Still moving: Local gyms working to appeal to members, as residents find new ways to stay fit

Despite navigating a pandemic that has hurt larger chains in the industry, local gyms and workout facilities have high hopes as they enter the winter months.

At Volv Dubuque Fitness, formerly known as True. Fitness Life, new protocols have been adopted to ensure the safety of members. And although membership is down overall since the pandemic began, owner Kim David said it has risen in recent months.

“We went out of our way to communicate with our members throughout this process,” David said. “Large corporate gyms cannot be as personable. I think that has made a difference and could be a reason why many of the smaller gyms are still doing well.”

Over the past eight months, there has been a seemingly endless stream of changes affecting local workout facilities and their members.

Membership trends have followed the roller-coaster nature of these developments.

Beginning in mid-March, David’s business was forced to shut down for two full months. From mid-May to June, after the gym had reopened, memberships shot back upward.

In the late summer and early fall, many members opted to freeze their accounts. But David said activity has since rebounded.

She recently analyzed gym usage — how often people are coming into the facility — and found that it was equal to what it was at this time last year.

“We are continuing to see an upward trend now,” she said. “People feel safe when they are in here.”

Creating that feeling of safety hasn’t come easily.

At Volv, class sizes have been limited to 11 or fewer to ensure social distancing. The gym has also required masks near the front desk, provided members with cleaning and sanitizing equipment upon entry, and beefed up its “at-home workouts” for members who want to stay connected with the gym but prefer to do so remotely.

“There are still some people who are not comfortable at any gym,” David said.

At Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA, members and staff are taking similar measures to keep people comfortable.

Director of Marketing and Communications Danielle Shea said that masks are now required in common areas.

“We have not really had a lot of complaints or worries or negative feedback since we switched (to that policy),” Shea said.

Masks are not required while one is working out, however. Shea said about 30% of members wear them during their workout, while the remaining 70% do not.

“People who are doing an ab workout or lifting weights tend to be the ones wearing them more,” she said. “Those who are running on a treadmill or doing a hard cardio workout tend not to.”

There are currently about 3,500 members at the local Y, about 15% lower than there were at this time last year.

Shea has reason to believe those figures are making a comeback, however. She said a recent membership promotion generated 87 new members in late October, which is higher than the 62 new members the same promotion brought in last year.

Amid the stresses of 2020, many are realizing that exercise is critical to getting through it.

“Someone recently came back to the Y and told me ‘I need this for my mental health’,” Shea recalled. “They told me it was night and day how different they felt once they got their body moving.”

Others are finding different ways to stay fit.

Jennie Loney, manager at Free Flight in Dubuque, said sales of bikes, treadmills, weights and other fitness-related items have been up since the pandemic began.

“Things really boomed for us this spring, and our sales have been very strong throughout the year,” she said.

The surge in demand for these items led to widespread shortages.

Earlier this year, many stores were struggling to keep bikes in stock. Customers who wanted bikes but couldn’t find them were placed on wait lists until stores could track down new inventory.

Loney also has spoken with multiple people who are trying to create home gyms by purchasing treadmills and weight-training equipment.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to go to gyms right now and others who are worried their gym might close down again,” Loney said.

There’s plenty of evidence that the coming months will also yield impressive sales.

Loney said there’s been massive demand for skiing equipment as people gear up for the winter. Much like the rush on bikes this spring, Loney feels local residents are embracing outdoor recreational activities as they come to grips with the fact that COVID might eliminate a number of indoor gatherings.

“People are changing their habits and trying new things,” she said.