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Lace up your athletic shoes.

Local gym operators as well as fitness program and studio managers across Santa Barbara County’s South Coast are ready to welcome people back indoors after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a year of reopening ups and downs.

“You can feel the energy of people being around people,” said Stephen Stowe, CEO of Bond Fitness.

Located on West Carrillo Street in Santa Barbara, Bond Fitness is offering fully indoor group fitness classes as well as an on-demand service featuring more than 80 workout videos.

“We constantly are updating that (on-demand video library) because we still have some members that do the workouts at home, but the majority of everybody is starting to come back, which is great,” Stowe said. “I equate it to when you went back to school after the summer off and you see your old friends. It’s like people are coming in, ‘I haven’t seen you in a year,’ and it’s just great.”

A plexiglass panel is near the front desk at the entrance to ensure the safety of members and staff. There’s limited capacity for classes to ensure a distance of 6 feet between others, plus contactless temperature checks for members, among other COVID-19 safety standards.

Stowe said he is excited to see Bond Fitness members after a year of pandemic-related shutdowns.

“I don’t think we realized how much we need it until we haven’t had it, and now you workout harder and you’re laughing,” Stowe said. “You have more fun. It’s more enjoyable. You get lifted up by other people, not just physically but emotionally as well, and spiritually.”

During class at Bond Fitness, participants have their station in the workout area. Bottles of hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes are placed around the room. Red-colored boxes are taped on the floor to maintain distancing among people doing their workouts.

On a recent Wednesday morning, about 10 people participated in a workout at Bond Fitness. Some broke a sweat while riding exercise bikes and others jumped rope. 

In the back of the room, a handful of members stood shoulder-width apart and got moving with a weighted ball in their hands.

“We are about the party up in here,” Jenny Schatzle, creator of Bond Fitness (formerly the Jenny Schatzle Program), told the class with a microphone and mask on. “Let’s do this thing.”

People take a morning class at Bond Fitness in Santa Barbara.Click to view larger

People take a morning class at Bond Fitness in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

After shutdowns last year because of state-mandated requirements in response to the pandemic, gyms and studios opened briefly but shut down as COVID-19 cases soared across Santa Barbara County and California. Some gym operators moved workouts and classes into a virtual setting, while others were closed for several months.

“We are committed to providing a healthy beneficial service to the community, and were forced to close our doors,” said Tony Calhoun, owner of AC4 Fitness in Santa Barbara and Goleta. “Then we were told we could open, and then we opened for a very brief period of time.”

Beginning in mid-March, Santa Barbara County entered the red tier of the state’s tiered COVID-19 reopening framework, and gyms and fitness centers were allowed to open indoors at 10% capacity.

Reopenings continued as the county progressed to the orange tier, which permits gyms and fitness centers to raise capacity to 25%, as well as reopen indoor pools and other COVID-19-related safety modifications. Santa Barbara County remained in the orange tier as of Tuesday.

Calhoun emphasized the important role that his commercial landlords have played at both locations in seeing the businesses through the pandemic. Without their continuing support, Calhoun said, AC4 Fitness and many other small businesses would not survive. There was no state mandate in place to prohibit evictions with regards to commercial properties, he said.

“Fortunately for us, we had incredible landlords,” Calhoun said. “They’ve been extremely gracious with us and workable and doing their best, and they know that we’re doing our best every month to pay them what we can.”

AC4 Fitness, on La Cumbre Plaza Lane in Santa Barbara and on North Fairview Avenue in Goleta, wasn’t in a position to offer training facilities outdoors during the pandemic, Calhoun said.

A lot of the cardio equipment requires electricity to operate.

“The outdoor thing makes sense especially for clubs who have aerobics classes or group exercises,” Calhoun said. “But we don’t, and to take the type of equipment that we have outdoors, there’s no way to secure it. There’s no way to protect it from the environment. It’s expensive and heavy equipment that is installed in a specific way within the building.” 

Every day and every week, things are starting to turn the corner for AC4 Fitness. Calhoun said he is optimistic. 

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand to get back into the gym,” Calhoun said. “We’re hopeful. It was pretty rocky and rough for a while.”

Mad Fitness SB, on Chapala Street, initially had to cut its in-person fitness classes because of COVID-19-related restrictions.  

Pre-pandemic, nearly 50 classes were offered each week. At one point during the COVID-19 crisis, about three virtual classes were offered a day, instead of seven or eight classes a day.

Mad Fitness SB is now offering in-person classes, with pandemic protocols and measures. 

“Slowly, but surely, we’ve been building it back to normal,” said Marianne Madsen, owner of Mad Fitness SB. “We were down like 35 classes, and now only down about five.”

She said it’s been a challenge to stay open during the global public health crisis.

“Somehow, some way we’ve made it through,” Madsen said, adding that many people are excited to be back at Mad Fitness SB. “Now, having everyone back, you can tell everyone’s happy to be around each other again.”

Mad Fitness SBClick to view larger

Mad Fitness SB, which pre-pandemic offered more than 45 classes each week, is offering in-person classes, with COVID-19 protocols and measures. (Courtesy photo)

Face-to-face interactions at the gym help people feel connected after a year of isolating at home.

“A lot of people are kind of intimidated by gyms and intimidated by walking into an atmosphere of other people,” Madsen said. “I encourage people just to give it a shot because that person-to-person interaction, we haven’t had in so long, is one of the best things about our gym.”

Orangetheory Fitness along Calle Real in Goleta is operating its total-body group workout outdoors only, and members are happy with the move inside, studio manager Karlyn Roberts said.

Orangetheory Fitness structured its classes to allow social distancing inside, keeping the needed space between stations, requiring masks during all mobile or nonexercise times, having cleaning and disinfecting stations placed throughout the gym, as well as smaller class sizes, Roberts said. 

“People are able to be more engaged and return to the Orangetheory atmosphere we’re known for,” Roberts said in an email to Noozhawk. “We need each other now, more than ever.”

Throughout the pandemic, operations have been logistically challenging but ironically gratifying, Roberts said.

“It was a struggle, but we kept strategizing to see what could be done,” Roberts said. “Living in such unprecedented times, thinking the virus and its havoc was only going to last weeks, but then continuing to be affected by it was difficult, as we all know. The need to safely structure an ever-changing business model to keep doors open when the appropriate time arrived was obvious, but to continue to be an outlet for the community was a priority.” 

Orangetheory Fitness plans to open a new location at Santa Barbara’s downtown Paseo Nuevo shopping center in June.

“Opening a new location in the heart of downtown will be exciting, nestled among the other area businesses and the pace of the local scene,” Roberts said. “We hope to reach a further depth of clientele.”  

Channel Islands YMCA locations have seen an increase of members and the community coming into its branches, which includes facilities in Santa Barbara, Montecito and Lompoc. The Channel Islands YMCA is offering a wide variety of fitness classes for members with indoor and outdoor options, said Margo Byrne, president and CEO of the Channel Islands YMCA.

“With each new tier and more individuals vaccinated, there has been a noticeable increase in returning guests,” Byrne said in an email. “People are looking for connection and socialization again, and we are glad the Y can provide that safely.”

The Channel Islands YMCA has been operating outdoor fitness for a good portion of the COVID-19 pandemic, as allowed by local guidelines, and it has remained popular, Byrne said, adding that members also are utilizing the Channel Islands YMCA’s virtual format.

“We even have a virtual option for members who may not yet feel comfortable, but want to maintain their health,” Byrne said. “We have noticed that virtual workout attendance has leveled off, which can be attributed to better weather and reduced COVID rates in the county, which means people are more comfortable coming back to our Ys in person.

“With that in mind, we have seen a noticeable increase in in-person attendance in the branches as well. We anticipate that virtual offerings will remain a staple for us, but that our members are also ready to have the social connection that comes with attending the Y in person.”

As required in the orange tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening system, spas and saunas remain closed at the Channel Islands YMCA, Byrne said. There are offerings that are still modified because of social distancing and capacity limits aimed at slowing the virus. 

“Our basketball gym is open for use, but pickup games are not currently allowed,” Byrne said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for people using gyms, fitness centers and studios. Click here for more information.

“Exercising and physical activity are important for physical and mental health and should be continued for healthy living, especially during the coronavirus crisis,” the CDC’s website stated. “However, it is necessary to take precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of COVID-19.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.



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