Out on the sidewalk bundled up in gloves, knit hats and puffy down coats, a duo of women curled barbells in the crisp winter morning air before the sun rose Tuesday morning.
To the average person, the scene might look strange. But to Greg Price, it’s a visual representation of the ingenious strategy he’s using to keep his Longview gym open, legally, despite a second round of statewide business restrictions prohibiting indoor fitness classes.
“What I decided to do to stay in compliance with the law is that I would do it right and do outdoor training,” said Price, owner of Forever Fit Gym.
A recent public health order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee prohibits gyms and fitness facilities from offering indoor services until Dec. 14. Businesses that disobey the order can face hefty fines from state regulatory agencies. (For example, the state Department of Labor and Industries in July issued nearly $10,000 in fines to a fitness center in Yakima that stayed open despite a statewide business shutdown.)
Upon closer inspection, however, Price found that the governor’s order included an exception: Outdoor fitness classes with five or fewer people are still allowed. So he said he is taking advantage of that option to continue serving his gym members and keep his business afloat.
Think it of like a small retailer’s new delivery service or a local restaurant’s outdoor seating in an event tent, he said. Each is a way for a business to adapt to new state rules that limit their usual operations.
“It’s all about adapting. You have to adapt quickly if you want to stay in business,” Price said. “Unless you do that (outdoor classes) or online videos, there is no option. You’re out of business.”
Price plans to drag out as much of his exercise equipment as he can, set it up on the sidewalk outside his 18th Avenue gym and meet with groups of two to three clients by appointment to lead them in an outdoor workout. He offers 30-minute spots daily between 4:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., though he’s willing to set up times later in the day upon request.
“We have a little overhang, so it makes it easier to train people even when it’s raining,” he said. “It keeps them dry, so that’s nice.”
Price decided to keep classes even smaller than the allowed five-person maximum due to safety and space concerns, he said.
So far, his regular gym members have responded warmly to the otherwise chilly workouts, he said.
Kelso resident Mindy Walters, who has trained with Price “off and on” for 10 years, said she finished her first morning workout around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. Although the weights were cold to touch, she said the lesson was “comparable to a normal in-gym workout.”
“Greg is a very knowledgeable trainer, so even though we didn’t have machines to use, we had free weights to make up for it. The colder weather was nice. You keep working to stay warm,” Walters said. “I will remember to bring my gloves tomorrow morning! The weights were cold!”
The outdoor lessons are new territory for Price, who has worked nearly 30 years as a personal trainer. He’s hosted some exercises outside before, but never in the rainy Pacific Northwest winter, he said.
“I’ve done lots of ball exercises outside, and people typically like it. … I’ve had people do lunges up and down the sidewalk before, but I’ve never actually set up equipment outside,” Price said. “Now that’s pretty much the only option for gyms to legally do it in Oregon and Washington.”
Price said he could have chosen to keep the gym closed for the four-week duration of the governor’s orders, but he suspects that the rules will be extended past the Dec. 14 end-date, much like past shutdown orders were extended as case counts rose. He also felt it necessary to keep offering classes for the physical, mental and emotional health of his clients.
“I had to do something because people need their exercise, not only for their physical health but for their mental health, too,” Price said. “For a lot of people, exercise is their stress relief. … When people don’t de-stress with exercise, it’s easier to turn to alcohol or stuff like that.”
“I just did it out of necessity, because clients were saying, ‘I’m missing my workouts. Mentally I’m not feeling well,’ ” Price added. “Physically they were just going down hill. Exercise is great for the immune system, and at this time, we want to stay healthy.”
Once gyms are allowed to reopen for indoor classes again, Price plans to make a smooth transition back inside. He will revert to similar safety practices as he did between August and November, when fitness centers were permitted to operate.
“We did temperature checks. We sanitized equipment. We had a special machine that would come in, a Clorox 360 machine, and it would disinfect the entire gym: the mats, the floor, everything. So we’d start that again,” Price said.
In the meantime, Price will continue to offer his outdoor classes as long as people are willing to set up appointments and the outdoor temperature stays warm enough. And he will keep looking for creative ways to keep Forever Fit open and operating for its members.
“Greg is doing this for us. He loves helping people,” Walters said. “If restaurants can stay open with a tent in the parking lot, why can’t we work out on the sidewalk?”