ but rather ‘What is your philosophy and approach and how can you help me achieve my goals?’ Brause said. “We can now discuss directly what we are doing here and how we can help.”

People now base their decision to join Hungry Hearts on what Hungry Hearts offers. While health and cleanliness are still a priority, it’s nice to be able to focus on basic services again, Brause said.

“That was one of the hardest parts of opening our business when we did that,” she said.

This article is shared by the partners of the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.