In March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic was just taking hold of Northern Virginia and nonessential businesses were ordered to close, Kat Zajac wasn’t sure if her Del Ray spin studio would survive. Even when businesses were allowed to reopen in limited capacity, it wasn’t a financially tenable situation for the owner of Ascend Cycle.
“With social distancing guidelines, we could only have four bikes in the studio,” explains Zajac. It was hardly a sustainable business model.
Rather than become yet another economic victim of the pandemic, Zajac did what many fellow business owners and entrepreneurs did during the unprecedented time. She—to use popular pandemic parlance—pivoted.
Her landlord happened to also own a garage space down the street. Zajac outfitted it with spin bikes, put safety protocols in place (temperature checks, proper spacing between bikes and thorough cleanings before and after each class) and—to appease neighbors who weren’t happy with loud music coming from the new garage studio—rebranded the headphones needed to hear the instructor and music as a “disco” session. And voila, a popular new spin class (with 15 total bikes in the open air as opposed to just four inside) was born.
The reimagined COVID-safe classes have allowed the spin studio entrepreneur to stay in business over the past year.
“I think there continues to be grief and loss. You work so hard to build your business, and it’s ripped out of your hands overnight. But on the flip side, there was the opportunity to innovate and pivot. That shows the power of the community.”
With safety protocols in place, many of the national fitness chains have reopened. Places like Gold’s Gym and Life Time Fitness have welcomed fitness buffs back inside to work out—with masks on.
But if you’ve spent the past year pedaling in your basement or streaming yoga classes on your family room floor, you’re not alone. As gyms shuttered at the beginning of the pandemic, people were quick to invest in home gym purchases.
According to NPD Group, a data analysis firm with a satellite office in Reston, health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled during the pandemic and continues to be a financial bright spot for investors. One of the most well-known home exercise companies, Peloton, saw its stock price go up by 400 percent in the latter half of 2020.
However, futurist Robert Moran says, the social element of working out in a group means that eventually, the popularity of gyms will make a return. We won’t all be working out in our basements forever.
“People still want to get out of the house,” he says. “Gyms reinvent themselves.”
Just look at Zajac’s Ascend Cycle. As the Del Ray spin studio waits for the vaccine to be distributed widely, she continues to teach classes in the open-air garage down the street from her indoor studio.
“Luckily for us, there will always be people who prefer to work out in a group and outside the home,” she says. “I’ve been so happy to see our community show up during this time.”
She has plans to likely keep that garage space, to welcome cyclists back into the indoor studio and to reimagine the indoor space with room for strength training, not just wall-to-wall bikes.
That’s reinvention, something everyone—from elementary school teachers to CEOs—has had to do over the past year.
“It’s something you never would have expected to happen,” Zajac says. “I think there continues to be grief and loss. You work so hard to build your business, and it’s ripped out of your hands overnight. But on the flip side, there was the opportunity to innovate and pivot. That shows the power of the community.”
And maybe that community will show up for a wild party once this is all over.
After the Pandemic
- What will change: The rise of at-home gyms (think Peloton, Tonal) is here to stay. Outdoor workouts will remain popular.
- What will return to normal: Exercise buffs will return to the gym in search of community and group exercise.