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(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

Before local gyms and fitness centers were forced to close in mid-March, it might have been hard to imagine them operating entirely in a virtual environment.

These are places with loyal followings. Members make great sacrifice to spend whatever free time their busy lives allow to visit the gyms and better themselves. The owners and trainers are conditioned to provide close, personal contact to help clients achieve their goals.

When she first heard about the shutdown, Katie Peters, owner of underground Fitness in Southold, was afraid she wouldn’t be able to pay her rent.

“Two weeks is going to max me out if I have to operate like this,” she told northforker back in March. But when we checked back with her a month later, Peters was holding classes twice a day, with private sessions in the afternoon. She was doing them on Zoom or FaceTime.

“At first, it was just new territory,” she said. “I was so unsure of how people were going to react, but the feedback has been incredible. people are grateful and so happy to have something that’s set, giving them something to look forward to.” The nature of a digital, at-home fitness studio also enabled Peters to open classes to more than just the 14 participants her actual studio can accommodate.

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

“The cool thing is my regulars have said, ‘Hey sister, cousin, friend, why don’t you try it?’ ” she said. “I’ve gotten people in [New] Jersey, Florida, Virginia Beach jumping into classes, which is cool because they wouldn’t be able to do them otherwise.”

When Bodyrite Training in Jamesport had to close, owner Paige Romanowski felt compelled to switch to the digital model as well but offered her classes for free.

“I just really felt deeply in my heart that this was something that I wanted to do for our community, not only our Bodyrite community but our local community,” she said. “We wanted to give a gift of fitness and unity.”

One month later, however, with revenue streams dried up, Romanowski began charging again, and with an overwhelmingly positive response.

“Everybody said, ‘you should have been doing this all along,’ ” she said, adding that she had to think creatively in terms of the classes she would offer so that everyone can participate.

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

“Normality is still something that people really need in their lives, and the people that come to our gym are faithful,” she said. “They don’t want to lose that routine. They need to see their people.”

The virtual classes are a way for them to do that. Fifteen minutes before class starts, Romanowski said, her yoga instructor will turn on the monitor so people can greet each other digitally.

“It’s amazing the response that we’ve had,” she said. “Over 20 people are attending our yoga classes, and we’ve never had that in real numbers before.”

On top of that, Romanowski also began renting out equipment from her gym, including spin bikes, with free delivery.

“My bikes are all over the North Fork right now,” she said. “It’s like Christmas delivering these bikes.”

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

The giving room in Southold still has a full schedule, teaching five to six virtual Zoom classes a day.

“Honestly, I’m shocked,” said owner Paula DiDonato. “There’s a real continued sense of community. I couldn’t be happier with how it is working out.”

On top of their mix of beginner, meditation, and vinyasa flow classes, DiDonato also added two special classes called calming hour, which is gentle stretching, music, poetry and meditation — and a chair class.

“We are now able to reach people that are home and wouldn’t have been able to come to the studio in the past,” she said, adding that her classes are just as full now as they were in February.

“They come to us not just for yoga or meditation, but really for a sense of community, and right now, there’s a sense of isolation, a sense
of distancing,” she said. “Before we start class [virtually], people are greeting each other like they haven’t seen each other in a long time, even if they were in class together the day before.”

Bodysmart in Southold also allowed its members to come and borrow spin bikes and other equipment before it closed.

“Kettlebells, dumbbells, bands, TRX straps, anything that would help to get them through this,” said Amanda Czartosieski, who owns BodySmart along with her husband, Chris. This way, they are able to hold their Zoom classes using equipment that would normally be available at their gym.

(Photo credit: David Benthal)

“A lot of people are still continuing to work out,” Czartosieski said. “In our community at BodySmart, being held accountable is really important to us and to our members. So, I think our members have been really loving this new norm — the next best thing to being in the gym, right?”

Fitness Advantage and CrossFit North Tribe, both co-owned by Sarah Sirico, have continued offering Zoom classes and programs through their Facebook page, but have adjusted the workouts to fit the needs of their members as they adjust to doing it all in their living rooms.

“I had a few people mention needing to be quiet when they workout or not wanting to constantly be doing high intensity,” said Sirico. “So the Facebook programming is leaning more towards challenging yet less stressful workouts. Feedback from folks has really helped us get creative with what we can provide for them.”

Despite the constant curveballs the coronavirus has thrown at business owners, these gyms have figured out ways to adapt to the socially distant new normal.

“I think I can make it,” Peters said. “If I can cover my rent, I’m good. The [first] two weeks, I think I was just afraid. and now, I’ll be ok.”