COVID-19 has never been just a health crisis. Not long after the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, stock market volatility began. As seemingly uncontrollable outbreaks sprang up across the globe and the World Health Organization labeled the disease a pandemic, events were canceled, public spaces were closed, schools were shuttered, and businesses of all kinds were banned from opening as the the term “social distancing” entered the public consciousnesses in a matter of a couple short weeks. . All of these abrupt changes led to immense financial losses for companies, which led to mass layoffs. One of the industries that was hit hard is the fitness world, especially gyms and boutique classes with their hands-on adjustments, dark, dense chambers and shared equipment.
At first, workout fiends were continuing to trek to gyms to get their sweat on. Studios tried putting out extra bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to keep everyone safe. But one by one, they began shutting their doors, until eventually, they were ordered to close by governors.
Take [solidcore], a Pilates reformer workout, for example. On Monday, March 16, not even a week after members received an email outlining the studios’ enhanced hygiene measures, it was announced that all 72 [solidcore] studios nationwide would close the following day. That Thursday, March 19, founder and CEO Anne Mahlum sent another email to share that due to the studio closures, she’d laid off 98% of her workforce.
“I have always promised my team that I would take care of them. And while I’m aware that it may not appear that way right now, it is evident that making this decision is our only chance to be standing at the end of this so that our people have a job to come back to,” Mahlum wrote. She explained she’d be retaining 13 employees, who were taking “very reduced salaries.” In addition, she would forgo her own salary and give her team one last full paycheck and an additional stipend. A story similar to the one at [solidcore] has played out at other fitness studios too, including FlyWheel and Boston Sports Club.
Refinery29 reached out to [solidcore] coach and fitness professional Amanda Margusity to ask her what it’s like being a fitness trainer right now, and what she expects in the future.
Refinery29: So tell me — how did you receive the news of the layoffs? What was your reaction?
Amanda Margusity: “I understand where they were coming from. It was a hard decision they had to make, and the owner did it with grace and compassion. She reached out to all of the staff — before the doors even closed, we were in close communication with the owner. She took the time to have Zoom meetings to say, ‘I’m here for you,’ and ‘Here’s our action plan.’
“This is a very uncertain situation we’re in. It’s fluid, changing by the hour. It’s unfortunate that they had to lay off so many people, but how the news was given to us was done in such a kind way. She was very transparent with the situation. And she did it for the future of the company, so hopefully we can have our jobs to come back to.”
I was browsing r/TalesFromYourServer on Reddit, and it seems like some restaurants are doing the same thing — laying off workers so they can file for unemployment, with the understanding that they will be rehired when the restaurants open. Was what happened at [solidcore] the same type of situation?
“I’m an independent contractor, so it’ll be up to the state government to determine if I can receive unemployment. It’s a grey area for all coaches. But [solidcore] did inform us as coaches that we didn't have to audition again when we are allowed back into the studios, which is a huge relief.
“They have been nothing but supportive throughout the entire process. The founder gave us her phone number and said to call or text if we need anything, and when I have reached out she’s been very responsive.
“I work for four studios and [solidcore] was the most communicative. From the start [solidcore] was like, ‘What can we do for you?’ Anne [Mahlum, the founder and CEO] mentioned in her email that she’s not taking a salary, and she’s compensating us — even though we’re not on staff, she’s making sure we’re compensated for the time being.”
So it sounds like getting the news was not a surprise, really. You knew it was coming.
“This was not a shock to me. Beyond how [solidcore] handled it, just personally… I come from a real estate family, and when the 2008 recession hit, that was a light bulb moment for everyone in my family. The message we took from that was: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
“So I invested a lot of time growing my business for a situation like this. And I’ve been preparing for this specific situation for about a month.
““As soon as it looked like studios could close, I started picking up as many subs as I could, just to create a smart cushion of extra cash. Google became my best friend. I googled online training platforms to find one that was inexpensive and could offer my clients what they needed. Then I brainstormed how I could roll out that platform. Twenty percent of my clients are not millennials and are unfamiliar with the idea of online training, so I had to figure out how to execute it. For a few of them, I actually sat down with them to walk them through how to download and use.
“Then I just started taking it day by day. It’s been a roller coaster.
“I haven’t talked to many studio managers, but I think unfortunately they may have been less prepared personally for what happened. Myself and so many trainers are lucky because we had our hands in many entities which we can turn to for help but the studio managers dedicated all their time to one studio. I know when I was a studio manager I felt my position was stable but really we have no idea what happens if our studio doors close. This situation in particular isn't like being laid off because a studio wasn't making a profit. This was a government mandated decision, which — who even knew that would ever happen. The situation started with two weeks being closed to now they are estimating 45 days until maybe the studios in NYC will open again.
“And while in some ways I was prepared for this, I also don’t think anyone — including myself — was really prepared for this, if you know what I mean? It’s still a shock. But we have to keep going.”
What do you think is going to happen in the coming days and weeks?
“I think, in my opinion: Last week was the largest interrupted week for people. I think this and next week, people will start developing their routines.
“I’m focusing on being patient and kind. I love my clients. I’m checking in with them but not just to train them, to ask them how they’re doing mentally.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this in our lives. It’s a huge opportunity for people. You have two choices: stay under the covers and let fear lead you or show up and create. What can you do next to support your career? Like, I asked one client whose career is on hold right now, ‘How are your social media skills? Maybe you can take a free social media class, and learn a new skill that would set you apart.’
“For me, I’m like, okay, I hustle — I work from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday. I work hard, right? And now I have the opportunity to read more. Girl, Wash Your Face has been sitting on my nightstand for three months and I’m finally going to read it. I also picked up some temp jobs writing content for fitness videos. This time is offering me new ways to be creative, and I’m just trying to be flexible and open to every opportunity.
“You have to be positive, otherwise the fear will beat you down.”
What about specifically in the fitness community? How are your fellow trainers responding? Do you think this will change the community at all?
“From the standpoint of a coach who is an independent contractor, I think this will prompt bigger conversations at studios about how they can protect their employees. In the future, I think more people will be asking, ‘If something like this happens again, what can you do that a 9-to-5 company with benefits and paid time off could do?’ There will be conversations about unemployment benefits, healthcare protection.
“Something I’m pumped to see is for some of the amazing trainers I know to create some beautiful, new things. Like, I’m writing new content, I’m being interviewed by you, which is so cool — I think some good things will come out of this, and I’m pumped to see what’s next in terms of the awesome new live streaming apps and other fun stuff.
“I also think that more trainers will delve into the mindfulness realm, since it’s so in demand right now specifically. I believe there will be more collaborations with other trainers and coaches in different aspects of the field. Trainers will reach out to nutritionists, yoga instructors, meditation instructors — to provide really cool collaborations and content.
“I say it in every class I teach and it’s true: You are the author of your story. You create your chapters. And right now, it’s your decision to create that next chapter that will set you apart in the future.”
Editor’s Note: A week after speaking with Margusity, [solidcore] sent an email announcing they’d be releasing at-home workouts on Saturday 3/28. Refinery29 emailed Margusity to ask whether she and other coaches had been hired back by the studio. While she didn’t have much information yet, she told us: “They reached out the other day and are prepping. They want to roll out the at-home workout ASAP. [I’m] super pumped because they did ask the coaches who would be interested, so it looks like we all have the opportunity to be with our community again, which is exciting! I miss coaching so much!”
According to [solidcore], the company has brought back 27 coaches from across the country to support the home training videos, and plan to bring on at least 20 more.
When Refinery29 asked Mahlum in an email to comment, she replied, “I’ve never been more impressed with our community than I have been over the last two weeks. True character comes out in times of stress and uncertainty and I wouldn’t choose any other team than the team I got.“