PLYMOUTH – Things have a way of working out, and working out, it turns out, is no exception.
Plymouth Fitness has been as much a hostage to COVID over the last couple of years as anyone or anything.
Along with every other health club and fitness studio in Massachusetts, the gym at 16 Aldrin Road in West Plymouth was forced to close its doors in March of 2020 in the face of the coronavirus, and it would be almost four months before those businesses were allowed to start reopening, albeit with crowd limits, social distancing and mask requirements in place.
Plymouth Fitness’ success, both during the height of the pandemic and now in what many hope is its actual wake, was far from guaranteed. The industry was particularly hard hit, according to figures from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), which found nearly 30 percent of gyms to date have closed for good as a result.
“We always felt confident that, as a business, Plymouth Fitness would make it through COVID-19,” Plymouth Fitness Director of Operations Lisa Barros said. “We have very stable ownership, and the club’s management team is highly experienced and dedicated.”
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Barros said she and other staff members were buoyed by their customers’ support over the prolonged period of closures and restrictions, which included a town-imposed indoor mask mandate that ran from Dec. 30 to Feb. 9 of this year.
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“Now that we are fully open again, we are even more aware that the social aspect of exercising with others is really important in helping people to be consistent, not to mention the mental and emotional benefits of it,” she said.
According to the club, 2019 had been its best year since opening in 1979.
“And 2022 is shaping up to be even more successful,” Club President Curt Larson said. “All of our key performance indicators are trending up in the right direction. Daily visits are climbing, our swim lesson program is booming, total membership is growing and the overall vibe in the club is energetic.”
The gym has installed $60,000 of new equipment and has more capital improvement plans in the works.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we are learning that our customers’ wants and needs are changing,” Larson said. “They are looking for ways to increase their wellness and fitness as a means to improved health and more as a preventative healthcare measure.”
The gym plans to expand programs incorporating wellness, recovery and socialization.
“We have to understand that many people do not need to do overly intensive exercise to get results,” Larson said. “Simply moving more and having fun with others can make a big difference in how someone feels physically and mentally. We are back to the business of keeping people healthy, and it feels great.”
COVID as a medical issue, and not just as a barrier to business opportunities, remains a focus for Nate Graham, the club’s director of training.
“Physical activity provides significant protection from more severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death,” he said. “As scary as that sounds, it has motivated people of all different ages, shapes and sizes to get more active as a way to increase their immunity and strengthen their ability to fight off disease.”
The club has seen an increase in the popularity of workouts that include assisted stretching, meditation and yoga as a way for exercisers to “recover” from more intense fitness activities or the challenges of daily life.
“It’s not just about how hard you work out anymore,” Graham said, “It’s more about feeling better and enjoying the wellness journey on the way.”
The comeback from COVID has not been without issues for the gym, with the biggest challenge being the hiring of new employees, a situation facing gyms nationwide.
Nearly half of all fitness-related staff, some 1.5 million people, were laid off nationwide from March 20 through the middle of 2021, according to the IHRSA.
Marlene Velez-O’Brien is tasked with managing the club’s schedule of popular group classes. She said over a third of the club’s members prefer to participate in group classes due to the social bonding aspect of being with other people.
“We offer a variety of classes with an appeal to people of all fitness levels,” O’Brien said. “Now, one of the challenges brought on by COVID-19 is adding even more dynamic instructors to our amazing team.”
Planet Fitness General Manager Paul Baldrate expanded on that idea.
“COVID-19 forced some people to change careers or move away, and we lost some fantastic staff,” he said. “We have been able to hire some wonderful new trainers recently, and some of our people have taken on expanded roles.”
He said the gym is looking to add more employees, specifically massage therapists and swim-lesson instructors.
“In a way, it’s a good problem to have, because it means the business is still growing,” he said.
The gym’s success, he added, reflects positive attitudes being kept alight during some dark times.
“People want to be with other people, and they want to have fun,” he said, “And we are really good at doing that.”