A Roadmap for Running a Gym During Covid-19

Pat Barber Coaching, Covid-19, Gym Management, WUWO

As cities, counties, states, and nations call for organizations to close temporarily and people to stay at home, we’d like to talk about how to keep your community healthy and strong during this outbreak.

This is by no means an exhaustive road map, but it’s one that we’ll continue to add to as developments occur and affiliates share what’s working for them.

PHASE 1

**SKIP TO PHASE 2** (This part is already out of date)

In this phase, your local community has not been as affected by the virus yet. Your doors are open, people are attending classes, and you’re concerned with best practices for how to keep your people healthy and happy.

Educate Yourself on Covid-19

Look to the CDC’s Youtube account and other resources to educate yourself on the virus, how it spreads, and what you need to do to keep your members safe.

For instance,

  • You can carry Covid-19 for 14 days after exposure without experiencing any symptoms. Which means if you have members who’ve been traveling, they could be carriers of the virus for 2 weeks before they realize they’re sick. Knowing this, you’d call these members and ask that they stay home for 2 weeks before returning to the gym. You can offer them at-home workouts and virtual coaching (more on this later) to keep them moving and resilient. At the end of that cycle, if they don’t have any symptoms, they’re welcome to return. By offering up a virtual coaching solution, you protect your entire community while also taking care of a member who may potentially become ill (more on what to do when that happens later).

From there, with knowledge of the virus, you can create your procedures.

Develop an SOP Document — Standard Operating Procedure

A Standard Operating Procedure is a document of step-by-step instructions on how to execute a task. It’s a detailed explanation of the process. The idea is to make the SOP so clear, so easy to understand, that anyone could walk-in and “get it.” Essentially, you make yourself redundant as a leader. They don’t need you around to know what to do and how to do it.

Develop a plan for what processes you want to put in place and how you want to communicate that to your staff.

  • What are the processes around social distancing?
    • Will you cap classes to a certain size?
    • How will you cap? Will people have to pre-register? What system will they use to do so?
  • What are the processes around cleanliness and sanitation?
    • Will you provide hand sanitizer, or require people to wash their hands upon arrival?
    • What supplies will be available for people to wipe down equipment before AND after their workout?
    • How often will the gym be cleaned?
  • How do you intend to keep your people safe? And who’s responsible for what?
  • Here’s an OSHA article that outlines training staff on sterilization, etc.
  • Alyssa Royse of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle wrote about how they created an advisory panel of doctors (who are also members of the gym) and what they did to keep members safe. Here’s the article: Running a Gym & Covid-19. She includes screenshots of Facebook post announcements where she’s explaining the new procedures to members so that everyone is clear on what the gym is doing to protect people from the virus.
Educate Your Staff

Train your staff on your new procedures — what you’re doing to keep them safe and members safe. Coaches will be cleaning body fluids (sweat, etc.) off the floor and equipment, so they need to be educated on how to do that properly so they don’t get sick.

You also need to educate them on Covid-19, what they can say to members, and who’s responsible for what.

Educate Your Members

Overcommunication is not a thing right now. It does not exist. You need to frequently (more frequently than you probably think) update your members on what you’re doing to keep them safe, how you’re responding to new developments, and what they’re required to do to protect themselves and others.

Alyssa Royse, of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle, shares some examples of this in her article Running a Gym & Covid-19.

Bottom line: Use your social media channels and email to clearly lay out your plan and what you expect from them. Nothing fear-based. This is our time to lead, to remain calm so we make better decisions, and to educate our members on health & wellness.

Be Really Obvious About Cleaning

When people walk into the gym, it should smell like sanitizer. Don’t hide the cleaning process. Be really open and obvious about it so that everyone understands you’re doing what you can to keep them healthy. They need to see it and smell it.

Going back to the SOP…

Members also need to know their role in cleaning. Are they washing their hands upon arrival? Are there cleaning supplies to use to wipe down the barbell before AND after they workout?

What are members expected to do? And what are coaches expected to do?

Make sure everyone is 100% clear on who’s responsible for what.

Again, this goes back to education.

  • Educate on Covid-19 and the risk of body fluids. Explain how often you’re cleaning equipment, how they’re supposed to clean the equipment, how often you’re cleaning the floors (sweat angels are a risk now), etc.
  • Give step-by-step instructions.
  • Remind people that you’re keeping class sizes small and cleaning frequently to minimize the risk of exposure. Explain what else you’re doing to keep them and their families healthy.
  • Everyone needs to know how to safely sanitize to decrease their risk of exposure while cleaning.

If cleaning isn’t your skill, hire someone.

Remember, people justifiably feel like their lives and the lives of their loved ones are on the line here, so be respectful and act accordingly. This is not a drill. This is real.

If people doubt your ability to keep them safe, they’ll cancel their membership.

In short: Overcommunicate and Overclean.

Remove High-Risk Carriers from the Space

If you have doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc., you need to call these members and move them to at-home workouts with 1:1 or virtual coaching. We don’t know any medical professionals who would put up a fight. They got into their fields to save lives. They understand preventative healthcare. They understand people are scared. They are also fully aware that they have the highest chance of exposure.

When you bring a solution to the table, like at-home workouts and virtual coaching, it lets them know that you care about them AND you’re willing to do what’s necessary to keep everyone else healthy too. (More on at-home workouts and virtual coaching later.) They’re going to be willing to work with you to come up with something that makes sense.

Side note: You might also consider opening up a group thread with nurses and doctors (who are members at your facility) so they can share developments with you that you can pass along to your whole community. They are a wonderful resource for your gym right now, and could really help you keep your folks more informed.

Remove Potential Problems

If you have Open Gym, shut that down for now. You have no control over who’s showing up, how many people are working out together, whether or not they’re cleaning their hands or the equipment, etc. It’s a risk you don’t need right now.

Also, now isn’t the time for drop-ins. You don’t know where they’ve been traveling to and from, whether or not they’ve passed through high-risk areas, what they do for a living, etc. Someone might tell you what they think you want to hear just so they can get in their workout for the day. It’s a liability issue and it’s not worth it.

Closing these down will show your members that you’re doing your absolute best to protect them, and that’s worth more than drop-ins.

If you’re a gym with a lot of drop-ins, find a way to connect with people via virtual coaching. Give passer-by’s an at-home or virtual coaching option. Get creative if you really need that revenue. There are platforms/apps you can use. But protect your community FIRST.

Talk with High-Risk Members About What to Do

If you have elderly members, children/teens, or people with compromised immune systems, you need to talk with them about the facts, their risks, what you’re doing to keep them safe, and then give them some options, like moving to at-home workouts.

Role Play Scenarios

Phase 1 is about figuring out your procedures. What you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. If this, then that sorta scenarios.

If you don’t anticipate potential situations, you won’t plan or accommodate, which puts you in a defensive or reactionary position.

Chris Cooper of Two Brain Business recently hosted a Town Hall on Covid-19 where he talked about the importance of briefing your team on different situations, and then he listed a few of these scenarios.

Here are some potential scenarios you’ll need to role play with your staff:

  • A client has been exposed to the virus at your gym (because of an infected member)
  • A client is diagnosed with Covid-19 (but not because of your gym)
  • An ER nurse, who’s a member, wants to keep coming to normal classes
    • Our suggestion: At-home workouts
  • An ER nurse wants to join the gym as a new member
    • Our suggestion: At-home workouts
  • A couple has just returned from traveling to a place with confirmed Covid-19 cases
    • Our suggestion: At-home workouts for at least 2 weeks. If they don’t show any symptoms after 2 weeks, they can attend normal classes and follow safety/sanitization procedures.
  • A member wants to cancel because they’re afraid
    • Have some alternatives that you could offer, such as at-home workouts or virtual coaching. That way, they’re still a member and they get to work out in the safety of their own home.
    • Relax your rules on freezes or cancellations.
    • Keep in mind: People are genuinely terrified right now. And when the dust settles, they’re going to remember how you treated them when they were terrified. Not only will they remember, they’ll tell everyone they know too. Just do right by your people and figure the rest out later.

Regarding ill clients: We would not share names with other members, but we would alert our community to the fact that someone has been diagnosed with the virus. We would clearly state how we intend to offer support to this member, and what we’re doing in response (to keep everyone safe).

  • Personally, we’d freeze or cancel their membership (now is not the time to work out), but continue to offer them mobility/restorative movement that is low-key and beneficial.
  • We’d also have a PDF or list of things they could lean on. That might be simple recipes (check with licensed nutritionists), informative videos/articles, anything that will make them feel more empowered in such an uncertain situation. The objective is to offer is to serve and support these people as best we can, within legal limitations, and without exposing ourselves or our loved ones to risk.
  • We’d also offer to pick up some groceries and supplies and drop them off on the front porch. Or find some other way to offer them support.
  • We’d close the gym for a day and do a deep clean. Probably even hire professional cleaners and alert them to the situation.

You also need to know what sort of advice you can offer legally. For instance, what sort of nutrition advice does your state allow you to make? We find that during times like this, people will lean on you more and ask a lot of questions. You need to know what you can and can’t say, and maybe have a list of references you could pass along. These could be local professionals, like nutritionists, etc., or could be helpful blogs or social media accounts that provide a lot of education and are run by licensed professionals.

Nutrition Guidance

If ever there was a time to educate your members on nutrient-dense foods, it’s now.

This is one of the main tools in the kit for prevention. Education around food & the immune system could benefit a lot of people.

Create and share simple recipes that are nutrient-dense, affordable, accessible and doable for the masses. Grocery lists (with associated recipes) make it so much easier on folks. One grocery list that gives you X number of meals…now that’s showing up and serving your people!

Lead daily check-ins to see how everyone is eating and feeling.

Share resources by licensed professionals or trustworthy sources. Nothing fear-based or out of reach.

Here are a few places to check for nutrition resources:

Practices for Prevention and Stress Management

You could also share tips on tools for stress management. Videos on breathwork, lifestyle changes that people could make that might protect them from the virus… Just ask yourself: How can I help my people feel calmer? Get more rest? Have a better attitude or mindset? What’s going to help them get through this?

Even if they don’t get sick, their job might be affected, they might be house-bound and feel isolated, they might be experiencing more anxiety or stress than normal (which isn’t great for the immune system) because they’re worried about their grandparents, their friend who just had a baby, or their aunt with an autoimmune disease.

As coaches and mentors, our role and impact go far beyond the barbell. What we offer is not just access to equipment or a group fitness class. We are not an alternative for a 1990s workout video. We offer health, resiliency, longevity, community, and support for the whole human.

PHASE 2

In this phase, you’ve either opted to temporarily close your doors or been required to do so.

Programming: At-Home Workouts

We’ll be posting at-home workouts every week to this blog post. These are free and meant for everyone.

Here’s the programming so far:

We’ll add to this list as time goes on.

Each workout is bodyweight or low load. You can use gallons of water, laundry detergent jugs, or other objects you find around the house.

To make things super easy on you and your people, we’ve also included movement demonstration videos. That way, there’s no confusion over things like “Barbell Wipers” or “Hip Flows” or “Sumo Squats.”

(Members of WUWO: We’ll also send you a daily video that’ll go deeper into each workout.)

How to Deliver At-Home Workouts

You can run at-home workouts in a variety of ways.

You could host group Zoom/Skype calls and offer coach-led classes this way.

  • If you do this, be sure to educate your members on how to use the platform of your choice. Someone might skip the workout because they’re nervous that you’ll see them work out in their pj’s in their messy living room. Teach people how to log-in, blackout their screen, etc. The less friction people feel with the platform, the more likely they are to actually use it.

You could offer personal training type of sessions, very 1:1, via Skype/Zoom.

What we’re suggesting is to divide your members amongst your coaching staff and then text them the at-home workouts. Here’s how that would look:

  • Coach Jenny gets everyone whose last names begin with A – F, Coach Steve gets G – N, etc.
  • Every day, they INDIVIDUALLY text each person. This is not a mass text, group thread, or mass email. You send each member a personalized text message saying, “Here’s the workout. Here are the videos that will demonstrate the movements. Here are the scales/subs for you (individualize this). And here’s what YOUR goal should be for the day (again, this is personalized). (If you can work-in the “why” behind the workout, that’s specific to them, that’s awesome sauce.) Text me your results. If you’re not up for working out today, when would you like me to check-in? Tomorrow?”
  • You can share these results to your private Facebook group for members, etc.

We like this process because:

  • It’s simple and easy. Everyone knows how to text.
  • It gives coaches a daily touch-point with every member, which is an opportunity to see how people are feeling, get feedback on how you could serve your community more, send people more information and resources, and so on.
  • It makes people feel like you’re taking care of them. Which you are.

Remember: The service you provide, as a coach, isn’t tied to a specific space or a specific set of equipment.

People can download all sorts of workout apps or videos these days. If they wanted a fitness instructor at the front of the class, shouting at them through the screen, they could have that for free or for very cheap. That’s not what you’re providing them. You’re not a group fitness instructor. COACH them.

As the coach, you’re going to make or break this process.

It’s up to you to dig down deep and take even better care of your people than you already do.

How to Keep Coaches Working

Small businesses and economies are going to suffer because of this outbreak. That is a given.

However, it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. At least, not yet.

Just because people aren’t showing up to your physical space, doesn’t mean that you’re barred or banned from providing them with tremendous value and service.

Send them at-home workouts.

Offer great nutrition resources and support.

Provide an online space where people can connect with one another during a time of social distancing.

Share positive videos and articles that will give your people tools they can use to take care of themselves and their loved ones in times of uncertainty and anxiety.

Be a leader.

Your coaches may not be showing up to the gym and coaching a full hour but they will be reaching out and coaching people with at-home or virtual workouts. You can also delegate tasks, like creating recipes or nutrition PDFs, researching content that could be helpful, etc.

Ask your coaches how they want to contribute.

Share your financial reality with them: Everyone needs to step up in ways they haven’t before so that we make it through this storm.

If you have part-time employees who you know will face extreme hardship without your paycheck, see if you can afford to give them an advance for classes they’ll coach in the future. Or find other ways they can contribute right now and pay them what you can for those services.

We’re reminded of stories from the 2007/2008 financial crisis when many businesses were on the brink of closure. Instead of laying off dozens or hundreds of employees, they asked all their employees to give up some of their benefits, take 2-3 weeks of unpaid time off, or to work less hours. The idea: It’s better that we should all suffer a little than any of us have to suffer a lot.

Honestly, this idea translates to members too. Some won’t be financially hit by the economic impact of Covid-19, and some will. Perhaps you could have open conversations, when the time comes, about reducing pricing for those who are hardest hit while asking those who can afford it, to pay the normal rate. If your messaging is village-minded and appeals to everyone’s humanity, people will rise to the occasion. These situations can yield beautiful, unanticipated results where people come together in ways you didn’t think possible.

Share Your Reality, Tactfully

A lot of affiliates are concerned about a mass exodus. Rightfully so. That would not be good for business.

Strategies to prevent this:

  • If people are concerned about their safety, offer at-home workouts or virtual coaching.
  • If people are concerned about their finances because they might lose their job, have some solutions to offer them.
    • Are you prepared to offer scaled/reduced pricing?
    • Do you have other products that you could sell them that would benefit them?
      • Something like a significantly reduced rate for 2 or 3 at-home workouts a week
      • Or even a PDF with at-home workouts where you take a template and customize it for them so it’s more personalized than a list of workouts.
      • Or a membership to an affordable nutrition program
      • Or even a PDF of recipes
  • If people freeze their memberships, schedule a goal review in 30 days. Say, okay, “I’d like to schedule a goal review with you about 30 days from now so we can check-in to see how you’re doing.” This gives you an opportunity to reach out at the end of 30 days, and it often leads to keeping that member around.

If you’re going to have public conversations about your finances, you need to really think about your language and messaging.

There’s integrity, and there’s damage control.

The truth is: You need memberships to stay alive. People understand this.

They also have their own troubles.

So, it’s going to be more complicated than you sharing your financial reality. They have theirs too.

Which is why instead of panicking and trying to protect your current business model, you need to adapt.

In Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, he talks about resiliency amidst cultural change: “Publishers saw themselves in the book business instead of the spreading-ideas business and thus missed the opportunity to capitalize on new technology to advance their cause. They could have invented Amazon or the digital e-reader. Had the music industry defined themselves as the sharers of music rather than the sellers or records, tapes and CDs they would have had an easier time in a world of digital streaming. By defining themselves by a cause greater than the products they sold, they could have invented services like iTunes or Spotify. But they didn’t…and now they are paying the price for it.”

Be the solution to your members’ problems.

Ask, listen.

Show up and serve.

If you can forget yesterday, set aside your perfect picture of how it’s supposed to look and how things are supposed to be right now, get curious, stay open, and serve your people, you’re going to be okay.

Expand Your Reality

If you have more free time, and you don’t want to give it all to Netflix and terrifying news reports, here are some mind-opening books:

Also, Sean Pastuch of Active Life RX is giving away his Online Coach Awareness Seminar, which normally goes for $499 – $999. He was supposed to launch the programs later this Spring but has released them to everyone for free because of Covid-19. Sean is being a leader in the industry right now, offering a free Zoom call every Wednesday at 4:30pm Eastern and sharing tons of resources to his Facebook group and Instagram followers.

Thank you to everyone out there doing right by your people. It is our intention to keep putting out free workouts throughout Covid-19. You don’t have to opt-in to an email list for us to market to you and try to sell you stuff. That would be super lame. You can find all the workouts in the list in this article (go up the page a bit) or just look at this page: At-Home Workouts & Covid-19.

We will do our best to share resources until this crisis is over.

Take care of yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

Now is the time for us to be our very best selves.

Additional Resources

How We’re Adjusting Our Session Plans During Covid-19

A Preview of an At-Home Workout Session Plan


Get 2 Free Weeks of Session Plans

To see if we're a good fit for you. No strings attached.



About the Author
Pat Barber

Pat Barber

You might know me from the CrossFit Games, where I’ve competed since 2008, but I have also been the Head of Coaches Development for one of the largest CrossFits in the world. I have the honor of being one of the few L4 coaches, and I still love teaching L1s and L2s for CFHQ (I’ve put about 15,000 coaches through their L1’s). I'm husband to the most wonderful woman in the world, and a father who loves surfing, Magic: The Gathering, knife making and good coffee.

Read more posts by Pat